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African Stars On Chelsea’s Books Face Uncertain Future

No Premier League team has as much African interest as Chelsea, where the Blues’ squad is rife with continental talent from the first team to the academy.

The club’s approach to recruitment has led to a sprawling squad full of players who realistically stand little chance of ever breaking into the starting XI.

New coach Maurizio Sarri will bring new ideas and a new strategy, while eventually, he’ll sign his own players to fit into his idiosyncratic style.

However, it remains to be seen whether any of the plethora of African stars at Chelsea will enjoy mixed fortunes under the new man.

The player most likely to feature this term is Victor Moses, who knows first hand just how an incoming manager can change the fortunes of a player.

Two years ago, the Nigeria international was on the peripheries of the first team at Stamford Bridge, and after a litany of unsuccessful loan moves, it would have surprised few if he’d been jettisoned.

Victor Moses of Chelsea Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

The arrival of Pedro the previous summer had placed another considerable obstacle in his path to the first team, and few could have foreseen that the former Crystal Palace would have become an integral part of a title-winning side in 2017-18.

Yet a reconversion to a wing-back role – a new position that Moses took to seamlessly – helped Conte ease into a 3-4-3/3-4-2-1 formation, with the wideman playing a key role as the Blues clinched the championship.

The early evidence suggests that Sarri will employ the 4-3-3 formation that served him so well at Napoli, and it threatens to leave Moses on the outside.

His defensive limitations are likely to be exposed in a full-back role more than they ever were as a wing-back, and the evidence of preseason suggests that Moses is more likely primed to compete for a role on the right wing.

Pedro remains an obstacle, as does Willian unless he leaves, and while Sarri will need to rotate more than he did at Napoli, Moses is unlikely to enjoy anything close to the prominence he did in recent campaigns.

Then there’s the emergence of another African talent – Callum Hudson-Odoi – who further complicated the picture for Moses.

The Anglo-Ghanaian wonderkid has arguably been the bright point of a troubled preseason for Chelsea, dazzling with his precocity, direct dribbling and pace.

Previous Chelsea managers have turned to youth in order to win over fans early on during their tenures, and Hudson-Odoi’s starting role during the Community Shield suggests that he has Sarri’s faith.

At 17, he’s unlikely to play a key role for Chelsea this season, although the offer of a five-year contract demonstrates that the Blues see him as a long-term part of their plans, and a desire to give him minutes this term (perhaps in the Europa League) further threatens Moses.

The other Nigerians at the club face similarly uncertain futures, although none are likely to get anywhere close to the first team during the 2018-19 campaign.

Ola Aina is returning from an encouraging loan spell at Hull City, where he honed his craft amidst the testing backdrop of the Championship and showcased his versatility in a variety of defensive positions.

It’s not impossible that he’ll be kept around as squad cover, but a return to the second tier on loan appears more likely. Torino have also expressed interest in his services, and a switch to Serie A – and the ambitious Toro – would represent an interesting move for the Super Eagles international, who was in Nigeria’s provisional list for the World Cup.

Perhaps the example of another Nigerian wonderkid – Ademola Lookman – could encourage Aina to leave his comfort zone and try life in Europe, where PSV Eindhoven have also been linked with a loan move for the full-back.

Tammy Abraham, now capped twice by England, struggled to impress in the Premier League last term – admittedly at a struggling Swansea City – and appears no closer to the Chelsea first team despite his intoxicating combination of qualities.

Another loan move away appears likely, and while the Championship would represent a step back, perhaps a switch to Frank Lampard’s Derby County – joining another Nigerian Fikayo Tomori – would make sense for all parties.

19-year-old Ike Ugbo is another Nigerian starlet primed for a temporary move away, although after struggling to find the net consistently in either the Championship or League One, the youngster is beginning to move into ‘make-or-break’ territory.

Of the Nigerians at the club, it’s Kenneth Omeruo who appears to be the most in demand.

The defender signed for Chelsea way back in 2012, but despite winning the African Cup of Nations and playing in two World Cups since then, he’s never made a senior appearance for the Blues.

He’s been out on loan five times to four different clubs – without ever settling – although while surely a permanent move away would do him good, another loan looks like.

A return to the Super Lig, where he’s already spent time with Kasimpasa and Alanyaspor, could represent stasis, although with the league’s big three – Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas – reportedly on his tail, this would at least represent a new challenge for the Nigeria international.

He’s already rejected a loan move to Belgian side KAA Gent as he seeks a stiffer challenge, and it would be intriguing to see how the composed stopper fares in the Premier League should one of the teams set to be battling relegation took a punt on his services.

Charly Musonda looks the most likely to actually make it into Chelsea’s first team one day. The attacking midfielder, has already represented Belgium at U-21 level and has featured for the Blues in the Premier League after being given a few opportunities by Conte.

An 18-month loan deal at Celtic was organised for the Zambian wonderkid in January, but was worryingly cut short after just four first-team outings.

That Brendan Rodgers didn’t opt to use the youngster more prominently as his side romped to the title is a concern, and the next move Musonda makes needs to be the right one – with ample playing minutes – if he’s to avoid becoming another wasted talent.

Finally, that leaves Anglo-Sierra Leonean defender Fankaty Dabo and Somalia-born Scotland U-21 international Islam Feruz.

Both players are 22 and are no longer ‘prospects’ to the same degree that they once were. They’ve not demonstrated enough on loan to date to suggest that they can ever break into the first team, and a permanent change of scene surely beckons.

 

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