Watching Timo Werner during his ill-fated stint with Chelsea has sometimes felt like watching somebody try and complete a pacifist run of Nokia Snake; admirable enough in its sheer perpendicular speed, but ultimately lacking the predatory streak required to ever burgeon his presence.
The German arrived in West London in the summer of 2020, floundered around for a couple of years, and has now headed back to former club RB Leipzig at a loss of around £22 million, according to reports. With budgetary aptitude like that, the Blues are almost putting the Tories to shame. Almost.
In fairness to Chelsea, Werner came to the Premier League with a hype and pedigree that seemingly promised no end of success. In fairness to Werner, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether he enjoys smashing mirrors with Lemony Snicket as a recreational pursuit, so unfortunate were his exploits in front of goal on occasion. Over the course of his two seasons in England, the 26-year-old has hit the post eight times. There are qualified carpenters who haven’t seen as much woodwork in that time.
The inquest will now begin in earnest as to how and why another eagerly lauded attacking recruit wandered squarely into the realm of expensive boondoggle at Stamford Bridge, although this post-(sorry, Timo)-mortem may call for an uncomfortable level of introspection from the powers that be.
Whereas Romelu Lukaku’s fleeting purgatory quickly became a textbook study in square pegs and round holes, you get the impression that Werner’s relative versatility led to the assumption that he could just about make ends meet - theoretically speaking.
Whether it be through the middle or out on the flanks, Werner’s frightening turn of pace and his prior lethality in front of goal should have been, even by conservative estimates, pretty bloody devastating.
But as with Lukaku, there have been suggestions that Chelsea’s tendency to deploy a lone striker only served to hamper the German, that it took the inherent traits that made him such a danger in the Bundesliga and disregarded them entirely. Think of it like buying a Lamborghini and using it exclusively to do runs to the tip.
And that raises a much broader concern about the Blues’ recruitment policy writ large.
The joke for some time now has been that the club is cursed, that there’s some kind of Scooby Doo-esque villain stalking the corridors of Stamford Bridge, cackling in ghoulish glee every time one of world football’s most renowned strikers skies a tap-in from six yards out.
But the thing with Scooby Doo villains is that there’s always somebody under the mask. In this case, it’s Chelsea’s recruitment team. Werner, Lukaku, Morata, Higuain, Torres, Falcao, Shevchenko - the list goes on and on and on. Perhaps the only genuine exception in recent times has been Diego Costa, and you get the impression that he’s the sort of guy who doles out several maleficent curses of his own every day before he’s even had his Ready Brek.
Flippancy aside, there is a common denominator at play here, and while it doesn’t exonerate Werner and the rest of his jinxed confrères entirely, it does go a little way to implying that the issue might be systemic, rather than individualistic. You can only step on so many rakes before you start asking yourself why you insist on walking around garden centre storerooms in clown shoes.
Of course, there have been other factors at play here too. Werner’s confidence has been shot for months, his gaze often glazed and mildly traumatised, like a spooked racehorse teetering on the brink of the glue factory. His preference for eating pasta with ketchup is also a concern, if not for wholly different reasons pertaining to culinary decency.
But when all is said and done, like it or not, Chelsea have to shoulder their share of the blame too.
The Blues need to stop buying big names for the hell of it, and start buying players who will actually benefit their tactical approach.
Of course, we won’t know if they’ve been enlightened by that particular epiphany until Werner’s replacement is unveiled.