Rarely has one player dominated the headlines to the extent that Chelsea’s Gael Kakuta grabbed the media’s attention in 2009. Twelve months on, Kakuta is ready to earn a more positive reaction.
The Frenchman is still just 19 years of age, but his time in England has been nothing short of eventful since completing a switch from French side Lens in 2007. After cutting his teeth with the Chelsea youth team, Kakuta’s world was turned upside down by controversy surrounding his transfer to Stamford Bridge. In 2009, the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber banned Chelsea from buying players during the next two transfer windows while Kakuta received a four-month ban and a fine.
Though the decision was later overturned, the saga thrust Kakuta into the spotlight.
But the drama around the deal has not fazed him, though there were some tough patches when the bans were announced. His talent has been obvious to everyone at the club and in late 2009 Ancelotti raved about his young star’s potential.
The Italian said: “At his age, I have never seen one player with his talent. He suffered for one or two weeks about the situation but he is a very good talent. His character is good. Technically, he is fantastic.”
John Terry is considered to be the last player to rise from the club’s youth system and the defender has voiced his pleasure at witnessing Kakuta’s promise. Terry stated: “It’s good to see not only for the management and the players but for the fans as well. Gael’s a real exciting talent. No one’s getting too carried away – Gael still has a lot to prove – but he’s a great young talent and he’s doing really well.”
The recent 2010 UEFA European Under-19 Championships showcased the youngster’s all-round game. Playing on home soil, France made a fast start as Kakuta set them on the way to a 4-1 win over Holland in the group stage. He popped up again to save the day in the semi-final with the equaliser against Croatia.
But he saved his most important contribution for the final against Spain. With the game locked at 1-1, Kakuta conjured up the assist for Alexandre Lacazette to strike a late winner. Having led his team to glory, Kakuta was named Golden Player for his fine displays in the tournament.
Of course, Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti is not short of quality options going forward, with Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Frank Lampard in the fold, plus Salomon Kalou and last season’s star Florent Malouda. But it will not have escaped the Italian’s notice that Kakuta is developing into a promising attacker.
Just as Sir Alex Ferguson has been raving about the potential of Javier Hernandez and Federico Macheda, Chelsea coaches are said to be excited by Kakuta’s progress. Thus far, his first team appearances have been limited to one Champions League outing and a few cameos off the bench in the league and League Cup. Yet it is not a far fetched idea to think that the youngster might feature in the first team this year, especially as Drogba has had injury problems. The departures of Joe Cole and Michael Ballack may also open up playing time for Kakuta.
It is no secret that Chelsea need some younger legs, especially when trying to unlock stubborn defences. Teams tend to opt for a 4-5-1 formation at Stamford Bridge, making it paramount that the Blues have players with the creativity to produce a moment of magic. And Ancelotti will need to shuffle his pack if Chelsea are to mount serious challenges on four fronts. While there would be benefits to be gained from allowing Kakuta to gain regular first team football out on loan, the attacker has made it clear he wants to stay and fight for playing time this season.
Chelsea are the team to beat this year after winning the Double last season, but with that comes additional pressure. And in Kakuta, they have a young star who will not be overawed by the big occasion. When the moment arrives, Kakuta will be itching to show the promise that caught Chelsea’s eye several years ago.
Kakuta and Chelsea have been through some testing times together, but the Blues will soon reap the rewards. The young Frenchman could well be a key man for many years to come.