Michael Emenalo will watch Romleu Lukaku’s Chelsea return with intrigue – the former transfer chief was quick to bring Belgium’s golden generation to Stamford Bridge and would be a slick fit at Arsenal amid scrutiny on Edu and Arteta One of the key, behind the scenes figures in Chelsea’s recent history may be watching them face Arsenal today from his London home with slightly mixed emotions.
A satisfaction that his influence is still being felt and decisions justified but also wondering what might have been had some of his other advice been acted on.Back in Chelsea blue will be Romelu Lukaku, re-signed for a club record £98m and ready to be unleashed on already ailing Arsenal.
And dotted throughout the Chelsea team that are now European champions and, for some, title favourites, is a healthy blend of academy graduates mixed with established, long-serving signings.The successful team that Thomas Tuchel now leads is one that Michael Emenalo helped build. His fingerprints remain clearly on it even four years after his departure for Monaco.‘To lose Michael was a big loss for us,’ then manager Antonio Conte said. ‘Michael did a great job for this club for many years.’
Lukaku’s Chelsea’s return is one that, among other things, should serve as a reminder of Emenalo’s considerable work in his decade at Chelsea, firstly as chief scout, then assistant manager and finally technical director.In that decade he was a central to Chelsea’s success – three Premier League titles, one Champions League, one Europa League, three FA Cups and one EFL Cup.
Lukaku was one of the players Emenalo was referring to when he flagged up to then Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas that there was a golden generation of talents emerging from Belgium.From that crop, Lukaku, the first time, Thibaut Courtois, Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard arrived at Chelsea during the Emenalo yearsEmenalo was no doubt a tactful transfer chief
Lukaku was one of the players Emenalo was referring to when he flagged up to then Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas that there was a golden generation of talents emerging from Belgium.From that crop, Lukaku, the first time, Thibaut Courtois, Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard arrived at Chelsea during the Emenalo years. Villas-Boas, having remembered Emenalo’s tip, went on to sign Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele, Nacer Chadli, when he later became Tottenham manager.
Emenalo was such a known supporter of Lukaku that when the pair were pictured in conversation following Chelsea’s 3-0 win at Everton in April 2017, it further fuelled rumours the striker would be returning to London that summer.That was Emenalo’s plan, to team him up with then manager Conte.
But Lukaku instead joined Manchester United and did not get to work with Conte until they joined forces at Inter Milan.The results of that partnership were spectacular – 64 goals in 95 games for Lukaku and a first Serie A title for 11 years for Inter Milan last season. Imagine what might have been had Emenalo’s plan come together at Chelsea and Lukaku had succeeded Diego Costa as spearhead of Conte’s attack striker following their 2017 title triumph rather than Alvaro Morata.
Four years on, Chelsea have now rectified that mistake by re-signing Lukaku, albeit for £23m more than he cost United.Imagine what will have been if Chelsea had listened to Emenalo
Conte also wanted Virgil Van Dijk that summer and, reflecting on the implications of failing to sign him and Lukaku, the Italian has said: ‘I think maybe we lost the momentum to bring Chelsea at the very top and then to stay for many years.’ Four years on, Chelsea have now rectified that mistake by re-signing Lukaku, albeit for £23m more than he cost United.
And he will join a crop of players Chelsea are also indebted to Emenalo for, along with all the staff in their youth set up.‘I defended the academy when there was pressure and doubt and pessimism,’ Emenalo told The Telegraph two years ago. ‘There was a time when there was a clamour to do more and a manager came in to make a presentation to say the academy was not necessary. The argument was it takes too long, we don’t have time, we should use it to make some money here and there, and that the owner should stop pumping money into it because it seemed like a waste.
But that wasn’t my idea and I had to fight against it. This is where I am very, very proud of the owner Roman Abramovich because of the trust he had in me and the willingness to listen to me and give the academy time. He would not abandon it. He believed in it and in me, and I can’t thank him enough for that.’
The academy and loan system – controversial at the time but now copied by many and another brainchild of Emenalo’s – and has also become a lucrative revenue stream for Chelsea down the years.Mr Micheal’s work at Chelsea FC was simply under appreciated
Chelsea’s latest headline-grabbing academy graduate Trevoh Chalobah, Andreas Christensen, Reece James, Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi are all regulars in Tuchel’s first-team plans with others on the fringes.The academy and loan system – controversial at the time but now copied by many and another brainchild of Emenalo’s – and has also become a lucrative revenue stream for Chelsea down the years.
From a business perspective, it cannot be questioned.The summer sales of Fikayo Tomori, Tammy Abraham, Marc Guehi, Tino Livramento, Lewis Bate and Myles Peart-Harris have brought in over £80m.They will become the next players whose grounding at the academy Emenalo battled to keep alive will help them carve out careers elsewhere.
As the excellent Chelsea Twitter account @chelseayouth highlighted only two of the ten games on the Premier League’s opening weekend did not include a Chelsea academy product, with the likes of Declan Rice and Patrick Bamford now shining elsewhere.Back at Chelsea, captain Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, N’Golo Kante, Marcos Alonso and Kurt Zouma – all Emenalo-influenced Chelsea signings – remain important first-team figures.
Two others, De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah, are now among the best players in the Premier League having first been brought to England by EmenaloHis success story in the transfer market is unrivaled
Two others, De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah, are now among the best players in the Premier League having first been brought to England by Emenalo, further indications of his eye for talent.Salah will be waiting in six days’ time but Arsenal are next in the firing line for the Chelsea team Emenalo helped put together at The Emirates today.
The Gunners’s poor form has prompted some to begin asking questions about the future of manager Mikel Arteta with Conte being mentioned in Italy as a possible successor.Meanwhile, the scrutiny on Arsenal’s structure and technical director Edu after an unconvincing transfer window is also growing.
Should changes at the very top eventually be required, the idea of turning to a shrewd operator with experience of helping shape and reorganise a club from top to bottom like Emenalo is surely one Arsenal would have to consider.Especially if there is mileage in the Conte chatter, with the pair having already established a strong working relationship.
For now though, it is Chelsea who continue to reap the benefits of Emenalo’s work and expertise.
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