MUNICH, GERMANY - MAY 19: Didier Drogba of Chelsea celebrates after scoring his team’s first goal during UEFA Champions League Final between FC Bayern Muenchen and Chelsea at the Fussball Arena München on May 19, 2012 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Chelsea FC are in a relatively unique situation as far as the position of center forward is concerned. For the last 8 seasons we've had the privilege of watching Didier Drogba don a Chelsea kit, and I don't think that any would argue that he was among the truly elite at the position (if not the very best) for the entirety of that period. Drogba was a ridiculously complete player, as capable of physically manhandling an opponent as he was of simply using his skill to create space to shoot. Many other world class strikers have come and gone during the Drogba era, and none have proven capable of stepping out of the Ivorian's menacing shadow. Now that he is leaving, many of us are calling for Chelsea to target another world class player as a replacement.
Being a huge fan of Drogba, this got me thinking. Will Chelsea be all right without a dominant center forward? Will Fernando Torres be adequate? Can we actually replace Drogba with a player of his caliber? These are all vastly important questions to Chelsea fans, and I have some thoughts on what I'd like to see Chelsea do.
First and foremost, I don't honestly believe we can reasonably replace Drogba with a similar player. There are very few players with the physical dominance and skill combination that Drogs brought to the table, as a matter of fact I can only think of one truly comparable player. AC Milan benefit from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but like Drogba he's getting up there in years. While he'd be fun to have in Chelsea blue, Ibra would make little sense as we attempt to rebuild within the rules of FFP. Outside of Ibra, I just don't see a player that we could reasonably expect to give us the overall package that a guy like Drogba gave us.
I've also wondered about whether or not a big money striker would be an intelligent purchase at all. Falcao and Cavani are typically the first names on everyone's lips, but would they be the type of player that can really lead us back to the top of the table? A look at their current teams tells me pretty much all I need to know about that, as neither Atletico or Napoli will be participating in the Champions League next season after finishing well back in league play. While both clubs can beat any team in the world on their day, both struggled to consistently pick up the points that they really should be taking. Thinking on this further, that sounds an awful lot like both Chelsea and AC Milan, the two other clubs who clearly relied on a dominant center forward for their success. All four of these clubs were capable of winning a big cup or league game, but all four were disappointing in their respective leagues on the whole this season.
I feel like their is a very simple explanation for this, and it really makes perfect sense. Drogba, Ibra, Cavani, and Falcao are all the finisher on their respective teams. As such, they just won't have the same number of touches as many others in which to influence a match. While their contribution to the club was fantastic, days in which their teammates played poorly made it easy to take them out of the game. We've all seen this with both Drogba and Torres, and watching any of those other three clubs regularly would likely show you the same thing.
Now think about the top teams from the top leagues in the world. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Manchester City, and even Juventus. Some of them have fantastic strikers to be certain, but with the exception of possibly City, I don't think you could make the argument that any of those clubs have a true center forward as one of their 2 or 3 best players*. In City's case, whomever they play at striker will be surrounded by ridiculous amounts of talent, making that striker somewhat of a luxury anyway.
*I still wouldn't make the argument that a striker is the best player for City, but I'm sure someone here thinks that one of their strikers is their best player.
So where did these random thoughts take me exactly? Well, most importantly it's making me want to avoid spending big on a guy who can only play in the center of the forward line. Wings and midfield players will have the vast majority of touches during a game. The successful teams listed above all have numerous standout players in both of these areas that cause all sorts of problems. Looking at Chelsea, they really didn't have enough of that over the past several seasons. Ramires and Juan Mata were the only consistently dynamic players we had in these positions last year, so if the rest of the squad was having a less than fantastic game, we tended to drop points. Drogba might have been able to do something on his own, but Fernando Torres just isn't that type of player. Frankly, neither are popular targets like Falcao or Cavani in my opinion.
My recommendation, therefore, would be to spend big on the guys that dominate the ball during a game as opposed to a center forward. Hazard is a great start here, and Hulk would be more of the same. Having more touches from truly world class players can only increase the odds that Chelsea take maximum points in a contest, and these types of buys should allow us to make a less skilled forward than Drogba look amazing. Look no further than Newcastle for an example of that, as both Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba benefited this season from the fantastic midfield that the toon army ran out on the pitch. Does anybody honestly believe that either of those guys would have replicated their success at Chelsea? We had far more talent in the squad than Newcastle overall, but their best players averaged more touches per game than our best players did. They maximized the impact that their best players had by making sure they had the most touches. Think it's a coincidence that they finished above us in a 38 game season? Those touches add up...
In the end, I won't be overly upset if we add a guy like Cavani or Falcao to the squad, as both are wonderful players. I think we'd be far better off, though, focusing on bringing in guys like Hulk and Luka Modric (or even better, younger alternatives). Just look at the Champions League runners up, Bayern Munich...even Mario Gomez looks like a great player when he doesn't actually have to create anything for himself. Does anyone really doubt that Torres or Daniel Sturridge would look just s good with that type of talent around him? Thoughts? Discuss...