For seasoned Premier League watchers, Chelsea’s striker curse is a tradition that sits proudly alongside Tuesday nights at Stoke and Everton turning into prime Barcelona in May with their league status on the line.
Having won the lottery in 2003 with Roman Abramovich’s takeover, saving the club from bankruptcy, Chelsea have signed dozens of strikers to spearhead their attack. Arguably only Didier Drogba and Diego Costa have unqualified successes.
From established international superstars (Andriy Shevchenko, Fernando Torres), those whose legs turned to jelly in west London (Alvaro Morata, Timo Werner) and one who hated the club (Romelu Lukaku), Chelsea’s striker woes show that hefty price tags don’t guarantee success.
So the news of Christopher Nkunku’s arrival from RB Leipzig for £51million will be greeted impassively. Why should Nkunku fare any better than his predecessors at Stamford Bridge?
Then there’s the Bundesliga tax; exciting, prolific players whose form in England causes Premier League viewers to regard their record in Germany as a misprint.
Nkunku has to overcome all that, plus fit seamlessly into Chelsea’s clusterf*ck of a squad. Thoughts and prayers with you, Christopher.
So it’s lucky that the 25-year-old has all the attributes to thrive under Mauricio Pochettino. Nkunku is able to play in any number of positions along the frontline, though it’s worth noting he is best suited to a central role for any Blue getting Kai Havertz vibes.
The France international possesses a keen eye for a pass, a shot more powerful than a heat-seeking missile and favours the kind of unpredictability that’d make Bob Mortimer wipe a proud tear from his eye.
During an end-of-season Bundesliga match against Schalke, with the Golden Boot on the line, Nkunku rolled his foot over the ball, twisted a defender’s blood with a succession of stepovers and motored past him.
After checking back, fooling everybody inside the Red Bull Arena, the striker toyed with his opponents before slipping the ball to Dani Olmo and digging a hole in the pitch.
Just before the Schalke defence sent out a search party, and his portrait to be displayed on milk cartons like The Simpsons, Nkunku popped up in the penalty area to receive Olmo’s return ball.
Even the finish was suitably ridiculous; Nkunku sat one defender down, and waited for the goalkeeper to drop his dignity, before sliding the ball past both. One last, despairing dive from a helpless opponent couldn’t prevent the inevitable. Superb stuff.
— 433 (@433) June 2, 2023
Nkunku grew up in Paris but, as has often been the case at PSG, opportunities were limited for players from the club’s academy. Nkunku understood that he needed to find regular game time and chose to move to Leipzig in 2019.
Interestingly, shortly before leaving the club, Arsenal head of recruitment Sven Mislintat had attempted to bring in the player on loan in January 2019 but PSG didn’t agree.
He was sold to Leipzig for €13 million and made it to the semi-finals of the Champions League in his first season. His performances in the Bundesliga
“It was the club I needed,” Nkunku said at the time. “I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of playing. I feel that I’m blossoming on the pitch, that I’m a bit more liberated. The more time goes on, the better I am. Now I can say that it is better to leave your comfort zone to grow taller.”
He’s certainly blossomed into a fine attacking specimen, ready to take Chelsea by storm. Without wanting to jinx the fella, perhaps he’s the guy to also break the club’s peculiar striker curse.
By Michael Lee