It is indeed odd for Jose Mourinho to react to the £4.5 million his club have spent this week on a player that “at the moment is not a player for my squad, he is not a player I am waiting for”. The player the Chelsea manager was referring to was the Brazilian Nathan, who arrives from Atletico Paranaense after breaking through into their first team just under a year ago.
Chelsea have beaten off competition from the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal for the 19-year-old, but it is a deal with the future clearly in mind. It is a future that is potentially bright at Stamford Bridge, with the club’s under-18s into the FA Youth Cup final for the sixth time in eight years and their under-19s having just won the UEFA Youth League by beating Shakhtar Donetsk.
Will Nathan get a chance in Chelsea’s senior team where other youngsters have failed?
Mourinho has spoken of the talent in Isiah Brown, Dom Solanke, Lewis Baker and Ruben Loftus-Cheek while this year 20-year-old Kurt Zouma, a £12 million signing from Saint-Etienne a season and a half ago, has broken into the first team.
Nathan, superb for Brazil in the under-17s World Cup of 2013, will add to Chelsea’s youth contingent that also includes fellow Brazilians Lucas Piazon, who is now on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt after spells at Malaga and Vitesse Arnhem, and Wallace, now among a raft of players farmed out to Vitesse, Chelsea’s partner club.
19-year-old Bertrand Traore of Burkina Faso is also at Vitesse alongside Josh McEachran who in 2011 won the club’s Young Player of the Year award in his breakthrough season before embarking on a series of loan spells that has taken in Swansea, Middlesbrough, Watford, Wigan and now Arnhem.
Now 22, McEachran has failed to make a single appearance for Chelsea since October 2011 and is now synonymous with a youth system that has now become paradoxical; an intent to progress youngsters from the development squad to the first team yet willing to spend vast money on talent that hinders the very youngsters that are tipped to make it.
What does Nathan offer Chelsea?
Nathan, now an international for the Brazil under-20s, is a case in point. The attacking midfielder has been locked in a contract dispute with Atletico since October, a saga that has involved the courts and Nathan being demoted to the under 23s.
The playmaker still hasn’t played a full 90 minutes for Paranaense and has made just 11 appearances in the Brazilian Serie A. His relative lack of senior experience and Jose Mourinho’s acknowledgement that he is not yet ready for the Chelsea first-team is likely to see him add to Chelsea’s already huge list of 26 loanees, most likely heading out to Vitesse.
Nathan’s emergence at the under-17 World Cup saw him score 5 times as he linked up with Vasco De Gama’s Mosquito, operating in the hole behind the central striker to devastating effect, and a place in the team of the tournament. His ability in the final third to both score and create, both-footed, direct and quick, has seen him compared to Liverpool’s Phillipe Coutinho. He is, as South American pundit Tim Vickery calls, “a playmaker who can thread a pass”.
As Vickery ponders Chelsea are already well-stocked in the position of creative attacker, boasting Nathan’s fellow Brazilians Willian and Oscar, Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Juan Cuadrado, as well as current out-on-loan options Marko Marin, Victor Moses, Mario Pasalic, Christian Atsu, Gael Kakuta, Piazon and Traore as players who can operate in the attacking midfield positions.
Izzy Brown and Lewis Baker, of whom Mourinho said would blame himself if they did not manage to break into the England squad in three years, both add to the list of attacking midfielders Chelsea have at their gargantuan squad list. The signing of Nathan is the latest in the practice of hoarding the best talent in order to steal a march on close rivals who may also be interested in signing them.
“He did well at under 17 level but poorly at under 20 level. It’s difficult to see what he has done in the last season to justify it” says Vickery, perhaps ominously for Nathan who will be the latest player to find his progression to the Chelsea first-team stymied.
The likes of McEachran and Ryan Bertrand have been tagged as promising academy graduates yet had to move elsewhere for first-team opportunities, not boding well for a club that is intent on producing its own stars from an academy that costs Chelsea £8 million a year to run, in the age where Roman Abramovich’s luxurious spending has been curbed by Financial Fair Play.
Nemanja Matic, another who spent time at Vitesse after making a £1.5 million move from Kosice in 2009, had to leave for Benfica to make his name, eventually being bought back to Stamford Bridge for a fee of £21 million. Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Mohamed Salah are among the many who have found it difficult to break into the Chelsea side and have all thrived since leaving to play elsewhere.
They have all been sold to vast profits, marking out an impressive business acumen, but with 34-year-old John Terry still the sole first-team representative of their Cobham academy since making his debut all the way back in 1998, it sadly appears to be all Chelsea’s youth teams and development squads are currently geared towards; a long-term money-making exercise.
Nathan, for all the talent the emerging Brazilian star may have, is likely to be the latest expendable asset to Chelsea’s buy, hoard and sell philosophy.
Written by Adam GrayPublished 20 Apr 2015, 10:04 IST