Heading into the summer, Chelsea have faced questions about whether their aging squad could still win the title. With new manager Andre Villas-Boas, Chelsea had been expected to make some noise during the transfer market for new players. However, up to a few days ago, they had only signed Thibaut Courtois, a young goalkeeper who was immediately sent on loan to Atletico Madrid. With that, Chelsea has now signed their second player, Oriol Romeu from Barcelona, on a four year deal for around 5 million euros.
Oriol Romeu is a 19 year old defensive midfielder who has risen through the youth ranks of Barcelona. Known for being a versatile footballer who can also play as a central defender, Romeu made over 49 appearances in Barcelona’s B Squad. His form was so impressive that he reportedly had scouts from Arsenal watch him play. Even Andre Villas-Boas had been a long admirer of the young Spaniard back when he was still coaching at Porto. His tough tackling, technical skills, and strict tactical play has seen him compared to Sergio Busquets as well as former star Emmanuel Petit, who ironically played for both Chelsea and Barcelona. Romeu has also been heavily featured in international football as he had been a regular on the Spain u-19 and u-20 teams.
For Chelsea, the deal looks plausible in light of another devastating injury suffered by Chelsea stalwart Michael Essien. The Ghana international will be sidelined for up to six months and Chelsea could use all the players they can get to deal with the loss. As Villas Boas stated, “It is a part of the squad in which we are struggling with numbers because of Michael Essien’s injury and Oriol is a player with a bright future. He still has to evolve as a player.” For Romeu, the possibility of first team football was too good to refuse especially considering he was behind the likes of Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano at Barcelona.
However, Barcelona is also a winner in this transfer as they have installed a series of buy-back clauses that Chelsea were forced to agree to. Barcelona is now in the position to buy Romeu back for 8.7 million euros next summer and for 13 million euros in the summer of 2013. If the Catalans don’t buy him back after two seasons, they then have a first refusal clause throughout the rest of his tenure with Chelsea which dictates they have precedence over any other team that make similar bids for Romeu. Known as the “Fabregas clause” this allows Barcelona to be in prime position to buy back all of their academy players who leave.
It remains unclear what kind of instant impact Romeu will have on Chelsea. With the absence of Essien, John Obi Mikel will have to primarily fill in as he has in the past. Besides Frank Lampard, Ramires and 18-year old Josh McEachran, Chelsea doesn’t have any other central midfielders so Romeu could be used often in the upcoming season. This may be a lot to ask of the young Spaniard considering the quick transition he would have to make to the English game. However, Romeu’s long term prospects also have to be taken into account as long as Barcelona doesn’t try to take him back.
For Chelsea, Oriol Romeu could very well be a great under the radar signing. It likely won’t be the last deal for the Blues who still have the rest of August to make further additions to a team that will want to prove that they are still primary contenders for the EPL title.