Jose Mourinho’s decision to include 13 youth and fringe players in his 26-man squad for Chelsea’s pre-season tour of Europe has led to some speculation that several youngsters will be given first-team opportunities in the 2014-15 season. Among them is Nathaniel Chalobah, a 19-year-old central midfielder-cum-centre-half, who has been at the club since the age of 10.
Chalobah has been one of the most talked-about Chelsea youngsters since he signed his first professional contract at 17 years old, despite never making a first-team appearance for the Blues.
His career so far has been characterised by loan moves, most notably the season spent under Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola at Watford. Chalobah was massively influential in the Hornets’ bid for promotion, making 38 appearances throughout 2012-13.
We are thinking of letting him go on loan for a last season. That is our intention. He knows. We have discussed that with him. He is a very, very good player. I like him very much—very, very much. I am very impressed. For sure, a Chelsea player (in future), for sure. We think he is there. He could be in our squad already. But we think one more season and it will be his last one out on loan. We will see whether or not it is a Premier League club.
Chalobah did not complete a single 90-minute match for Forest and returned to Chelsea in January before heading back out on loan to Middlesbrough. He had a much better time on Teesside, along with fellow Chelsea youngster Kenneth Omeruo, and he will be hoping to cement his case with some strong pre-season performances this summer.
The versatility of his positioning makes the recently departed David Luiz the best player to compare Chalobah to in the Squawka comparison matrix. The numbers work out well in his favour, with Luiz only triumphing by a small margin on duels won.
Having performed so well in the second half of the 2013-14 season, and with Mourinho’s endorsement still relevant, it seems cut-and-dried that Chalobah will make his first-team debut for Chelsea in 2014-15. However, this may not be the case.
Competition for Chalobah’s favoured central midfield position will be fierce next season, especially if Mourinho persists with the 4-2-3-1 formation. Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas, Marco van Ginkel and Ramires will be fighting it out for the two spots. John Obi Mikel is likely to be sold this summer, per Sami Mokbel at the Daily Mail, while Oriol Romeu signed a contract extension last week, per BBC Sport.
The overcrowding in midfield makes it more likely that Chalobah would play at centre-half. However, Kurt Zouma has been handed the No. 5 shirt, indicating that he will stay at Stamford Bridge. With Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta able to cover two defensive positions apiece, Chalobah may find himself surplus to requirements if he stays at the club next season.
Although it is clear that he has the potential to make it at Chelsea, there is no sense in his development stagnating on the bench, or in dropping back down to the under-21s.
The best course of action would be a half-season loan to a Premier League club. Newly promoted Burnley have expressed an interest in bringing the 19-year-old in, per Simon Jones at the Daily Mail, and it makes sense for him to cut his teeth elsewhere in the league before making his debut for the Blues.