We’ve reached (pretty much) the end of the 2014-15 club season, which means it’s time to look back over the campaign as far as things went on the loan front at Chelsea Football Club.
In this review, we look at events as they unfolded in Spain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.
[table class=”table table-striped”]
Gael Kakuta,Rayo Vallecano,35,5
Stipe Perica,NAC Breda,11,3
Lucas Piazon,Eintracht Frankfurt,23,2
Marco van Ginkel,Milan,18,1
Chelsea had a fair spread of youthful, promising talent across the big three European countries outside of England whilst maintaining their fruitful relationship with Vitesse Arnhem again, and in a pleasing positive development from seasons past, that included strong representation in the Bundesliga for the first time. The highest profile of those was probably Thorgan Hazard, who built upon two seasons at Zulte Waregem where he had established himself as arguably the best player in Belgium and took on the challenge of playing for Borussia Mönchengladbach.
He started well, with two goals in a Europa League qualifier, and although he never really found a way to force himself into a very successful league starting team, he got plenty of European minutes and impressed sufficiently to earn himself a permanent move to the Champions League qualifiers for a cool €8m, with Chelsea retaining a buyback clause.
Oriol Romeu signed a new contract in London before shifting to Stuttgart, where he was involved early and often but as VfB’s form tanked, he became less of a feature in their team. He was ultimately dropped and reduced to a substitute’s role at best as Stuttgart found a second wind late in the piece and hauled themselves to safety.
It was a similar tale for Lucas Piazon; the Brazilian dipping in and out of Eintracht Frankfurt’s team without ever showing the sort of consistency and depth to his game that many have felt he’d struggle without. He struck a spectacular free kick away to Hamburg to make a few headlines in the late autumn but he took finished up by mainly sitting on the bench. Tomas Kalas, however, spent the first half of the season doing absolutely nothing in Cologne before returning to England and making up for lost time at Middlesbrough.
Kalas and Piazon will have looked back on their time over in the Netherlands at Arnhem fondly during their struggles this term – Kalas even turned up as a fan a few times in December – and it was another thoroughly fascinating season for Chelsea’s most prominent affiliate. Bertrand Traore embarked upon a second stay at the Gelredome after impressing late in ’13-14, and he was joined by Brazilian full-back Wallace and, interestingly, Josh McEachran, who was looking to get his promising career back on track.
From August to November, it didn’t quite go to plan. Vitesse’s form was inconsistent to say the least, Traore was good in fits and bursts whilst Wallace struggled to adapt to his defensive requirements, and McEachran simply didn’t get a look-in due to injury and a slow process settling in a new country.
Then everything changed in December. Manager Peter Bosz moved Traore to play as a centre-forward and tweaked a few other things – including dropping Wallace for home-grown defender Kevin Diks – and off they went. Traore suddenly became a prolific goalscorer and Vitesse flew up the league, ultimately finishing in 5th place to give themselves a chance of qualifying for the Europa League.
Traore’s 17 goals stood out for obvious reasons but, from February onwards, McEachran was able to take advantage of injuries (to Marko Vejinovic) and suspensions (to Davy Pröpper) to firstly get a chance in the team and then play himself into an undroppable position. He started eight of their final ten fixtures, with plenty at stake, and Bosz would later reveal that he was picking him over Vejinkovic in part to consider ‘the future of the team’, hinting at a return for next season too.
A 7-4 aggregate win over Heerenveen with all three Blues youngsters in the team secured a place in next season’s Europa League qualifying rounds, a fine achievement that promises much heading into ’15-16.
Over in Breda, Croatian forward Stipe Perica enjoyed his first campaign at NAC Breda so much that he agreed to return for a second turn, and started very well. A brace against Ajax reminded everyone of his powerful, bustling capabilities, but the team floundered and Serbian manager Nebojsa Gudelj lost his job. Without the influence and trust of the man who had assured him that NAC was the right club for him at that point in his career, the relationship began to break down and in January, he joined Italian Serie A outfit Udinese on an eighteen-month deal.
Naturally, the step up in quality from the Eredivisie to the Italian top flight took a while but he was given the odd start here and there and a goal away to Roma perhaps gave a glimpse at what might follow over the course of his longer stay with the Zebretti.
The additional Chelsea-tinted focus on the peninsula came at Milan and Fiorentina, where a pair of comings and goings respectively resulted in a rather mixed bag of results. Fernando Torres was cast aside by Jose Mourinho and lumbered on Milan, who despite a (full) debut goal at Empoli quickly realised that the Spanish forward was a pale imitation of the player he once was and hastily arranged a deal to send him to Atlético Madrid in exchange for Alessio Cerci.
The Rossoneri were also given the services of former Vitesse midfielder Marco van Ginkel as he continued the long-term recovery aspect of his torn cruciate ligament, suffered just over a year earlier in a League Cup tie at Swindon. The very nature of that rehabilitation process meant he took a while to get up to speed but once he had, he established himself as a reliable and consistent performer in a team desperately lacking that.
In Florence, Marko Marin did what Marko Marin has done for much of his career; spend the majority of the time injured and manage to impress in the Europa League when fit. He wasn’t fit to debut until late October and played just four times for I Viola; all in Europe, where he still managed to score twice before swapping one purple shirt for another in heading for Anderlecht in January.
His place in the squad was taken to some extent by Mohamed Salah, who had grown frustrated by a lack of action at Stamford Bridge, and to say the Egyptian provided a better bang for their buck than Marin would be rather understating matters. He reeled off a short spell where seven consecutive Fiorentina goals were either scored directly by him (six) or assisted (one) en route to nine goals in twenty-six appearances. Every strike (or near as dammit) looked like it had been taken from the Michael Owen 1998 handbook; slaloming through helpless defenders before lashing home comfortably on either foot.
It was quite something to behold and often came in direct contrast with the concerning progress of Juan Cuadrado, who went in the other direction at the same time. Fiorentina retained the option of bringing Salah back to the Artemio Franchi for another year and it would be hugely surprising if that didn’t happen.
In Spain, Gael Kakuta’s move to Rayo Vallecano in July looked like something of a last chance saloon for the talented yet frustrating French wizard. Stays in Arnhem and at Lazio a season earlier had not gone to plan and, going into the final year of his Chelsea contract, his short-term future was on the line. For the good of his career, he had to make a statement.
And he did just that. An ever –present until the final three weeks of the season when he was afforded a well-deserved rest, Kakuta was one of La Liga’s more dynamic forwards, scoring five goals and showcasing his trademark dribbling and ball skills to a very respectable level. He spoke in mid-season about maturing on and off the field and figuring out how to be a professional and it absolutely showed in his game. Whilst there may be no future back in SW6 for him, he’s almost certainly assured of a positive next step as the result of a job well done this term.
Mario Pašalic took the bold step to jump straight into the Spanish top flight after leaving Hajduk Split, joining relegation battlers Elche in a summer where compatriots Mario Mandžukić and Ivan Rakitić made high-profile moves in the same country. Such a vast leap in quality between the two leagues meant it wasn’t an immediate success but the young midfielder established himself as a reliable and diligent box to box player with boundless energy and a tactical maturity belying his age and experience. His three goals all arrived late in the season and the last of those, away to Málaga, helped to secure survival for the season.
Uli Dávila began the season with a third consecutive second division club, adding Tenerife to stays at Sabadell and Córdoba, but he fell out with management and joined Vitória Setúbal in Portugal in the winter transfer window. You can read about him and the remaining Chelsea loanees in the Rest of the World round-up here on TheChels.net later this week.