I have strangely procrastinated writing on Chelsea’s Nathaniel Chalobah for some time now, having monitored his impressive progress this season on loan at English Championship, Watford FC.
Often times I try to avoid the sensationalism that usually hits a youngster who has had a decent single season, especially at the Chalobah’s age, for there is a long journey from being a superstar at youth football level to arriving at an accomplished footballer destination. The beauty about opinion is it changes as reality creeps in, with time.
Born in Freetown, Sierra Leone on December 12, 1994, Nathaniel is the kind of young player every coach who is interested in youth football development desires; a natural talent who has got the heart of a leader, and versatility in potentials. His talent offers a coach a beautiful conundrum of options from where to explore and exploit. He’s a young lad who has been involved with the first team squad at Chelsea since the age of 15.
Young Chalobah has captained England and Chelsea youth teams (always ahead of his age groups) as well as the Blues reserves yet he only turned 18 last December. The fact that the England boss, Roy Hodgson has mentioned him as one of the country’s emerging talents clearly means he has been monitoring his progress.
Watford manager and one of Chelsea’s most admirable former footballers, Gianfranco Zola believes in the youngster and took him into his squad from the start of the season. Zola, 46, even fondly sometimes calls him ‘my friend’ and after featuring 41 times-including 36 starts- you surely do not need many arguments on how highly the Blues legend rates Chalobah.
Chalobah can competently play both as a central defender and a midfielder, but Zola admits he is trying to mould him into a defensive midfielder-he has played as midfielder virtually all season. It is safe to say the Italian has not curtailed the Three Lions hopeful of his attacking instincts, allowing him to transit into opponents’ attacking third throughout the season. Nathaniel has plundered five goals via these offensive traits, with his thunderbolt winner at Leicester City the peak of the pack.
Now the teenager is facing arguably the biggest game of his career so far against London rivals Crystal Palace in the play-off final, a game of emotions, of financial and professional motivation. The new windfall of around £120m, expected to be accruable to teams aiming for promotion, makes it a massive game at the illustrious Wembley Stadium on May, 27. Then the chance to play against the finest footballers in the English Premier League is another significant incentive.
Chalobah has had relatively subdued performances in the previous two-legged games play-off games against Leicester City but that’s understandable for a young lad who has started 37 games in his first real shot at senior competitive football .
However he must be ready to make a huge impression at Wembley with Premier League managers (who may offer him loan options) and those of the national teams watching. It is important he sees the game as a great audition to further justify the rave reviews he has had all season and repay Zola’s faith in him by playing a crucial role to ensure a victorious outing. His position is quite important in controlling the tempo of the game for the Hornets. He can be a key player.
If Watford make the Premier League, it affords Chalobah a great opportunity to ask Chelsea for another loan spell at Vicarage Road, where he could enjoy more regular football at top level than returning to Stamford Bridge for bit-part roles. Staying with Zola in the top flight will do him a lot of good because the manager clearly believes in him.
There are obvious indications the new Blues manager (potentially Jose Mourinho) is gunning for experienced midfield reinforcements- Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira and AS Roma’s Danielle De Rossi have both been linked with a move to London. In addition, the announcement of a new deal for veteran Frank Lampard can only mean Chalobah will be down the line in his consideration.
Then after making the squad to this summer’s U-21 European Championship, it would be great for young Nathaniel to show manager Stuart Pearce that he’s the man to trust in the heart of England midfield in Israel.
You’ve got it in you Chalobah, good luck at Wembley!