It’s possible that one of the stars of the World Cup might well be a Chelsea player that few Blues fans know anything about. Young centre-back Kenneth Omeruo is in the Nigeria squad for Brazil, and is likely to start in the Super Eagles’ back four. But he has yet to make his first-team debut for the London club.
Omeruo has been at Chelsea two years, but has spent most of that time on loan – first at Den Haag in the Netherlands and then, for the latter part of last season, at Middlesbrough. He’s done well at both – becoming a fixture in the first team at the Dutch club and being called up to the Nigerian international squad while still a teenager. At Middlesbrough, after a shaky start, he forced his way into the first team and stayed there, earning glowing reviews for his consistently high-level performances.
Now – at the age of 21 – Chelsea have to work out what to do with him next. An immediate breakthrough into the first-team squad seems unlikely – he has other young talents such as Chalobah, Ake and Kalas all in the queue either alongside or ahead of him. Even if he did, there would be little prospect of immediately dislodging Terry or Cahill from their starting slots, especially with Ivanovic and last winter’s signing Zouma as back-up. Another loan, either back to Middlesbrough or ideally to a Premier league team, seems the obvious next step.
Yet the Stamford Bridge outfit evidently think highly of the young Nigerian. They’ve just given him a new four-year contract on improved terms, to keep him at the club until 2018. There are two possibilities here. Either Omeruo is seen as one of a highly promising batch of young defenders who will be able to step up to replace the current first-teamers in the near future (bear in mind that both John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic are over 30, and that one of the players originally bought in to rejuvenate the defence – David Luiz – has been sold). Or Omeruo is merely being kept on contract as part of a stable of promising youngsters that Chelsea will eventually sell on for profit.
Which path he goes down may well depend on how he develops in the coming season, or possibly two. There’s no doubt he has considerable potential. Tall, rangy, fast and strong, he is a versatile defender, as comfortable playing at right-back as he is in the centre. He’s a steady, unflashy presence in the back four and rarely lets an attacker get the better of him. He also shows a voracious appetite for learning and improving – and will almost certainly, barring injury, be playing in a Champions League team’s defence before too long.
Whether that team will be Chelsea, however, remains to be seen.