No one can say they weren’t warned.
If anyone had missed the furore surrounding Gael Kakuta that overshadowed the early part Chelsea's season, Carlo Ancelotti’s comments ahead of yesterday’s game against Wolverhampton Wanderers added another reason why the Frenchman has become one of the most talked about young players in world football.
“He (Kakuta) is a very good talent. He is very young and he can be a player in the future of Chelsea with his quality,” Ancelotti said.
“His character is good, he is a quiet boy, and at that age I have never seen a player with this talent,” he revealed.
Coming from Ancelotti, that is some statement. The Italian has observed some fabulous players in his 30-year career in football.
The fact that Kakuta is the best 18-year-old he has ever seen—just last year he was working with another fabulous teenager, AC Milan's Alexandre Pato—will only increase the expectation around the young winger.
But the France U19 international has already become used to that.
After all, in September he went from being just a highly regarded member of Chelsea’s reserve team to one of the most notorious players in the world.
With FIFA judging out of the blue that Chelsea had broken the rules in luring Kakuta from French club RC Lens as a 16-year-old, the west London club found themselves forbidden from making signings for two consecutive transfer windows.
Kakuta, portrayed in many places as one of the villains of the piece, was banned from competitive football for four months.
Mentally weaker players would have crumbled under the increased scrutiny. But after a brief period of panic, the club's 2008 Scholar of the Year soon composed himself.
“I think Kakuta suffered for one or two weeks about the situation and then after that he was better,” Ancelotti said.
“He returned to being quiet and calm and stayed with us to train. Still now he is well.
“It was not so important to speak with him, it was important to train with him and he stayed with the first team in this period.”
Kakuta had served six weeks of his ban by the time the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) suspended all punishments awaiting the hearing of Chelsea’s appeal.
That decision came just a few weeks ago. Returning to competitive action with a few appearances for Franc U19s last week, Kakuta found himself on the bench for yesterday’s Premier League game as the Blues were deprived of many regular first-team players.
3-0 up inside 20 minutes, Ancelotti was given some freedom to experiment. So with 30 minutes to go, Kakuta was given his club debut.
By Chelsea players’ standards, it was nothing more than a good individual display. But as Wolves proved, that is nothing less than exceptional in the context of the league.
With young players on debut, often the performance is the least revealing aspect. In terms of long-term potential, frequently it is the attitude displayed that is the most reliable indicator of their future.
With a nonchalant shake of Nicolas Anelka’s hand and a wry smile, Kakuta entered the fray clearly at home in the environment he found himself.
Unfazed by the considerably larger and more physical opponents he was up against, the No. 44 played like it was a schoolyard game.
His first major contribution saw him pick up the ball on the edge of the area, and in one swift movement beat a bemused Richard Stearman with a body feint before pulling his shot just wide of Wayne Hennessey’s near post.
From then one the Stamford Bridge knew they were witnessing a special talent. Kakuta passed, moved, and dribbled like a star.
He flashed a 30-yard shot just wide of goal. He kept the Wolves’ defenders guessing with a variety of tricks and touches.
It would have been an embarrassment for the club if Kakuta had not looked worth all the trouble. But, having been forced to overcome a horrendous double-ankle fracture already in his fledgling career, it might not have been a surprise if he had failed to live up to the enormous hype.
After all, pressure gets to veterans of the game, never mind youngsters who have never played a minute of top-flight football.
But the very best young players—Wayne Rooney, for example—announce themselves with impressive performances from the first minute on the pitch.
And while Rooney might have grabbed more headlines on his debut, by scoring a 90th minute winner for Everton against a previously unbeaten Arsenal in October 2002, it was his attitude that really revealed him as a genuine star in the making.
He looked at home on the football field, like that was where he was born to shine.
Yesterday, Kakuta showed that same raw quality.
The Frenchman still has some way to go to become one of the very best in the game, but the potential is clearly there.
Because of Kakuta, Chelsea might yet be unable to buy players come next summer.
But because of him, they might not even want to.
”We had a lot injuries before this game today, but our play was the same,” Ancelotti noted.
“In January, we may not even need to buy other players.”