After a summer of transition with little transfer action and more departures than arrivals, questions have been raised over the strength in depth of reigning Premier League champions Chelsea’s squad. The experience of departing quintet Michael Ballack, Joe Cole, Ricardo Carvalho, Juliano Belletti and Deco has been replaced by just two signings: Yossi Benayoun from Liverpool and Ramires – the Brazilian getting his first taste of English football having joined from Benfica in Portugal. So this season get used to seeing a number of youth team players called upon by Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian promised at the start of the summer that with a tightening of the purse strings in the transfer market there would be an increase in opportunities for young talent at Stamford Bridge this season, and it is a promise he looks set to keep given his early season team selections.
Josh McEachran made his debut for the Blues in their European tie away to MSK Zilina and in doing so became the first player born after the reformed UEFA Champions League launched in November 1992 to participate in the competition, appearing from the bench at the age of just 17. The youngster showed a high level of skill in his half-hour performance in the Carling Cup defeat against Newcastle, appearing from the bench and displaying an encouraging array of talent for one so young, leaving a lasting impression on the Chelsea fans. He made his Premier League debut late at the City of Manchester Stadium last Saturday and an expectation and hope for further appearances for the Oxford-born midfielder has grown within the Stamford Bridge faithful, signalled by the vociferous reception he received when joining the pitch against Olympique Marseille on Tuesday night. This summer he played a major part in England’s victorious UEFA European Under-17 Championships at the tournament held in Liechtenstein, starting in four of his country’s five games and scoring one goal. He was also part of Chelsea’s winning FA Youth Cup side last season, and showed increasing maturity with his comments after the Newcastle game, one that shows he won’t be phased by a more active role with the Premier League champions. “It
Ancelotti sprung a surprise in his starting line-up against Olympique Marseille by selecting 19-year-old French forward Gael Kakuta in favour of Daniel Sturridge. For Kakuta it offered the opportunity to display the talent that saw him voted Golden Player at this summer’s UEFA European Under-19 Championships for France as his nation took home the silverware. It was the young winger’s third start under Ancelotti, since making his debut against Wolves in a 4-0 win last November, where his substitute appearance impressed with his skill and pace impacting highly. He started his first match for the club against Apoel Nicosia in Chelsea’s final Champions League group game and after a disappointing 2-2 draw with the Cypriots; his manager was full of praise for the highly rated Frenchman. “The only positive of the night was Gael Kakuta,” Ancelotti told reporters; “He played very well and showed his fantastic talent. He trains very well every day and will be the future of Chelsea.” Kakuta enjoyed early success in his fledgling Blues career as he was voted Youth Scoular of the Year after an impressive 12 goals in 20 starts for the Chelsea youth team in the 2007-08 season. Sadly, a double fracture of the ankle suffered in an Academy friendly match halted his progression in February 2009 as he spent six months on the sidelines.
Unlike McEachran, however, Kakuta’s name was familiar with non-ardent Chelsea fans even before his recent foray into the first team, after the circumstances of him joining the club was brought to international recognition in September 2009 with former club Lens accusing Chelsea and the player of breaching a contract in order for him to sign for the Londoners in summer 2007. FIFA decided to suspend Kakuta for four months and prohibited Chelsea from making any new signings until January 2011. The Londoners appealed successfully against both bans, with the suspended banning order lifted in February this year. Despite their different backgrounds, McEachran and Kakuta are strikingly similar in their skilful, rapid approach. One day in the future they could be starting alongside one another for Chelsea. That day could fast be approaching if Ancelotti continues further his promising young talent as he has so far.