You know, but for a few tweaks to Salomon Kalou's game, he would be a superstar...
I suspect I've lost about 50% of you with that first sentence - thanks to the rest of you, dear readers, for bearing with me. I believe the above statement to be true, and I want to spend a post exploring it. So, let's have a chat about Chelsea's lesser Ivorian striker, and I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions for just how much love Salomon Kalou deserves.
Salomon Kalou gets an awful lot of stick. It's pretty obvious to see why, too. He has a habit of missing gilt-edged chances. He often displays the decision making of a three year old. He has a reputation of only scoring when the game no longer matters. Don't give Kalou the ball with the game on the line, or he'll just mess everything up.
To an extent, I understand the frustration. Kalou really is insanely irritating to watch sometimes, and if he had more finishing ability Chelsea would have had a much, much better month of November. Remember when Michael Essien missed three games due to a straight red card against Fulham? There's a reasonable argument that Essien never goes into that challenge if Chelsea were more than one goal up, and the man mainly responsible for that not being the case is Salomon Kalou. Remember the game against Newcastle? St. James' Park is always a tough venue to get points from, but our trip there was made vastly more annoying by Kalou missing an open goal from three yards.
So far I don't think I've done a very good job convincing you of the merits of Salomon Kalou. Let's rectify that.
Kalou has seven goals in the league this season. Only two of these have come with the game totally out hand (when he appeared as a substitute against Wigan Athletic). He scored the winning goal against West Ham United, the winner against Blackpool, killed off the home game against Wolverhampton with Chelsea's vital second, and assisted Michael Essien for the winner in the aforementioned Fulham match. Oh, and he scored the equaliser against Newcastle in that game at St. James' Park, too. That's not to mention the goal notched against Everton on Saturday that kept Chelsea in the FA Cup, or the shot that gave Chelsea their first lead against Sunderland earlier this week.
Kalou, Chelsea's reserve striker, has scored seven goals in the Premier League this season. That's in the top twenty in the league, and third on Chelsea's list. The scoring rate isn't bad either. With 1051 minutes played and seven goals, Kalou scores a goal for every 1.67 full games played. Let's take a look at, say Didier Drogba this season. 1943 minutes, nine goals. A goal for every 2.40 games. Nicolas Anelka? 3.27. Florent Malouda? 2.73. Frank Lampard? 2.88. And he takes penalties. If we're just valuing a striker by the sheer amount of goals they score, Kalou is a very effective player for one of the best attacking teams in the Premier League.
No, he's not the most clinical player in the world (although, to compare him to Drogba again, Kalou scores on 16.3% of his shots to Didier's 8.6%). He does waste plenty of good chances. He does make bad decisions. However, everything else about his game is phenomenal. He's got surprising pace, a brilliant touch, and knows exactly how to get into the right areas of the field. Kalou creates tonnes of chances for himself and his teammates and works very very hard off the ball as well.
Instead, he's the first choice off the bench, taking a rather bizarre path to being a surprisingly effective reserve striker. Kalou, essentially, is a better than average player who got there by having all-world ability in some areas and none in others. And that's fine, really. Chelsea need a substitute who's willing to stay on the bench until he's needed and then work his tail off for the team when he gets onto the pitch, one who can start should anything happen to a first-choice forward. That role suits Kalou to a tee.
I wasn't exagerrating with that first sentence. I believe that if Kalou had even average finishing ability and better on-ball decision making, he'd be one of the best strikers in the league. All of the other tools are clearly there and frequently deployed, but the deficiencies in his play stand out. And really, I think that's what bothers people about Kalou's play. He should be much better than he is.
But at the end of the day, he isn't. He's not even a starting player. He's merely a player who does his job for the team very effectively. It's not a role that gets much thanks, but it's critically important. I think Chelsea fans should focus a little more on what he is - a good impact substitute and emergency starter - and not what he isn't. Maybe then the abuse would stop, and some measure of appreciation for the job he does would follow.