Let’s start with an analogy, because that’s how I’m told we explain soccer. Let’s say Chelsea is a stock trader, with a portfolio defined by huge prestige investments and a slew of smaller, more speculative stocks. Eden Hazard? That’s the Apple, Inc. in the Blues’ portfolio, while the slew of Thorgan Hazards and Lucas Piazon-type prospects the club has loaned out across Europe are less established companies just coming into their relevance.
Feel sufficiently talked down to? Good. That means your brain is mushy and can interpret a practical example. Insert German international André Schürrle, who until today was part of the club’s portfolio. Young-ish (24), talented-like (17 goals in 42 games for Germany), and versatile-esque (capable of playing on the wing or as a striker), Schürrle was a hot commodity when Chelsea gave Bayer Leverkusen just under $28 million for him two years ago. Now, Schürrle’s going the way of Kevin de Bruyne, joining his fellow former Chelsea attacker at Wolfsburg for just over $33 million.
While at Stamford Bridge, Schürrle make 65 appearances, mostly coming off the bench. In that light, his 14 goals are a decent return, but with the likes of Diego Costa, Hazard and Willian established in José Mourinho’s starting XI, Schürrle was never going to be more than a spot starter. If Wolfsburg’s willing to give Chelsea some return (one that’s much bigger if you ignore the fluctuations in the pound), might as well cash in.
But let’s get back to analogies. If Chelsea’s cashing in its Schürrle shares, it’s not because it needs cash. It’s because the price is high, and it’s found another stock it’d like in its portfolio. That stock’s name: Juan Cuadrado.
Cuadrado is a 26-year-old Colombian wide man who made a name for himself this summer as “that other really good guy on James Rodríguez’s team.” Before that he was an actual player in this thing called Serie A, where he’s tantalized for years at Fiorentina. Of course, whenever you read a word like “tantalized,” your bullshit detector should go off. Players who are established, consistent producers don’t get hit with “tantalizing,” especially when they’re already in their prime.
But consider Cuadrado’s career arc, and go all the way back to his time in Colombia, where he turned professional in 2008. The 15 goals he scored last season were more than his previous five years combined. This year, he’s still outpacing his former self, but his goal rate (one every 3.83 games) has dropped from last year’s heights (2.86).
Given the winger has only five goals in 37 international appearances, last year may prove an outlier, yet Chelsea’s paying slightly over $35 million for him. Though he’s drastically different than Schürrle stylistically (one’s a medium-sized, exclusively wide speedster; the other is a tall, strong, versatile goal scorer), he’s also older, less productive, and more expensive. Which means he’s less likely to give Chelsea a return on their investment.
So what’s the deal? Well, there are other considerations (like wages, which may make Cuadrado cheaper) that need to be uncovered. Maybe José Mourinho can channel when Vincenzo Montella harnessed last season. And in Chelsea’s mind, this isn’t really a swap. This may be (a) getting a good deal on Schürrle, and (b) finding a better fit for the squad.
And that’s where our little stock analogy breaks down. For all the evidence that suggests Schürrle might be the better investment, he wasn’t of much use to Mourinho, who looked unlikely to ever use him in a crucial situation. Cuadrado, on the other hand, has the specialized skill set that might get some attention from Mourinho. Profiling as a true winger, the Colombian provide the type of wide threat missing in the squad. In specific situations, above fullback Branislav Ivanovic on the right, that could be valuable. At least, it appears to be an option Mourinho’s more likely to use.
All of which is boring and gets us away from blunt analogies, so let’s draw some conclusions. Schürrle was very good but very much didn’t fit. It’s unclear Cuadrado is better, but he may serve a different purpose. Even then, if Cuadrado can’t maintain last year’s form — if his 15-goal season with Fiorentina does prove an outlier — he might not be of much use at all.