Oriol Romeu: From Frank Lampard’s potential successor to the Chelsea wilderness

Replacing a player that has been a major part of a club for the guts of ten years is not a task to be taken lightly; ask Arsenal following Patrick Vieira’s departure or Manchester United since Roy Keane left Old Trafford.

Liverpool are set to face the same challenge when Steven Gerrard sets off to America, while Chelsea seem to have managed it well after Frank Lampard’s contract was not renewed in the summer.

The Blues have clearly had the English veteran’s impending absence on their minds for sometime, as both Nemanja Matić and Cesc Fàbregas have been brought to Stamford Bridge to fill the void left by the West London club’s all-time top goalscorer.

Despite Chelsea boasting arguably the Premier League’s most complete central midfield pairing, things seemingly could have been different had other factors fallen into place.

During André Villas-Boas’ ill-fated tenure at the Blues, Lampard’s decline in importance started to become apparent, with the Englishman no longer an automatic first choice in the Blues starting XI.

The Portuguese manager put an emphasis on youth, with Spanish youngster Oriol Romeu getting the nod to play ahead of club legend Lampard on a number of occasions.

Romeu is a product of the fabled La Masia youth academy at Barcelona and spent a total of seven years on the Catalan side’s books before being snapped up by Chelsea in 2011.

After starring for the B side, the gifted central midfielder found considerable obstacles in his chances of Camp Nou first-team inclusion, namely World Cup winners Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Sergio Busquets.

The decision to leave his boyhood club will not have been taken lightly, but like plenty of others before him Romeu had reached a plateau in his young career and despite his promise faced the prospect of reserve team football at Barca.

Initially the signs were positive that the Spaniard had all the hallmarks of a player that could drive a progressive Blues side forward; excellent defensive positional sense, a neat array of passing and intelligence both on and off the ball.

Oriol RomeuAVB took time to figure out his preferred starting XI and most players were rotated, but Romeu was seemingly a relatively important player initially at Stamford Bridge.

With Barcelona possessing a buy-back option in the star’s contract after his first full campaign in England, there were question marks over whether Romeu could be heading back to play a first-team role for the Blaugrana.

However, with Villas-Boas’ dismissal after only nine months at the club, Romeu’s first-team chances started to evaporate.

Needless to say Barcelona passed up on the option to bring him back to Spain following his chances in London becoming more seldom, while Romeu’s career has stagnated to some degree as a result.

Since being deemed as surplus to requirements in the Chelsea first-team squad, Romeu has spent time on loan at both Valencia and Stuttgart.

At the Mestalla last season the midfielder put in a number of strong performances for Los Che but had injury concerns that halted his progress.

This term regular action in the Bundesliga is helping Romeu to grow as a player, but he is featuring in a Stuttgart team that finds itself in a relegation dogfight.

There is no doubt that Romeu has the attributes to play in one of Europe’s top leagues and his experience at Camp Nou, Stamford Bridge and with Spain age grade sides are only going to help him develop.

However, despite being under contract with the West Londoners until the summer of 2017, the chances of the 23-year-old featuring anytime soon for Mourinho’s side seem slight.

By
I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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