Geoffrey Kondogbia’s name has been paired with Chelsea’s on a regular basis this summer as the transfer rumour mill does what it does best.
It makes a degree of sense too. The French Under-20 midfielder is an impressive combination of athletic prowess and technical excellence, and he happens to play in a position and role which the Blues could do with one or two reinforcements.
There is, however, another way to look at things. Twelve months ago, Kondogbia was part of Les Bleus’ Under-19 squad for the European Championships, a tournament in which they took on an England team featuring Nathaniel Chalobah.
It was a breakout tournament for Kondogia, as he shone sufficiently to earn a transfer from Lens to Sevilla, where he was handed the opportunity to showcase his talents on a bigger stage and the playing time to fully flourish as a professional footballer.
Chalobah, playing out of position at right-back for the bafflingly inept Noel Blake in the Estonian finals, enjoyed his first taste of the senior game at Watford last year, establishing himself as one of the brightest young English talents as the Hornets came within one game of promotion. The two players shared the same pitch and England even managed to pull off a victory. Chalobah had a strong tournament and there was no discernible difference in quality from him to those in French blue on the other side.
Both he and Kondogbia are robust, powerful, ‘modern’ central midfielders who can contribute at both ends of the pitch, cover the middle ground effortlessly and provide the added versatility of covering at other positions as and when required. It’s therefore a little odd to see Chelsea not only linked with but apparently interested in what would doubtless be an eight-figure transfer when they have the potential to develop one of their very own for free.
Chalobah’s not there yet; he’s yet to taste top-flight football and has some refinements to make, like any young pro. He has time on his side though, for he doesn’t turn 19 until December, whilst Kondogbia will reach the landmark age of 21 a couple of months later early in 2014. It’s very possible that by the time Chalobah reaches that age, he’ll be a better player by comparison.
But for that to happen, the opportunity has to be provided. Sure, there’s a pressing need for a certain level of quality in central areas at Stamford Bridge right now, but a gamble on Chalobah instead of going with the ‘safer’ option of Kondogbia could yield fantastic short-term results. He’s the sort of player who has time and again in his brief career to date shown that he thrives when posed the challenge of playing at a higher level and whilst there would doubtless be growing pains, they would quickly be replaced by the plentiful assets his game provides.
As always, it comes back to trust and playing time. The Chelsea academy has arguably never produced a player of Chalobah’s quality, certainly not at a tender age. They must make good on his potential, and they must do so sooner rather than later. It would be a ballsy move by Jose Mourinho to include him in his plans for the coming season, but it would be a more sensible approach than splashing out on what is effectively an older model of what he can become.