Olivier Giroud the perfect end to Chelsea's chaotic striker search
Olivier Giroud should fit the bill perfectly for Chelsea.
Chelsea pride themselves on doing some of their best work in the final days, and sometimes even hours, of transfer windows. In signing Emerson Palmieri from Roma and Olivier Giroud from Arsenal for less than £40 million combined, club director and chief dealmaker Marina Granovskaia will be confident she has delivered again.
January has been a rollercoaster month for Chelsea supporters, subjected to a stream of reports linking their club to seemingly every tall striker on the market, ranging from the highly capable (Edin Dzeko), to the worryingly fragile (Andy Carroll), and totally incomprehensible (Ashley Barnes.)
Giroud is a more-than-satisfactory conclusion to what has at times resembled a scattergun search. He is exactly the type of “point of reference” Antonio Conte wants at the head of his attack: strong and technically accomplished with more intelligence than he is given credit for and more headed league goals (27) to his name than anyone bar Cristiano Ronaldo (34) since 2012.
As well as being a clear upgrade on Michy Batshuayi — who now has a great opportunity to rebuild his value on loan at Borussia Dortmund — he is also more immediately useful to Chelsea than Dzeko, courtesy of the fact that he is eligible to contribute in the Champions League in addition to domestic competitions.
Coaches are judged on the present, and Conte is entitled to be less than thrilled by the fact that Chelsea’s deadline-day manoeuvrings have left him to take on Bournemouth on Wednesday night at Stamford Bridge with no true strikers; Eden Hazard will start as a false nine with Alvaro Morata still suffering from back pain.
Yet the reality is that, in order to secure Giroud, taking things to deadline day was the only option for Chelsea. This was not a triumph of planning but a reward for opportunism, made possible by a fortunate confluence of interests.
Arsenal’s pursuit of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, spearheaded by new head of recruitment Sven Mislintat, had been delayed by Dortmund’s need to find a replacement. Giroud’s disillusionment with a lack of opportunities at the Emirates Stadium was no secret, but he would not be allowed to leave until the Gunners had secured their new star.
In any case, there was no reason to believe they would allow him to become the first Arsenal player since Ashley Cole in August 2006 to defect to Chelsea. It wasn’t until Dortmund set their sights solely on Batshuayi to fill the Aubameyang void that the Gunners found themselves dependent on their London rivals.
Once it became clear that Giroud wanted to stay in London and Chelsea regarded him as a striker who suited Conte’s profile, the pieces began to fit together. Granovskaia reportedly made the most of her leverage by edging down Arsenal’s valuation, and there are even reports that the Gunners paid Dortmund £1.3m extra to cover the cost of Batshuayi’s loan fee.
The end result has the potential to be that rarest of things: a player that works for Conte and a deal that works for his employers.
Chelsea’s proposed signing of Dzeko fell down partly on his demand for a contract until June 2020, a move that would have shattered the Blues’ policy of not committing to players over the age of 30 for longer than a year.
Giroud, another 31-year-old, has accepted an 18-month contract until the summer of 2019, when the likes of David Luiz and Cesc Fabregas are also set to become free agents.
A shorter contract also protects Chelsea against being tied to an older player who might be seen in a very different light in a few months’ time; every player decision this month has been made in the knowledge that Conte could be gone and a new head coach in place by the start of next season.
In that sense, buying Giroud also buys Chelsea the time to ponder other, more consequential decisions. The coaching situation aside, Michael Emenalo has not been replaced since resigning as technical director in November and sources have told ESPN FC that the process may not be completed before the end of the season. Former defender Juliano Belletti has been linked with a return to Stamford Bridge in the capacity of sporting director.
Until then, Giroud possesses all the necessary qualities to ease the burden on Morata, who has been suffering mentally and physically with his first experience of being the primary scorer for an elite club.
“Olivier is a proven talent at the top level and we are very pleased to call him a Chelsea player,” Granovskaia said on the announcement of the deal. “He has scored goals regularly throughout his career and is well accustomed to English football and the Premier League. We are sure he will be a fantastic signing.”
Giroud’s arrival will not erase the tensions between Conte and the Chelsea board over recruitment; those frustrations are too long-established. But while the Italian might claim he doesn’t have much of what he wants at Stamford Bridge, it is now harder to argue that he doesn’t have enough of what he needs.
Liam is ESPN FC’s Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.