Since returning to Chelsea for his second spell as manager, Jose Mourinho has been at lengths to outline his vision for the future. The Portuguese says he is open to helping out with Greg Dyke’s FA commission, designed to aid the progression of English players in the domestic game, and is also looking to make more use of his club’s youth system, an academy that has produced only Ryan Bertrand since John Terry emerged over a decade ago.
One of the players Mourinho identified as an opportunity to boost that record is Nathaniel Chalobah, the midfielder who will also be encountered should the former Inter Milan and Porto coach take his place on the Dyke’s commission. Despite registering 11 under-21 caps with England at the age of 18, Chalobah still has not made a senior appearance for Chelsea and has had to utilise the loan system to gain first-team experience at Championship level.
Chalobah was born in Freetown, Sierra-Leone, but was raised in England, more specifically south London, after migrating at an early age. Joining Chelsea’s Cobham academy as a 10 year old in 2005, he rose through the youth ranks at the club, making his debut for the England under-16 side three years later, aged only 16. After just 6 appearances for that age-group, he was promoted to the under-17s.
From such an early age, his leadership qualities were notable as he was made captain for his club at every single age level, as well as being given the armband for England’s under-17s as a fifteen year old. The youngster received his first call to the senior side just under a year later, named as an unused substitute for the League Cup game with Newcastle.
Meanwhile, his youth career for the club was going from strength to strength, winning the national championship with the reserves in 2011 before leading the team to glory in the 2012 FA Youth Cup. In January of that year, shortly after turning 17, he earned his first professional deal with the club, keeping him at Stamford Bridge until 2014, and he ended a superb season by travelling with the club to the 2012 UEFA Champions League final, in which Chelsea were victorious. He also won England Men’s Youth Player of the Year award, taking into account his fine form for the England under-19s.
Chalaobah was given his first experience of first-team football the following season, joining former Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola at Watford on an initial three-month loan deal. He made his first full start for the club in late September against Bristol City, and his first goal came two months later in a victory over Wolves. Becoming integral to a youthful and vibrant Hornets side, the teenager saw his loan spell extended until the end of the season.
In the 2012-2013 season, Chalobah made a total of 38 appearances, including the play-off final in which Watford narrowly lost out to Crystal Palace by a goal to nil. His performances and goals, including this superb volley against Burnley and a wonderful 30-yard effort against Leicester, were rewarded with a breakthrough in England under-21s and a new five year deal with Chelsea which he signed in the summer. In September, Chalobah was allowed to move on loan once again, this time joining Nottingham Forest until January, so far he has made 3 appearances for Billy Davies’s Forest, the most recent seeing him dismissed in the game with Brighton.
Strengths, Style, Weaknesses
His double-yellow card showing at Brighton, the latter coming for a shove on Kazenga Lua-Lua, is indicative of the naivety and inexperience that still creeps into his game at a tender age. Last season he picked up 4 yellows and one red card and whilst that is not the worst disciplinary record for a defensive midfielder, he conceded a total of 32 fouls and this season he has made 6, suggesting that he needs to clean up his game if he is to become a reliable proposition in front of his defence.
The majority of his game however, is centred around his ability and comfort on the ball, dictating play from deep with his vision and ability to play long and short passes. He is also excellent at carrying the ball forward into attack, making use of his sublime balance and poise on the ball. Chalobah’s positioning, composure and tactical awareness stands out for a player of his age, playing the box-to-box role to great effect.
His ability is best summed up by the FA website who describe him as a
“Tall, athletic and comfortable in possession, the Chelsea youngster is a calm and composed player in either midfield or defence, both quick in the tackle and also able to play the ball sharply and accurately across the pitch.”
His rangy 6ft 2 inch frame allows him to brush past opponents with ease.
Despite his superb form in the Championship as well as his key role in the under-21s for England, Chalobah is still only 18 and it must be remembered that a lot of his obvious talent is still raw and is still currently potential. It is something his manager of last year, Watford’s Gianfranco Zola, acknowledged when he claimed
“If he maintains the right attitude and keeps working and focusing on learning, he can go to the very top if he wants to”
The highly-rated defensive midfielder has obvious potential and still has copious time to iron out the imperfections in his game as Jose Mourinho and England await his impact on their senior teams. If he continues at his current rate, England will have a technically gifted, cultured defensive midfielder who can control the tempo of the game with a large array of passing, while Chelsea will also have a rarity, an academy product who can breakthrough to the Stamford Bridge first-team.