As part of our review of the 2016-17 Chelsea Loan Report season, we’re focusing on ten of the 44 players who embarked upon temporary moves away from Stamford Bridge. The ten players have been selected as being amongst the most interesting of the group; be it for their proximity to the first-team squad under Antonio Conte, for the league they’re playing in, the progress they’ve made at a tender age, or simply because their situation warrants closer inspection, we’ll take a look at the year just gone, review the footage in depth, and take a moment to ponder what the future holds.
Today’s focus is on Michael Hector.
– 26 appearances, 1 goal for Eintracht Frankfurt.
What does he do well?
A versatile performer with impressive physical attributes, Hector impressed not just by earning a move to the Bundesliga off the back of his career at Reading, but then establishing himself as a first-choice centre-back for Eintracht Frankfurt for most of the season. That in itself sets him apart from the majority of Chelsea’s loanees and, although at almost 25 he’s amongst the elder statesmen of the group, he has only been a Blue for two seasons following a surprise transfer in August 2015.
Frankfurt used both a three and a four-man defensive set-up at times during his stay there, allowing him to become even more versatile and understanding of a number of roles. He was most often used on the right of the back three, where his stature provided a shield protecting central areas, and his pace and quickness off the mark allowed him to recover and make up ground when necessary.
At his best, he’s a confident and imposing defender who can bring the ball out into midfield – where he has plenty of experience playing – and that hybrid style is an increasingly valuable commodity in modern football. His passing in particular underwent a major improvement as he tested himself at a higher standard, although Eintracht’s preference for a more direct style overall affected his statistical output overall.
Where does he have room for improvement?
Although he stands 6’4” tall and plays with authority, he lacks agility and can be left stumbling by some of the more slippery and elusive forwards he goes up against. That can also result in him being a half-step behind the action; on more than one occasion last season he was in the right postcode during defensive situations, but he didn’t quite arrive at the specific address on time, instead watching from a few yards away. It speaks to his anticipation, awareness and overall positioning, all of which need sharpening if he’s to ascend to the next level. It’s also something he’s extremely aware of, explaining as much to the official Chelsea website in early June:
“My defensive marking and being aware of danger has improved. Sometimes in the Championship if you switch off the striker may miss the chance, but this year I learned quickly if I switch off, it’s a goal.
That’s improved me as a defender and helped me be concentrated for 90 minutes and not just 60 or 70. That’s been the main point I think.”
How does he fit into this Chelsea team?
It’s probably optimistic to consider him as starter material at this stage – although the Victor Moses story is one we can all learn from in never saying never – yet he could be quite a handy asset in providing squad depth. His ability to play anywhere in defence or in a midfield capacity is similar to that of Nathaniel Chalobah (although Antonio Conte is yet to use Chalobah in his back three) and, rather than having to bring two or three players into the group to provide capable depth, the manager could quite simply call upon his Jamaican international to fill in as and when.
His comfort in possession is sufficient to allow him to be a part of the team’s build-up play in the defensive phase, and he’s big enough to handle himself in the Premier League, where height and size are of an increased importance at set piece situations. Exposure to high-level training methods and team-mates would theoretically only improve his game and refine some of the rougher areas he still has, particularly in asserting himself against forwards, and making the right pass at the right time.
What are his prospects for 2017-18?
Two years into a five-year agreement with Chelsea, it’s Hector’s age that will be the most decisive factor in what happens to him this summer. Another loan would merely delay the inevitable; even Moses wasn’t on loan as a 26 year-old, and the few that were have typically been first-team players the club have been unable to move on permanently.
So, it’ll either be a case of finding a permanent home for him, or bringing him into the first-team squad fold. With Andreas Christensen returning, Nathan Aké looking to establish himself, and at least one new signing expected – and only John Terry departing – he’s on the outside looking in at this point in simple numbers terms. Regardless of how much of a surprise he could turn out to be – and he could genuinely offer something to the team – we might be saying goodbye to Hector in the next couple of months.