Loanee Review: Josh McEachran

To round up the 2012-13 youth football season at Chelsea, we’re reviewing every single one of the Chelsea youngsters currently on the books who have spent time out on loan during the campaign. Here, we focus on Josh McEachran.

Club: Middlesbrough
Appearances: 38 (0 goals)

The Story
Whatever the collective thoughts of Chelsea and Middlesbrough fans about Josh, the young midfielder will have learned a lot about professional football in the 2012-13 season and he will be a much better player for the experience of a first full campaign in the adult game.

Since exploding onto the scene as a 17 year-old midfielder under Carlo Ancelotti, hopes have been exceedingly high for the left-footed schemer, but having been on such a fast-track to reach that stage, things have slowed down since then, and it’s arguably for the greater good. A failed loan spell at Swansea in 2011-12 drew concerns as to whether he ‘had what it takes’, but whilst many watched a fellow young left-footed midfielder in Jack Wilshere pushed on to become an England regular, they grew concerned about the progress of young Josh.

Those comparisons were unfair in the first place, though, for Wilshere and McEachran are two very different players. The former is a more dynamic and robust midfielder who is keen to play with a high tempo and assert himself on proceedings in the attacking third, whilst McEachran has gone to often great lengths to portray himself as a puller of strings, preferring to sit deeper in midfield and build the play patiently and creatively.

That’s where he spent most of the season under Tony Mowbray at Middlesbrough, and he generally did very well. The Scottish boss occasionally used him on the right of a flat midfield four – particularly early in the season – in a move which brought his defensive game along leaps and bounds, but as the campaign wore on he gave his young loanee more tactical responsibility and the player responded in kind with a growing role.

Critics will point at a lack of goals – he failed to notch at the Riverside – and a low tally of assists, but that falls upon a false perception of the player creating unrealistic hopes. In 65 youth and reserve outings at Chelsea, Josh scored just 8 goals, with a decent number amongst those coming from set pieces or simple opportunism. He likes to play a more unassuming role and when analysing what he did in a Boro team which fell off a cliff in the second half of the season, there were more positives than negatives.

The Future
Having spent a full season away from home, learning about the rigours of a campaign fighting for points that matter and results which are more valuable than anything he’s previously played for, the puzzle is beginning to look a lot closer to completion for Josh. He has long since had the requisite technical ability to play a role for Chelsea, but, like most players of his age, needed a bit of work on the mental and physical side of things.

He’s never going to be much bigger than he is right now, but appearances can be deceiving and he’s surprisingly strong when he needs to be. It’ll take a brave manager to really integrate some of the burgeoning young talent at Chelsea into the first team but in McEachran they’ll have a genuine candidate to play in a deep-lying creative midfield role who is closer to being ‘ready’ than he ever has been.