Romelu Lukaku will not be returning to West Bromwich Albion next season. And that fact means manager Steve Clarke has a lot of thinking to do this summer.
The Belgian international was nothing short of phenomenal for the Baggies. Now he will take that terrifying talent back to Stamford Bridge, where Jose Mourinho would be crazy not to unleash it as soon as possible.
And while the Blues benefit from a player who could seemingly be as good as he decides to be, their former assistant manager Clarke has to figure out where next season’s goals will come from. Does he dip into the loan market once more, or does he attempt to sign a prolific striker for keeps?
Of course he would like to do the latter, but whether that is possible remains to be seen. Having already missed out on Basle striker Jacques Zoua, the Baggies are now said to be targeting former Watford loanee Matej Vydra and Columbian Macnelly Torres.
But even if one of those players is secured, Clarke would do well to call David Moyes and ask for a favour. Because the Manchester United manager has a player at his disposal who is unlikely to feature much for his first-team next season, and yet he is one who could make a difference for a side like West Brom.
Larnell Cole is not a striker. And he is certainly nothing like Lukaku. While the Belgian is a man-mountain, Cole is a diminutive winger.
And yet should Clarke wish to replace the goals rather than the player, he could do far worse than add the United man to his squad, along with a new striker.
Cole’s end to last season suggests he is ready for the next step. A hat-trick in the semi-final of the Under-21 Premier League against Liverpool was followed by a brace in the final against Tottenham.
And the fact that he is able to play in a variety of positions – although predominately on the wing – means Clarke could be signing a player for many occasions.
There are numerous young players at plenty of clubs that could be West Brom’s new success story. But Cole is one of the few who could fit into their ethos, and make the loss of Lukaku’s goals (if not his presence) that little bit less.
And United will know that loaning a player out doesn’t automatically mean they will be played – just ask Angelo Henriquez.
As with Sir Alex Ferguson before him, Moyes will know there are only certain clubs at which his players will be given the chance to shine, with West Brom being one of them.
Fans hoping for another Belgian wonder-kid may be left disappointed. But Clarke’s respect within the game may see him continue to be given temporary responsibility for some of the top flight’s next generation. And Cole certainly has the potential to be one of those.
A new striker remains a priority. But as the Baggies seek to push on from last season, they will need creativity and rejuvenation across the field.
So until they can bring them in permanently, and as long as they are benefiting from it, West Brom may be the finishing school for a few more stars of the future.
Would Baggies fans welcome Cole to The Hawthorns? And do United fans think it would be a good move for the player?
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