Jose Mourinho, typically, wasn’t backwards about his forwards. When the returned Chelsea manager was asked on Tuesday whether he had a “plan B” if he fails in his public pursuit of Wayne Rooney, his reply was instantaneous.
Of course, the reason is also that Mourinho has a long-term plan in place. Make no mistake. For all the Chelsea boss is professing genuine happiness with his squad, he is determined to find that focal-point forward to complete it before 2 September. It is certainly no longer “Rooney or bust”. The position is too important to be about one specific player, no matter how suitable he is.
There was an indication of it in Mourinho’s Tuesday press conference.
“We trust a lot in our project but we have conditions to try and improve our team with one more player and we will try until the end.”
There were also hints of it in the otherwise impressive opening-weekend 2-0 win over Hull CIty, even it remains too early to judge any team. As excellent as Chelsea initially were in attack, it occasionally looked like they needed someone to pin it together; to properly link so many lively attacking midfielders; to sometimes supply an element of pause. At certain points, it was as if all that intensive early running needed someone to ensure it was fully integrated.
It has been a staple of so many Mourinho teams. At Real Madrid, the primary role of Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain beyond finishing was to open up space for those behind such as Cristiano Ronaldo. At FC Porto, Benni McCarthy’s running was key on their route to the 2004 Champions League.
The most obvious example, though, comes from his first spell at Chelsea. Mourinho’s gushing description of Didier Drogba effectively defined what he wants out of a forward.
“His work rate is unbelievable,” the Portuguese coach once said. “He’s the kind of player I have to play, there’s no rest for the boy.
“People don’t realise just how fundamentally important he is to the team, even when he doesn’t score. He fights for Chelsea, not just for statistics.”
The visit of Aston Villa on Wednesday perhaps puts the pursuit of such a forward into further focus, given that the Stamford Bridge side did monitor Christian Benteke before his decision to stay in Birmingham. Now, those plans B and C after Wayne Rooney are understood to involve Samuel Eto’o and Galatasaray’s prolific Buruk Yilmaz, as well as a few secondary targets.
It’s understandable when you consider the most recent relevant stats. At present, Chelsea have three forwards that provide three different main qualities, but none exactly what Mourinho wants. Fernando Torres notionally offers a running outlet, Demba Ba more opportunism and Romelu Lukaku a powerful presence - even if the young Belgian will likely mature into an even more rounded player.
All of the potential additions, however, provide an upgrade in most aspects of link and hold-up play as it stands.
The following figures essentially show how good the player is at maintaining possession up front - either through their own quality of touch or avoiding tackles to prevent 'turnovers' - and then finding a teammate with basic passing accuracy. The way in which Torres plays always facing the goal and running into spaces behind for through balls seems particularly ill-suited to this approach. It was perhaps notable that, even at his prolific peak around 2007-09, the Spanish national team used him as a decoy runner to open space for the likes of David Villa to play sleeker football. Last season Torres lost the ball once every 19 minutes and his pass accuracy was at just 69.5%, the worst figures in both regards of all six players mentioned here.
For all the issues surrounding Rooney, the numbers offer clear reasons why Mourinho craves the English forward above all. In fact, his turnover stats improve even more when you only look at those occasions when he loses the ball through a poor touch. The figure rises to 81 minutes, which is 29 more than Eto'o in that regard. For all the perceptions, Rooney's fundamental technique clearly remains efficient. Beyond those, there are also the more stellar statistics of his big-game record and general scoring ratio. It is difficult to question his contribution at that level. Throughout the 2006-09 period at Manchester United, too, there was also his selfless service to Ronaldo. If in a different manner, a fully fit Rooney would potentially replicate the high work rate and high-end scoring of Drogba.
Eto’o would be much the same, while Yilmaz would offer another outlet. The Cameroonian complemented Barcelona’s possession beautifully in 2008-09, before offering as much industry as incision for Mourinho at Inter. His pass accuracy in last season's Europa League and the start of the 2013/14 Russian Premier League is an impressive 80% for a forward primarily associated with pace and finishing.
A similar signing could ensure the Portuguese coach’s plan comes together, while also completing this burgeoning Chelsea team.