Romelu Lukaku's loan to Everton caught most -- myself included -- by surprise. It was orchestrated in the last hours of the transfer window after a summer's worth of suggestions that he'd be a first-team player for the coming season, and the shock of the loan, which removed from us a young fan favourite, meant that emotions ran high when it was announced.
But in the day or so following the transfer deadline, it's becoming more and more clear that this wasn't an unconsidered move from a Chelsea hierarchy that doesn't trust one of their elite prospects. In fact, it's looking increasingly sensible for Lukaku's long (and short) term future.
The Daily Mail have a series of interesting quotes from the player's perspective about how this deal went down:
I was sitting in my hotel room in Brussels when the phone went to tell me I was going out on loan again. It was 7 pm, and that was the first I knew of it. There had not been a mention of it before then, but after speaking to my parents, I decided to take the plunge.
Samuel Eto’o signing for Chelsea didn’t influence my decision, because I was already behind Fernando Torres in the pecking order anyway.
I talked to the manager as well, and while what he said was confidential, it just underlined that he is the best coach I have worked with. Some beat about the bush, but he comes out straight and tells you what he thinks. As a player, that is what you want.
The important thing, at 20, is to be playing, and while West Brom was an option, Everton was a better one. There are a few things I need to improve in my game, and Everton’s footballing approach and possession play can be perfect for me. My movement and runs to the far post and near post could be better, and I have already had a good, long conversation with the manager Roberto Martinez about that.
Lukaku's demeanor is almost legendarily good, so it's no surprise that he's taking the move well. Apart from the loss of his production on the pitch (which, one suspects, the acquisition of Samuel Eto'o might make up for), the only concern with a loan move is the alienation of the player, and it sounds like he's more than on board with the switch.
Yes, I disagree -- quite strongly -- with the notion that Fernando Torres has done anything that warrants a spot ahead of Lukaku in the pecking order, but those disagreements are natural, and what's important here is that Jose Mourinho has preserved (and perhaps improved) his relationship with a player who most see as the eventual heir to Stamford Bridge's proud tradition of centre forwards.
The manager had some sensible things to say about the deal as well:
It is important for Lukaku. We have Samuel Eto'o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba, and of course he would have had chances to play but another thing is to play basically every weekend.
He had [possible] clubs, he had options and he made that decision, I have to respect that decision and hopefully it goes well for him and it goes well for everyone.
Playing 'basically every weekend' seems more than plausible at Everton, whose current selection of strikers fails utterly to inspire, and that means more development at Chelsea than getting thirty minutes as a substitute in every other game, which, unless you thought Lukaku was the clear number one pick to start up front, was about the best-case scenario for him had he stayed.
In the long run, this move clearly helps the player, and since he's still speaking very positively about the club, the assumption is that we'll be able to reap the rewards. In the short term, it's a positive as well -- Lukaku will be competing with Aston Villa's Christian Benteke to be Belgium's first-choice centre forward at next summer's World Cup, and he'll have a better chance of succeeding as a starter with the Toffees than as a bench player at Chelsea.
So, Chelsea have given up another year of Lukaku to help ensure that they get the most out of him in the future as well as help him out for Brazil 2014. The decision to send him out on loan was clearly a close-run one, and it can't have been an easy choice. But, although it's not what I'd have done, it's a defensible course of action.
Take good care of Lukaku, Everton. We'll be wanting him back.