Last month Chelsea splashed out £50 million on a player from the other end of the country who they believe could save their faltering season. Whether or not this investment produces the rewards anticipated is yet to be seen but I believe Chelsea already had that “save the season” player a lot closer to home (and a lot cheaper).
Josh McEachran is a 17 year old wonderkid. Now I don’t use that word lightly. In order to work your way through the Chelsea youth ranks from an 8 year old schoolboy you have to have some special player. Chelsea have been criticised in recent times for the lack of youth product, especially English, which their academy has produced. However, that long 13 year stretch since the last English youth player to break through into the Chelsea first team (a certain John Terry) has finally come to the end. And believe me; this kid is well worth the wait.
To try to describe Josh as a footballer is difficult, not least because he has been played in different positions and been given various roles by Carlo Ancelotti and Chelsea youth team manager Dermot Drummy. For much of his time in the youth team he played in the hole behind the striker as a playmaker orchestrating the play, creating chances and linking the midfield with the front line. I believe this is Josh’s best position and it showed as he was instrumental in Chelsea lifting the prestigious 2010 Youth Cup. On the other hand, Carlo Ancelotti has opted to play Josh in a deeper role, just ahead of the defence. Although this still allows him to dictate the play and tempo I believe it diminishes his main abilities and traits which are more effective further up the pitch. But this variation has shown one valuable skill Josh does already have; versatility. Early on in many players’ careers they are shuffled around pitch to try and find their best positions. Strikers become defenders; skilful wingers become full backs and so on. However, these players do this in a meaningless youth team friendly, behind closed doors, on a soggy training pitch. For a 17 year old to play a different position to what he is used to in front of 42,000 people in a game of the highest level shows nerve, guts and pure courage. And to play the position with such composure and grace highlights the boy’s potential.
I believe the best way to describe Josh is as a cross between Xavi and Andres Iniesta. If you were to take the best parts of Xavi’s and Iniesta’s game and mix them together the result would be Josh McEachran. I understand this sounds a bit far-fetched and many of you probably think I have lost all creditability by comparing a young 17 year old to two of the best players in the world, but the boy really is that good. Of course he is nowhere near the standards of them two greats of the game and he shouldn’t be at his age. But he does have the raw talent that they both possess. Josh has the potential to be as good a passer as Xavi and as good a dribbler as Iniesta. He never looks as if he is going to give the ball away, every pass finds its target. On his recent England Under-21 debut, he didn’t give the ball away until the 86th minute. Stuart Pearce and the rest of the team raved about his performance. And it’s not just the simple 5 yard balls Josh plays either. Like Xavi Josh can ping a ball 40-50 yards and land it bang on target. The vision he also possesses is first class; he’ll spot a run 20 yards ahead of him and slide an inch perfect ball through an eye of a needle and split the defence in half. That type of vision is natural and if Josh continues to hone is passing ability then every attack could end with a chance on goal.
However, in order to get himself into the positions to conduct his incredible array of passing Josh needs to create the space; and this is where his Iniesta abilities come to into play.
Andres Iniesta is well known for his quick feet and wriggling runs. He differs from Lionel Messi as he will not take it round 3, 4 or 5 players and then smash the ball into the top corner, but he will draw defenders towards him, wriggle his way past 2 of them and then lay the ball off into the space he has just created for one of his teammates. This is the exact ability which Josh possesses and will certainly need when playing in the high tempo Premier league. Josh is extremely graceful on the ball and seems to just glide around the pitch and past opposition players. His quick feet allow him to twist out of tight areas when up against a couple of defenders as well as to run directly at them and give a little dummy or piece of skill around the player. This kind of ability directly compliments the other talents we have already discussed Josh has. Josh can be the deadliest player Chelsea and England have possessed for a long time as he can draw defenders towards him, quickly create himself a yard of space and then use his fantastic vision and passing to provide a killer ball into the space he has just fashioned for his teammate. This part of his game is critical to the rest of it. There is no point in having the ability to produce stunning and more importantly effective passes if he has no room to execute them. Luckily for Josh he has the tackle evading and space creating talent to which we have become accustomed to seeing Andres Iniesta and Xavi display week in week out.
I have so far been able to describe Josh’s talents from witnessing him play during Chelsea’s successful Youth Cup campaign of 2010 and for the limited time he has so far played for the first team. And although it is fair to say that the standard of the English Youth Cup is a far cry from the Nou Camp it is also fair to say that Josh McEachran was by far the stand out player of the whole tournament. Head and shoulders above anyone else. Josh also came of the bench in Chelsea’s 4-3 defeat to Newcastle in the Carling Cup earlier this season. Chelsea were 3-1 down and a man down, but Josh was arguably man of the match for the half hour he appeared for. He drove the Chelsea team forward and showed more composure and fighting ability than teammates Alex and Nicolas Anelka. With the latter’s 2 goals, Josh and Chelsea pulled the game back to 3-3 and would probably have gone onto win the game in extra time if it was not for an injury time header from Shola Ameobi. This was when the average football fan began to take notice of Josh and since then Carlo Ancelotti has used him sensibly from the bench and against “lesser” teams from the start. However, the most significant of all McEachran’s games so far must be the Champions League Group 1 game away to MSK Zilina in which he came off the bench to be the first ever player to play in the competition who was born after it was revamped in 1992. This will hopefully be one of many records and milestones Josh can reach for both Chelsea and England.
So what next for Josh? I believe he needs more game time, in both the Chelsea first team and England Under 21 team. He is training everyday with some world class players but will improve significantly if he is given more time on the pitch. It is clear Chelsea rate the youngster highly as he is one of the only youth products which has not been sent out on loan and has appeared on the bench in nearly every game. I would not be surprised if we see Josh as a first team regular and possibly a starter for Chelsea next season. With the new UEFA home grown player rules coming into force shortly and much made of the age of Chelsea’s squad it is clear Josh has a significant role to play in the future of the club. Also with the many of the established England stars continuously underperforming and Fabio Capello’s eagerness to right many wrongs, Josh’s England career looks just as bright.