One of the more eye-catching names on the fringes of Chelsea’s squad this pre-season is that of Serbian defender Slobodan Rajkovic.
A Blues player since 2005, he has thus far been precluded from playing in England because he doesn’t meet work permit criteria. Aside from a debut against the Chinese Under-23 team for the Reserves at Brentford shortly after signing, sightings of him on domestic shores have been limited.
Instead, he has spent four consecutive seasons on loan in the Netherlands. A year at PSV Eindhoven was followed by two at FC Twente, and last year he captained Vitesse Arnhem.
The former Partizan Belgrade stopper has returned to Cobham for pre-season every summer since and has partaken in friendly matches on site (for the reserves last season against Blackburn, and against Wycombe in this year’s first team clash), but appears to be no closer to being cleared to play competitively here.
He remains ineligible for a work permit based on the standard criteria outlined here, which means he and the club must seek alternative routes.
One of those would be to secure Dutch citizenship, but alas, hurdles remain there. Rajkovic is still a year’s residence short of the five required, and moreover has not spent the four years there ‘consecutively’, another pre-requisite.
Even if he were to achieve both aims next summer, he would also then have to pass a citizenship exam and clear some red tape, and at that stage his Chelsea contract is due to expire, so that particular plan appears to be a non-starter.
Of course, Chelsea could choose to lodge an appeal with the FA and press their claims that their man is of sufficient quality to ply his trade here, as they had to do with Ramires.
To stand a chance of convincing the panel, they must convince that:
the player is of the highest calibre and…the player is able to contribute significantly to the development of the game at the top level in England.
In unwritten terms, that effectively means that it must be clear that Rajkovic can serve his purpose better than a comparable English player.
Whether or not that happens is almost something of a lottery, for the standard of player which has been able to secure permission to play here has often been questionable when paired against those denied the same privilege.
However, the question must be asked; if Chelsea aren’t confident of pursuing a successful claim for their Serbian international defender, why are they using him in pre-season?
Yes, Alex has been suffering with injury and David Luiz is away on international duty, so the centre back position lacks some depth, but the same can be said for other positions which haven’t been stocked up by additional bodies on the plane to Asia.
There’s an argument that the club are merely showcasing him with the mindset of selling him whilst a fee can still be commanded, but it’s a weak one at best. Rajkovic is an established defender in one of Europe’s better developmental leagues; most teams will know what he can offer by now.
I realise there’s quite a lot of speculation without hard facts in this piece, but ultimately there’s not very much clarity surrouding his situation. Many have questions and hopefully this goes some way towards answering some of them.
Rajkovic is certainly in a better position to feature in Chelsea’s first team squad now than many other youngsters at the club (despite it being by far and away the strongest group of players at Stamford Bridge).
Whether he gets to or not remains to be seen.