As part of our review of the 2016-17 Chelsea Loan Report season, we’re focusing on ten of the 44 players who embarked upon temporary moves away from Stamford Bridge. The ten players have been selected as being amongst the most interesting of the group; be it for their proximity to the first-team squad under Antonio Conte, for the league they’re playing in, the progress they’ve made at a tender age, or simply because their situation warrants closer inspection, we’ll take a look at the year just gone, review the footage in depth, and take a moment to ponder what the future holds.
Today’s focus is on Jeremie Boga.
– 27 appearances, 2 goals for Granada
What does he do well?
After a solid if unspectacular introduction to professional football at Rennes – a season in which his progress was eclipsed by the emergence of Ousmane Dembele – Boga took his talents to La Liga’s Granada in 2016-17. It initially looked to be a promising move, joining up with manager Paco Jemez, who had previously managed Gael Kakuta at Rayo Vallecano and had wanted to bring Boga into the fold there as well.
However, with the Pozzo family selling Granada to a Chinese consortium and ending their involvement in the Watford and Udinese group, the club were at a disadvantage. A disparate mix of young talent brought in on loan from around the world were up against it from the start and were comfortably relegated despite the best efforts of Tony Adams – their third manager of the campaign – late in the season.
We have to therefore view Boga’s progress through the prism of the turmoil going on around him. He is, as we know, a spectacular dribbler and creative talent capable of wreaking havoc on any opposition. He can line up wide or in a central attacking role, perhaps at his best on the left with the freedom to drift inside and link up with another playmaker, and occasionally took his chance to impress on the big stage, with a goal against Barcelona his personal season highlight.
He was amongst the top 20 players in the league in attempted take-ons, succeeding with almost 60% of them (for the sake of comparison, Neymar came in at 63% and Messi at 61%, whilst attempting rather more than Boga overall) and was commonly fouled when looking to drive into the final third as numerous La Liga defenders found it hard to contain him. His physical development is further along than the likes of Charly Musonda or Bertrand Traore, and he uses his muscular frame to drive through challenges and shrug off the attentions of would-be foes.
Where does he have room for improvement?
Like Musonda, and like dozens of young attacking midfielders, he needs to know when to run and when to pass, and more importantly, to be decisive. A frequent frustration when watching him at Chelsea was that he simply didn’t shoot often enough; he averaged a goal every three appearances but could easily have brought that closer to one in two if he was more willing to use the dangerous shot he has in his weaponry.
Granada certainly lacked quality, but that can’t be used as an excuse for some of his more disappointing attacking numbers, as Man Utd’s Andreas Pereira did far better with the same tools at his disposal alongside him, and Musonda down at Betis was far more likely to make something happen with just as little talent to work with. His chances created per 90 minutes were almost non-existent, he scored just twice, and did most of his best work in deeper positions (where he would inevitably be fouled) rather than seeking to make the difference in attack.
Now 20, he’s really at the age where he should be transferring his undeniable abilities into a tangible end product, but at Rennes and then at Granada he’s struggled to really hit the heights he’s capable of. Until he does that, he’ll be fighting a losing battle to make it at Chelsea.
How does he fit into this Chelsea team?
That being said, he’s the sort of player you could put alongside elite team-mates and watch thrive. The same was said about Kakuta – an easy comparison for their shared French heritage, position and playing style – and he did indeed look comfortable in his Chelsea appearances, but wasn’t trusted to be good enough over the long haul. You could bring Boga into Antonio Conte’s team in one of the wide attacking roles in the 3-4-3 formation and watch him flourish alongside Eden Hazard, say, but the tactical demands and the defensive work needed would likely find him out at this stage.
He has limited experience playing as a false nine/lone forward, predominantly at youth level (and also as a substitute on his Ivory Coast debut), but is only suited to an attacking midfield role in professional football. If you’re a glass half full sort of person, and prefer to look at what a player can do, then he’s got a lot to offer alongside of (or instead of) Hazard, but if you’re more pragmatic, you’ll want him to show a hell of a lot more before even considering whether he’s an upgrade on Pedro.
What are his prospects for 2017-18?
It’ll almost certainly be a loan again at this point, as he doesn’t have the momentum behind him to carry into pre-season, and is even behind Musonda in terms of exposure to Conte’s methods and drills as the Belgian spent the second half of the season under his instruction.
Having tried and failed to catch the eye in France and Spain, he should seek an aggressive move to a club that is prepared to harness his assets and slingshot him back into credibility over the next season. The increasingly-attacking Serie A appeals if they can find a suitor willing to take a loan without an option to buy (or, to include a buyback clause), whilst a 46-game Championship season – perhaps at Hull City, who recently hired a close friend of Roman Abramovich in Leonid Slutskiy – could have the same galvanising effect as it did on Tammy Abraham, Kasey Palmer and Izzy Brown last season.
Brown is a good example of how the perception of a player’s progress can change so very quickly; back in December, he was toiling away at a Rotherham United team marooned at the bottom of the league and staring relegation in the face. Now, six months on, he’s helped Huddersfield secure promotion to the Premier League and could be there himself. It only takes one well-timed move to turn it around and, whilst Boga’s stock might be low at the moment, he’s got the talent to explode back into prominence between now and next summer.