So, Sam Hutchinson is back.
You’ll all have seen by now that Chelsea announced on Thursday that the young defender has penned an eighteen-month contract after a similar length of time ‘officially’ retired from the game.
Supporters are obviously delighted to see such an obviously passionate young man – and a Chelsea fan to boot – try and make another concerted attempt to take full advantage of his undoubted abilities, yet even the most ardent optimist will have their realistic hat on at the same time.
The odds remain stacked against Sam with regards to having a long career, be it at Stamford Bridge or elsewhere, but in the spirit of cautious optimism, what exactly can we expect going forward?
Since the beginning of pre-season, Hutchinson has played somewhere in the region of a dozen matches, predominantly at centre-back. He can – and has – played at right-back, but with baby steps very much the order of the day, the collective decision to not do too much too soon was taken.
When used at right-back, it’s pleasing to report that there have been no lasting ill effects from the more physically demanding role; particularly in Chelsea’s tactical system which asks a lot of the full-backs.
At the heart of the defence, Sam remains the infectious, spirited leader, but he’s also displayed a high level of technical ability. Certainly, he doesn’t appear to have lost a step in his year away.
A hallmark of his early performances in 2011-12 was the ability to play a long, defence-splitting ball which often ended up in a goal. This was in evidence at Stamford Bridge back in September when he provided an assist for Jacob Mellis against Blackburn.
Thursday’s announcement laid out the short-term plan to gradually increase the training workload from January onwards, and to review things every six weeks.
With twelve or so appearances in 18 weeks to date, expectations have probably been exceeded but there have been ample rest periods built into his rehab schedule and everyone at Chelsea appears to be positive about the years to come.
It’s here where things become interesting, yet just as hard to call. The offer of a new deal is clearly more than a token gesture, and there appears to be real hope that Hutchinson can manage his condition and make strides into the first team squad.
Both Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti saw fit to hand opportunities to him as a teenager, a feat which manages to speak volumes when put up against the club’s recent track record with academy produced players.
The first team squad does currently struggle at the right-back position but anybody looking towards Hutch as a potential short-term solution is probably getting ahead of themselves.
It’ll be the position you’re likely to see cameos in but one would think that any professional career he has will eventually be at centre-back, if only because it’s less stressful on the knees.
Ledley King (who suffers from a very similar ailment) has shown, with middling success, that persistence and hard work will pay off and despite the lengthy spells on the sidelines, the highs always outweigh the lows.
We’re sure that all Chelsea fans everywhere had their moods lifted by this brilliant positive news this week, and have everything crossed for the future. Good luck Sam!