Another Chelsea purchase looks set to go out on loan before he’s even played for the first team. This time it’s Kurt Zouma, the young French centre-back we bought from and then loaned back to St Etienne last January.
It had been assumed that he would be part of the first-team squad this season, as back-up to John Terry and Gary Cahill – especially so after the departure of David Luiz. But it’s now being reported that he may be off for a season in Sunderland. The Black Cats are interested in borrowing him and hope that the close connections of their sporting director Lee Congerton with Chelsea (he was once a youth team coach at Stamford Bridge under Jose Mourinho) will help the deal go through.
In theory, there is nothing much wrong with allowing Zouma to spend a year away from Chelsea acclimatising to the Premier League. He’s only 19, and sources at the club suggest that the club don’t think he’s yet ready to stake a claim to a first-team spot.
But in practice, this could bring problems for Chelsea. Centre-back is a position where, for once, we don’t have much cover. Luiz has gone, and we have sent Tomas Kalas on loan to Cologne, which means that the only recognised centre-backs in the squad (other than Terry and Cahill) are Ivanovic (who may still be playing at right-back) and Zouma. Terry was awesome last season, but – given his whole-hearted playing style – he is growing more susceptible to injury every year. If Zouma is to go to the Stadium of Light for 2014/15, it really begins to look like we will need at least one more centre-back.
Certain names have been mentioned all summer and refuse to go away. Elaquim Mangala of Porto is one, and Raphael Varane of Real Madrid is another. Both are superb defenders and enjoying a fine World Cup with France – Varane especially so, with his excellent performance in his country’s last match against Switzerland.
Either would be a superb addition to the Chelsea squad, but neither is likely to come cheap or to want to be considered as a squad back-up. Terry’s age and vulnerability to injury might be enough to persuade, say, Varane to come and understudy him for a year – which would be ideal, but should be regarded by the Blues as no more than a faint possibility.
Even with the hypothetical arrival of another centre-back, Chelsea’s roster in this position looks shaky – which is why sending Zouma out on loan may not be a flyer. And there is an argument which says there is a limit to how much he can learn on loan at Sunderland. He already has the physique to deal with Premier League attacks – he’s big, strong and uncompromising in the tackle. Where he needs to improve is in his understanding and his tactical awareness, and some may think he’d be better off learning about those alongside John Terry rather than Wes Brown, under Jose Mourinho rather than Gus Poyet.