The final few weeks of the season aren’t just a crucial time for clubs to meet their destiny, but in many years they also represent the opportunity for a player to secure or fight for his place in his national team’s squad for an upcoming international tournament.
Chelsea will have a slew of players heading to Brazil at the end of May in preparation for the FIFA World Cup but amongst the heavy crop of Blues heading to South America will be a smattering of loanees. With no fewer than 31 prospects plying their trade away from Stamford Bridge in 2013-14 it should come as little surprise to learn that a few of them have made waves on the international stage.
Some will star, some will be there primarily to enjoy the ride, and one or two are in a battle to even get a seat on the plane. Let’s take a look at the movers and shakers a month away from the deadline for the 30-man provisional squads to be submitted.
The Dead Certs
Thibaut Courtois and Romelu Lukaku aren’t just key members of Belgium’s squad, they’re headline acts in a generation that has led the Red Devils back to international football’s top table for the first time in a decade. Courtois has established himself as one of the finest goalkeepers in the world and will continue to shine in June, whilst a serious injury to Christian Benteke combined with a strong run of form since the start of March should ensure Lukaku lines up as Marc Wilmots’ first-choice striker.
The Highly Likely
In January of 2013, Kenneth Omeruo was a little-known loanee developing in the Eredivisie at ADO Den Haag and a surprise inclusion in Nigeria’s African Cup of Nations squad. Given his chance by manager Stephen Keshi at centre-back despite playing his club football at right-back, he emerged as a dependable and highly capable part of a Super Eagles team that went on to win the competition.
He retained his place for the Confederations Cup in Brazil and continued to impress, and despite missing the first half of this season with a shoulder problem, he’s returned to form and fitness at Middlesbrough in The Championship. If he’s fit there’s no reason to think he won’t be Keshi’s guy once again.
Fellow West African starlet Christian Atsu has gone from strength to strength since the Eredivisie returned from its winter break and but for the efforts of the Ghanaian, Vitesse would surely have found themselves further down the table than they already are. A regular part of his national squad, he scored against Egypt in the playoffs to help his team qualify and will almost certainly travel.
Barring a Surprise
Ordinarily, Victor Moses would belong to one of the more secure groups, but a season of backup duty at Liverpool could bring his place into doubt. He hasn’t put together ninety minutes of league football in 2014 and despite being amongst Nigeria’s most consistent performers in the last two years – including two goals in the latter stages of qualification late in 2013 – they have good depth in forward areas and an Imoh Ezekiel or an Uche Nwofor could press hard for inclusion at his expense.
Looking in from the Outside
Patrick van Aanholt enjoyed a strong eighteen months at Vitesse prior to this season and continued that momentum into the first half of this campaign; scoring five goals in all competitions before Christmas and finally earning a maiden international cap for the Netherlands in November, albeit only for a minute of action. However, since then his form has tailed off and he lost his left-back job at Vitesse to Rochdi Achenteh for a month before winning it back against the wishes of many supporters.
Louis van Gaal has preferred many an alternative to the 23 year-old but has recently been deprived of the services of Euro 2012 first choice Jetro Willems due to injury. It opens the door slightly more for Van Aanholt to make his case but with Daley Blind, Bruno Martins Indi and Terence Kongolo all ahead of him in the pecking order, it’d be a surprise if he made the cut.
The same could be said of Thorgan Hazard. A tremendous 2013 calendar year saw him almost lead Zulte Waregem to a first ever league title, make his international debut for Belgium, and claim the country’s most prestigious domestic individual honour as Golden Shoe winner for the finest home-based talent. He did go five months without scoring a league goal but has found his game again in recent weeks and could yet take that next step for Zulte, who are gaining ground in another title challenge.
The problem Eden’s baby brother faces however is getting noticed above a slew of attacking midfielders strutting their stuff in more competitive, higher quality leagues. An explosive last half a dozen games could get him into the final 23 but he’s most likely to miss out as part of the numbers game.
Mario Pašalić isn’t officially a Chelsea player yet but he will become one in June; all parties involved have more than hinted at the arrangement and Michael Emenalo even watched him in person this past weekend. The 19 year-old attacking midfielder has enjoyed a very productive season at Hajduk Split and since agreeing a move to London has stepped his game up with each passing week. Eleven goals and nine assists this season has placed him firmly on Niko Kovac’s radar and with as many as eight spots in Croatia’s squad open to those who impress most, he’s timing his ascension very nicely indeed.
The summer of 2012 was a good time to be Ryan Bertrand. A Champions League winner on his debut in the competition, he then went on to represent Great Britain at the 2012 London Olympic Games before making his England bow not long afterwards.
A struggle to secure regular football ever since saw him fall out of Roy Hodgson’s plans and despite a January move to Aston Villa in a bid to force his way back into the picture, he’s arguably further away than he was before. Indifferent personal form means he won’t be troubling Messrs Cole, Baines, Gibbs and Shaw this summer.
Kurt Zouma’s chances of a Brazilian summer were always limited as France very, very rarely offer international caps to teenagers but he was on that borderline between stepping up from the Under-21s into Didier Deschamps’ plans halfway through the season. Since joining Chelsea he’s been roundly dropped by Saint Etienne as they prepare for life without their hulking 19 year-old defender and at this point he should be making plans to set up in London in mid-July instead.