Marcel Desailly, Frank Leboeuf, William Gallas and now Kurt Zouma. Will the latest French addition to the Chelsea squad go on to become as good a signing as the former French centre backs at Chelsea??
Kurt Zouma made his debut for Ligue 1 club AS Saint-Etienne at the age of 16. Zouma was extensively scouted by Europe’s top clubs, including the likes of Manchester United. Although Chelsea had enough young talent at centre back namely Tomas Kalas, Kenneth Omeruo yet Jose Mourinho and technical director Michael Emenalo decided to gamble on the 19 year old Kurt Zouma by acquiring his services for £12m in January 2014, before loaning him back to AS Saint-Etienne for the rest of the season.
With Kenneth Omeruo impressing in Brazil at the World Cup and Tomas Kalas who made a very impressive debut against a very rampant Liverpool, everyone would have expected Kurt to spend a lot of time on loan like so many other youngsters signed by us. But Jose Mourinho raised quite a few eyebrows when he loaned out Kenneth Omeruo and Tomas Kalas, sold David Luiz and retained Kurt Zouma as the third choice CB behind skipper John Terry and his compatriot Garry Cahill. And with the prompt promotion of Christensen from the youth set up to the first team squad meant Zouma would be first choice back up.
Kurt had a terrible pre-season with Chelsea with average teams giving him a hard time. He looked like David Luiz on his worst day, constantly misjudged the flight of the ball and so mis-timed his jump only to see the ball sail above his head, and looked clumsy and slow on the ball. Despite his poor showing Jose did not sign a more established centre half. Zouma had to work hard and wait for his opportunities. His appearances were initially restricted to the early rounds of the Capital One Cup and the easier Champions League games including Maribor and Sporting Lisbon at home. The defining moment was the match against Tottenham, Cahill had to be replaced due to injury at half time, instead of moving Ivanovic to CB Jose put his faith in Zouma and he put in a incredible performance. This is what assistant Stevie Holland had to say about his performance on that day:
“Zouma was training magnificently for weeks and it was clear that it was his time. I thought his performance was immaculate. He is a player who has improved considerably since the start of the season”.
That Mourinho put his faith in Zouma in two of Chelsea’s biggest games so far this season – the Capital One Cup semi-final second leg against Liverpool and Chelsea’s potentially title-deciding clash against Manchester City – is evidence of the centre-back’s remarkable progress this season.
Maybe the best thing that could have happened to the French centre back is the opportunity to play alongside the best centre back England has ever produced, John Terry, he has not only improved as a CB but is gradually becoming one of the best young defenders. When asked how John Terry has helped him so far, he answered:
“He is one of the best defenders in the world. (He) talks to me during games, tells which position to take, when to go, when to stay. I am learning all the time.”
It is easy to see how beneficial this partnership has been for Zouma’s development. Indeed, he has improved on several aspects of his game in comparison to pre-season. As Mourinho observed recently, the Frenchman is now more aware of his surroundings on the pitch and sees the bigger picture rather than fixating on the man he is trying to mark.
Although he was handed a 10 game ban for a tackle on Thomas Guerbert which caused double leg break while at Saint-Etienne, Zouma has been remarkably disciplined in Chelsea blue – he has yet to be booked or sent off in any of his appearances in all competitions. Another extraordinary statistic that has emerged this season highlights his assuredness in central defence – prior to the game against Burnley last weekend, the Frenchman went 597 minutes in all competitions without conceding a single foul.
He played against Manchester City and Liverpool in the second leg of the Capital One cup and kept the likes of Aguero and Sterling at bay, his recovery and tackle to stop Raheem Sterling from giving Liverpool the lead when through on goal evidence of that.
At just 20 he has more than a decade of football to play, and could easily become one of the best centre backs of his time. With rumours linking Chelsea to Varane, another young French Defender, it can only be speculated what a great partnership these two Frenchman could form together.
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Edited By: Ankur Bhatt