In 2010, Chelsea’s French youngster Gael Kakuta was part of the victorious France U19 side that won the European Championships, where he was voted as player of the tournament. An award also referred to as the Golden ball. A previous winner of the award is his current Chelsea teammate Fernando Torres, big expectations are placed on those who are worthy enough to attain the title.
Today, on the verge of 2012, Gael Kakuta has not enjoyed the best of times since being crowned Golden Ball winner and is yet to feature regularly at parent club Chelsea. Gael Kakuta is currently on what can only be described as a second successive nightmare loan to another Premier League club. Gael’s first loan was at the turn of the year 2011, where he joined another West London side under then Fulham manager Mark Hughes, Hughes outlined from the outset that Gael Kakuta would be used sparingly even before Kakuta’s first training session. True to his word, Gael largely remained on the bench with The Cottagers hardly figuring for the West London club.
Gael Kakuta’s second loan to Bolton was inspired by his Chelsea teammate Daniel Sturridge’s successful loan to the Northern outfit. Hoping to emulate Sturridge’s success and hoping for the same platform to show what he could do, Kakuta turned down a second loan back to Fulham under new boss Martin Jol, instead choosing to be under the guise of Owen Coyle who had begun to make a name for himself as the perfect ‘wonderkid babysitter’.
Unfortunately, as this, Gael’s second loan comes to an end, his fortunes this time around echo his past, he has again been used sparsely. Whenever Kakuta did manage to get on to the playing field he has managed to show glimpses of why he has previously been so highly rated, however, for two mid-table teams to deem Kakuta not worthy enough to figure in their starting line-ups, many have been questioning the quality of Gael Kakuta.
Kakuta’s talented age mates include Thiago Alcantara, a player who has recently come into prominence at age 20, starring in the European under 21 Championships for Spain and also managing to breakthrough at Barcelona, an environment saturated with talent. Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere is another young starlet in Kakuta’s generation of talent, Wilshere another youngster who had a loan spell under Owen Coyle, he arrived on loan with fellow loanee, highly rated Slovak wonderkid Vladimir Weiss. Wilshere played most games for Bolton and earned the respect of the nation, whilst Vladimir Weiss suffered a similar fate that Kakuta would later suffer and was rooted to the bench.
An interesting age mate of Gael Kakuta is Eden Hazard. Hazard is a Belgian wonderkid who moved to France when he was 14 moving to Football Club LOSC Lille Métrepole. At Lille, Eden has been able to command first team football enabling him to show off his evident quality to world audiences on a regular basis. Gael Kakuta moved the opposite way out of France just before he turned 16 to Chelsea and as yet has not been given a platform at club level on a regular basis to prove what he can do.
Having appeared in the same or similar tournaments to all of these aforementioned success stories in his generation, some are beginning to form the opinion that Gael Kakuta isn’t the talent that they once thought he was. Arguments of Kakuta v Hazard or Kakuta v Thiago have ceased. Even Chelsea fans, once his most vocal supporters have begun to critique his ability and doubt his class.
I wanted to undertake an analysis on Gael Kakuta’s current situation to come to a conclusion on whether or not his detractors have just cause. Daniel Sturridge now, a success story, is the example that I’d like to start with. What a lot of people tend to do is rationalise a players quality based on managerial decisions.
Daniel Sturridge signed for Chelsea in 2009, the same year that Chelsea appointed Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti, although Sturridge was identified by the Chelsea board before Carlo’s appointment (Carlo admitted to having not seen him play) Sturridge marked his pre-season debut with a goal to win the game for Chelsea againt American outfit, the Seattle Sounders. Following a good performance and consequent excitement by the press, Carlo Ancelotti tempered expectation by firmly outlining that Daniel Sturridge would be fourth choice striker, behind Saloman Kalou, behind Nicolas Anelka and behind Didier Drogba.
Daniel Sturridge’s first huge surge in his reputation among the footballing community was as a fifteen year old, playing amongst those that were three years older than he was in the FA Youth Cup for Manchester City. Sturridge became highlighted along with Theo Walcott as the most exciting of attacking prospects that England had. Walcott had already secured a move to Champions League regulars Arsenal and attended a World Cup at the age of 16 in stark contrast, Sturridge even at 20 years of age hadn’t featured regularly in the Premier League and had certainly not represented the England senior team at International level.
Crtitics began to question Daniel Sturridge’s quality. “He (Carlo Ancelotti) picks much maligned Saloman Kalou ahead of him (Daniel Sturridge) so how good can he be?”, was a long the lines of the rationale that I would regularly hear. Surely, if Daniel Sturridge was as talented as everyone was making out he was, he could have at least been of some use.
However, littered around football are examples of the highest quality of talent for not being trusted enough by their managers, and not being given the platform to shine. Talented players under the wrong manager, no matter how talented, may never be given the chance to shine.
When given a chance Gael Kakuta shone at Villa Park for Bolton in September, scoring on his debut in a 2-0 victory. Owen Coyle gave his rationale behind why Kakuta is regularly omitted from the starting line-up.
The Wanderers boss believed that the 20-year-old, who was on loan from Chelsea, still had areas to improve on before he could be considered as a first-team starter.
“He’s a young talented player and he has a certain role to play within the team with the ball at his feet and out of possession,” the manager said.
“We know how talented he is with the ball. But there are areas of his game he can learn to improve to help the team.
“He did well at Villa and in the cup tie at Arsenal to a degree. He can beat a man but once he has done that you don’t want to come back and try to beat him again.
“Invariably at our level you get the ball nicked. It happened twice at Arsenal and they only scored two goals.
“He is always in our thoughts and possibly a bit unlucky. There are one or two like that.”
“So, we have got to give ourselves a chance. The margins are very fine and we have got to turn them in our favour.”
A significantly similar rationale was outlined by Ray Wilkins and Carlo Ancelotti on their decision not to play Daniel Sturridge.
Ray Wilkins, Chelsea’s then assistant manager, professed that they cannot trust in the younger players and that the older guys with more experience were the only ones who could be relied on. He believed Daniel Sturridge undertook too many risks when attempting tricks that might not always work. He went on to explain that in situations where every point was needed when fighting for the league title, or you can get knocked out instantly in cup competitions, such risks (at a club like Chelsea with huge expectations) could not be taken. Despite pressure from hierarchy at the club, Ray Wilkins reminded the power men that they pay Carlo Ancelotti to make the decisions and that they should let him do his job.
Interestingly enough Chelsea’s recent cult hero Gianfranco Zola played under the management of Carlo Ancelotti whilst they were both in Italy. A 36 year old Carlo Ancelotti, (not much older at the time than current manager André Villas-Boas is now) had previously played under heralded Italian manager Aarigo Saachi who championed the formation 442. Ancelotti had learned the formation inside out and as a young manager, intent on using the formation he was familiar with, he also realised that it was a difficult fit for Maradona’s Napoli apprentice Gianfranco Zola and so rather than finding the best formation to incorporate all of Parma’s best players, he sold Gianfranco Zola and to Chelsea fittingly. Zola went on to have a glittering career at Chelsea and Ancelotti has since admitted that it was a mistake.
It is important we learn from our mistakes, Carlo Ancelotti went on to manage Juventus, Ancelotti secured Zinedine Zidane and managed to find a space for the mercurial wizard in central midfield, so the formation was not the problem, however, Carlo Ancelotti let another hugely talented star rot on the bench. Juventus had bought a player from Arsene Wengers’ Monaco side, his name is Thierry Henry, Henry endured a forgettable time in Italy under Carlo Ancelotti and once again he oversaw the sale of a frustrated talent to the Premier League, selling Thierry Henry back to Arsense Wenger at Arsenal football club. Ray Wilkins asked the Chelsea board to trust in Carlo Ancelotti, one Ancelotti who was against playing Daniel Sturridge, the same Daniel Sturridge who at one point this season had outscored all of the strikers Ancelotti had placed before him combined!
It is just not Carlo Ancelotti, Alan Pardew was the manager at relegation candidates West Ham when he was gifted two supposedly wonderfully gifted and sought after talents in Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez. After assessing their quality Alan Pardew deemed both not good enough in comparison to the other talent that he had at his disposal to aid West Ham with their relegation scrap. In time Alan Pardew finally gave in to giving Carlos Tevez a chance, since people largely believe that he single-handedly saved the club from being relegated that season. Why Tevez and Mascherano was not being used from the outset, given what they have shown in the mean time, is a question that puzzles many analysts.
A talent that has all the worlds biggest club sitting up in their seats today is Gareth Bale, Bale was brought by Martin Jol from Southampton to Tottenham Hotspur, however unfortunately for Gareth, Martin Jol was sacked and Bale despite great performances had the unenviable “jinx” statistic, where Spurs for an amazing stretch did not pick up 3 points whenever he was in the starting line-up. Gareth Bale was dropped from the team and was resigned to the reserves for a significant period under the following manager Juande Ramos and also the incoming manager Harry Redknapp. It was only when Gareth Bale’s competition for his place, Benoit Assou-Ekotto suffered an injury that eventually allowed Gareth Bale came back into the fold, he has not looked back ever since. Another reject, Kevin Prince Boateng struggled to get a game under a succession of managers at Tottenham Hotspurs, yet today he finds himself being adored by Italian fans at AC Milan with his reputation better than ever.
Edgar Davids, Patrick Vieira there is a lengthy list of talents who have been under valued by a manager or managers, I urge football fans never to use a managers decision to decide the quality of a player. Managers make mistakes, they are in a high pressure job, many of them do not want to take risks and unproven talents represent a risk for them. One thing I strongly believe is that it is never a good idea to write off a player when he has not been given the platform to prove that they are still golden.