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Farewell, Oscar, the one that got away

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Chelsea v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Oscar’s mega-money move to China is officially official. A player who was once preordained to be the next Brazilian star now awaits the challenge of the oh so grueling Chinese Super League. So what exactly went wrong?

Even before his arrival to South West London, Oscar was widely depicted as the next Kaka, the next shining light of Brazilian football. He was the latest from a nation that has produced some of the greatest talents to have graced the beautiful game. While one could easily interpret the media’s rhetoric as glorified sensationalism, the youngster had attracted interest from some of the most distinguished clubs in world football. It made Chelsea’s signing of Oscar, for a shade under £20m for the 20-year-old, even more impressive.

Even at such a young age, Oscar had already amassed 84 senior appearances and 19 goals for SC Internacional and São Paulo in Brazil. He had two senior caps with Brazil to his name and was fresh off a silver medal-winning London 2012 Olympic tournament. Brazil, led by the dynamic duo of Oscar and Neymar lost 2-1 in the final to Mexico. The year before, at the U20 World Cup, Oscar’s Brazil won 2-0 in the semifinal against Mexico, who featured a certain Ulises Davila — as much as Oscar may have failed to live up to heightened expectations, at least he wasn’t another Davila, whose Chelsea career never even got off the ground.

It were those Olympic exertions that delayed Oscar’s full Chelsea debut a few weeks (the theme of Oscar playing far too much football without a proper break was only beginning), but when it did arrive, it arrived with jaw-droppingly stunning force. We all remember the goal — and will for a long time — but his overall performance was one of exceptional quality as well. His potential as something much more than “just” a number-ten orchestrator was laid bare for all to see.

In hindsight, it was this remarkable display that proved to be his greatest failure, like a shadow stalking every mistake or mediocre performance. The Brazilian had never reached the dazzling heights he attained that night. The remainder of his Chelsea career was mostly spent trying to emulate that remarkable evening.

Despite all the promise, the plaudits, and potential, Oscar’s Chelsea career will be viewed as a disappointment. It wasn’t a bad 4.5-year, per se, it just did not live up to expectations. A goal return of 38 from 203 appearances is not bad, per se, it just did not live up to expectations. One Europa League, one Premier League, and one League Cup trophy is not bad, per se, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that it could’ve been, should’ve been so much more.

Oscar was the chosen one, the one around whom the team was supposed to be built. He never quite lived up to those ideals, mostly because of his biggest problem, consistency. On his day, he could produce magnificent attacking or all-around performances, topped with indelible goals (twice winner of the club’s Goal of the Season accolade), enthusiastic tackles, and a general sense of making everything tick. On other days his contribution was hardly worth noting. There was no happy medium. Hot and cold. A few days, weeks of dominance followed by weeks of anonymity, averaging out to roughly two starts in every three games. Of his 203 appearances, 56 came as a substitute. Frank Lampard, the legend whose number Oscar eventually took up, made 51 appearances off the bench in his entire 626-game Chelsea career.

Perhaps the blame, if we are looking to assign blame, lies with Mourinho. His decision to essentially exile Juan Mata in favor of Oscar was understandable from a tactical perspective, but the emotional impact haunts many to this day. Often, it’s impossible to separate football from emotion, and through no real fault of his own, this strike has hung over Oscar’s head for four years as well. It’s not that Oscar had played badly or ineffectively in general, per se, he just didn’t play up to the expectations set by anointing him the new Mata but better.

Whoever you hold accountable, Oscar has not developed into the extraordinary player that he was tipped to become. Regardless of his once substantial potential, £60M is certainly a staggering evaluation for a player who has failed to hit the mesmeric heights expected of him.

Perhaps with a different set of expectations and with added consistency, Oscar’s name could have been engraved indefinitely into Chelsea folklore, a name proudly mentioned in the same breath as Lampard or Zola. Instead, we wish him well as he departs for pastures new and filthy rich.

For this young writer, a sense of nostalgia will always be associated with Oscar as he scored the first goal I ever saw at Stamford Bridge. That is the pinnacle of my admiration. A very decent player who failed to become a very great player. Best of luck, Oscar.