Expectations always skyrocket when a promising player like Mario Pasalic makes their first marquee move. The midfielder completed a transfer to Chelsea after starting his career with Hajduk Split, but Blues fans shouldn't expect him to make a major impact in the short term.
Chelsea announced the deal on their official site after plenty of speculation about where the talented Croatian youth international would land. The club included comments from their newest signing, highlighted by him acknowledging which player he's always followed:
I am very happy because I am now a Chelsea player. I am very impressed by the training ground and I must thank everybody at Hajduk. This is now a new start in my career.
I am a central midfielder, my favorite player is Frank Lampard, and so I am very happy to be a Chelsea player.
The Blues can only dream that Pasalic will enjoy a career at Stamford Bridge even half as productive as the one Lampard put together. That said, he does possess a skill set similar to the club legend in terms of being a central midfielder with an attacking focus.
He scored 11 goals and assisted on five more for Hajduk last season. While that's an impressive campaign for any 19-year-old player in a division where the winner qualifies for the Champions League, the level of competition is still an issue.
When you pair that factor with the obvious issue of an overcrowded Chelsea midfield, at least one season out on loan is the most logical next step. He can train with the club for the preseason and then move to a squad where he will enjoy regular playing time.
Laurie Whitwell of the Daily Mail reports a loan is likely and provides a couple clubs that could serve as landing spots:
Pasalic has joined in first-team training at Chelsea's Cobham base but is likely to go on loan, possibly in the next fortnight to a team such as Lazio or Eintracht Frankfurt, who have registered prior interest.
Whether it's Lazio, Eintracht or another club, the two most important elements of the loan are the competition level and a guaranteed role within the squad.
He needs to take a step up from the Prva HNL in order to understand what it's going to take to thrive in the Premier League. One of the toughest things for a young player who's shone at every level is learning to make an impact when you're no longer the most talented player on the pitch.
Getting experience with a team in one of Europe's top leagues, even if it's a non-contending side, will go a long way in helping his development.
The same is true about playing time. One mistake rising stars often make is resisting loans because they want to stay with a high-profile club. Unfortunately, they end up getting buried on the bench and only make limited appearances, usually as a substitute.
Pasalic made some serious progress during his time with Hajduk, and he needs a chance to build off that over the next year rather than stall out while on the sidelines behind the likes of Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Oscar, among others.
It's also the best way for Chelsea to gauge his progress. At 19, it may end up taking two or three seasons before they feel comfortable making him part of the first-team rotation. Or he could dominate on loan and force his way into the mix next season.
That's the short term. As for the long-term outlook, Blues supporters have plenty to get excited about.
Pasalic is a versatile midfielder who prefers to play in an advanced role. He's displayed a terrific finishing touch to go along with a high football IQ and improving distribution ability. His defensive approach needs some work, but that's not a surprise.
He's the type of player who can control possession in the middle of the pitch, serving as the link between the defenders and the strike force to jump-start attacks. There's no doubt he's still a raw talent by Premier League standards, but he's flashed plenty of star potential.
It's going to take some patience from everybody involved. Pasalic will want to make an impact for a top club while Chelsea and their fans will want to see him making the highlight reel at Stamford Bridge. But he should prove worth the wait.
Exactly how long that wait will be is the only question.
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