Can Kurt Zouma really be Chelsea’s next John Terry?
Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge bow-out concluded amid the kind of frustrated blubbering only a 0-0 draw at home to Norwich can instigate, though it was plain as day to all a saddening subtext dwelt beneath the tears of Ashley Cole and John Terry.
Speculation as to whether Cole had played his last game at the Bridge seems utterly plausible. The English stalwart has been included in Jose Mourinho’s starting line-up on only 14 occasions this season and has largely been nudged out of the left-back role by the naturally right-sided Spaniard, Cesar Azpilicueta.
However, the Chelsea skipper’s consistency over the imminently ended season have massively doctored the script. Terry, 34 this year, has played the full 90 in each and every one of the 34 occasions Mourinho has fielded him and it is a testament to how well he has performed that the PFA’s decision to include Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany ahead of Terry in their team of the year constitutes an outrageous oversight.
Nonetheless, the three-time Premier League winning centre-half’s contract expires come summer, and there’s a new kid on the block.
January saw Chelsea complete the transfer of Kurt Zouma, one of Europes’s most sought after young prospects. The 19-year-old was swiftly loaned back to St Etienne, where he was brought up through the youth sides and was, at the considerably young age of 17 made his professional debut.
Despite certain sources suggesting the signing raises doubts as to what sort of role Terry has at the club next season, though, it does seem inconceivable that Zouma represents the Chelsea veteran’s immediate replacement.
For one thing, youthful defenders are most frequently fielded in tandem with an experienced head at the back and therefore relied upon for more active contributions.
It’s slightly reductive, as Zouma is not entirely the rash hothead his ten-game ban for breaking the leg of Sochaux’s Thomas Guerbert would suggest, but the ex-St Etienne youngster has shown in Ligue 1 he is a reactionary type of defender. His tackling is often well timed and efficient, but his reputation has largely been built on athleticism and aerial prowess.
It follows that the majority of the defensive actions Zouma has performed this season have been clearances, of which he’s performed 173, rather than intercepting balls through intelligent reading of play.
In fact, the French teen has on occasion been guilty of allowing concentration to slip, having twice this season made defensive errors which created goalscoring opportunities for the opposition.
The latter is something Chelsea have, for a long time, depended on Terry to provide, though, not exclusively. The Blues also rely upon their captain to organise, maintain shape and marshal at the back.
It would appear, then, that the threat Zouma poses to Terry’s place in Mourinho’s side is an indirect one. Gary Cahill has been immense this season, having won a whopping 101 headed duels of 147 contested, though has also demonstrated composure, 88% pass completion, which would suggest, as his confidence rises, he has what it takes to take on the ultimate responsibility of leading the back line.
This will no doubt be a gradual process, however. The move may rightly inspire rumours of departures taking place among Mourinho’s current clutch of defenders, but you wouldn’t bet your house on Terry being the one to make way.
Even should he find his playing time greatly diminished, having such an experienced head around behind the scenes offers so much in terms of the growth and development of younger members in the squad. And if Zouma is really the man to go on to replace John Terry, there’s no better player to enable that than the man himself.