In many ways, it’s not a question you can answer with particular ease or brevity. After all, what is ‘ready’?
We often see players head out on loan moves to help them refine their game and develop in order to be ‘ready’ to compete for a first team spot upon their return.
It usually entails some combination of developing physically against older players, progressing mentally with points and league positions to play for, and working out how best their game translates to the professional level.
Of course, that’s all well and good and in many cases entirely valid, but there comes a point where you have to sit back and ask yourself if your definition of ‘ready’ is unrealistic.
Gael Kakuta really sparked this discussion earlier in the week on Twitter, and indeed over the course of the season. Consensus amongst Chelsea supporters was that he needed to go away, perform consistently and prove that he can play at the level required of first team footballers at Stamford Bridge.
Yet there’s a very strong argument that he’s been just that for a while, and is simply better placed after a relatively successful spell at Dijon because he’s shown the ability (at least in patches) to perform in top flight football.
Few would have claimed that Ryan Bertrand was ‘ready’ to have started in the Champions League Final but, given a clearly defined role and set of duties, and trusted entirely by his manager, he put in a solid performance and contributed towards his team’s success.
The likes of Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas, Wayne Rooney and others exploding onto the scene as top class sixteen and seventeen year-olds has helped perpetuate a myth in the last decade that players can only contribute as youngsters if they’re able to be key players, amongst the first names on the team sheet and individuals you can turn to in moments of need.
Kakuta, like Bertrand, is ‘ready’ to play for Chelsea. At the age of almost 21, he’s not going to become much more than he is now, certainly not for a number of years. If and when he does, it will simply be a maturity which comes with experience.
He is what he is; a flair player, a luxury. Critics will be swift to note that he doesn’t defend with particular commitment, that he drifts out of games, that his right foot isn’t good.
If your team can accommodate such a player, and trust him to produce what he’s clearly capable of doing in attack, then he’s ‘ready’. You might equally match each of those flaws to a Juan Mata or a Daniel Sturridge – both are also luxury players, albeit better and more effective ones.
This is no slight on Kakuta, but it doesn’t mean that he can’t be one of a squad of 25/26 and be of use to whoever the new Chelsea manager may be.
It’s easier for attacking players to be ‘hidden’, but if you show sufficient trust in your players and have a solid, well-structured environment for them to play in, they can be ‘ready’.
Oriol Romeu isn’t ready to be a regular for Chelsea but was effective in his role last season. It helped that he was given protection from a group of players around him, but it was something that his manager understood and as a result the Spaniard looked capable more often than not.
Ability will always separate the wheat from the chaff at the upper end of the scale but, strictly speaking, you could take any one of close to a dozen reserve teamers at Chelsea (including those who have spent the last season out on loan) and plug them into the team without a problem, as long as their strengths are accentuated and their weaknesses protected.
Talent evaluation has numerous intricacies and differs from sport to sport but one constant found amongst them all is that a player will a) do some things well, b) struggle to do other things, and c) develop over time. Very, very few are the finished product, but they need not be for them to be of use. It’s part of the charm of team sports that whilst individuals make the headlines, the true value of the team as a sum of its parts always comes to the fore.
A 10/10 player is always nice, and producing a John Terry is a magnificent thing for any academy. However, producing two or three 6/10 players every season is just as useful. A dependable, maybe versatile player who can feature for 20-25 games a season is more valuable now than ever.
We’ll never know if those who have departed Stamford Bridge in search of first team football were ‘ready’. We do now know that Ryan Bertrand is. He might not be great in every game, he might never be a consistent 9/10 player, but he’s more often than not been a 7/10 and that is more than adequate at this point in time.
Positive reinforcement is encouraged throughout the academy setup up and down the country, but appears to stop when players leave youth team football and try to make the hardest step of all into the professional ranks. It needn’t be this way.
There are others at Cobham waiting to be given the same opportunity as Ryan Bertrand. Expecting perfection is ambitious. They’re perhaps more ‘ready’ than many realise.