Balloon boy Christopher Nkunku can help Chelsea float back to relevancy
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In this world of oppressive unoriginality and constant, disposable fixations, it can be hard to find a properly decent gimmick; something that stands out, and that hasn’t been seen or heard or consumed a thousand times before. Christopher Nkunku might just have one, though.
Every time the Frenchman scores a goal, he reaches into his sock, pulls out a red balloon, and proceeds to inflate it. Maybe one day he will learn how to twist and manipulate it into a sausage dog or something, but for now, baby steps. Aesthetically, the whole thing has more than a touch of Pennywise the clown about it. Chelsea fans will be hoping desperately that Nkunku does indeed possess the ‘It’ Factor.
On Wednesday, the Blues finally made an official announcement detailing the 25-year-old’s arrival at the club. Nkunku himself represents something of a departure from many of Todd Boehly’s other signings, firstly because the agreement has been in place for quite some, and secondly because he might actually be good. In 172 outings for RB Leipzig, he registered 70 goals and 56 assists, equivalent to 0.73 goal involvements per game.
Indeed, according to the boffins at FBref.com, over the past calendar year the forward has been in the 90th percentile across Europe’s top-five leagues for several significant statistics, including non-penalty goals per 90 minutes, pass completion rate, and successful take-ons. That’s the kind of nightmare-inducing presence that even Stephen King would be proud to have dreamt up.
Then there is the matter of Nkunku’s versatility. In a squad as disjointed and unhinged as Chelsea’s, having a player capable of comfortably slotting into a number of key attacking positions could be a god send. The France international started life at boyhood club Paris Saint-Germain as a winger, before slowly making the move inside to act as a roaming number 10. It is in this role that he has most frequently appeared for Leipzig, although in recent times he has often played as a more orthodox out-and-out centre forward too. Quite where Mauricio Pochettino sees him fitting into his plans at Stamford Bridge is not clear at this very early stage, but you would assume that he will be prominent.
Of course, Chelsea have been stung many times before, and to a very painful extent. The Blues make it seem as if Macaulay Culkin’s character in My Girl got off lightly by comparison. But Nkunku feels like a genuinely impressive bit of business. He can score goals, he can dribble at speed, he can escape from tight spaces like a cloud of smoke drifting through the cracks in a phonebox. He is intelligent and agile and ruthless, and there is a reason why just about every top club in Europe was linked with him a few months back.
In the end though, Chelsea won that race, and the hope now will be that they will have a damn sight more luck with their new arrival than they have with some of their other recent acquisitions. And who knows, if Nkunku does perform, they might just end up with enough ballons to help them float back to a state of relevancy.