Kakuta quickly finds his feet to reward Ancelotti's faith
Wednesday 29 September 2010
We have had golden boots, golden goals, and golden balls, but Chelsea's teenager Gaël Kakuta trumps them all, for he is the Golden Player. The footballing experts at Uefa think so anyway, based on his performances at this summer's Under-19 European Championships where he was rated the best player at the tournament, an honour that comes with the dubious title of Golden Player.
It is quite a reputation for Kakuta to live up to. Not only that, the striker also has to carry the hopes and fears of Chelsea's much-maligned academy on his tender young shoulders. On the evidence of his mature performance against Marseilles, however, he may yet prove good enough to live up to the hype. His first touch was sublime, a moment of natural class that in the same movement controlled the ball and took him away from a stranded Gabriel Heinze.
He followed that with a display on the right side of Chelsea's all-French forward line that was pregnant with promise for the future. At only 5ft 8in, Kakuta does not fit the Chelsea stereotype of footballers built like boxers but who run like Olympic middle-distance runners. His strength comes not from his size or his athleticism, but from what he does with his feet.
Kakuta's ball to Nicolas Anelka in the 15th minute deserved a goal, but this compatriot fired straight at Marseilles' goalkeeper Steve Mandanda. Kakuta also set up the opening goal for John Terry, spotting the captain's run towards the near post at a corner and delivering the right pass.
The 19-year-old's performance, in what was the biggest game of his career so far, was far from perfect, and in the second half he was guilty of dwelling far too long on the ball near his own touchline which almost led to a Marseilles goal. But he did more than enough to justify the faith shown in him by manager Carlo Ancelotti who has set out his stall to play more of the club's younger players this season.
Ancelotti believes he really does have a fine crop of youngsters coming through from the youth team, including 17-year-old English prospect Josh McEachran who came on for the final few minutes. However, the reduced size of Chelsea's squad this season, after a summer in which five senior professionals left and only two were brought in, means the young Blues will have to learn the ropes quickly. Injuries to Frank Lampard, Yossi Benayoun and Salomon Kalou have left Ancelotti with few options, and blooding young players in important games is the only option he has left now.
It is a tough ask for players like Kakuta to come into a side like Chelsea and perform up to the required standard on a stage where there is little margin for error.
Suspension denied Didier Drogba the chance to play against his former club, and in his place Ancelotti turned to the elusive skills of Kakuta, rather than the more direct approach of Daniel Sturridge.
The only other change Ancelotti made from the team that had lost 1-0 to Manchester City last Saturday was the surprise inclusion of Yuri Zhirkov in place of the Brazilian Ramires. Ancelotti had gone out of his way after the set-back at Eastlands to praise the contribution of Ramires, who has yet to show any sign of why Chelsea spent £18m to recruit him from Benfica in the summer, but opted to give him a rest for the visit of the French champions.
When Kakuta was withdrawn in the 61st minute, to be replaced by Ramires, he left the pitch with a handshake and a pat on the shoulder from Ancelotti. The Italian manager had a reputation at former club Milan of sticking too long with a group of old men like 40-year-old Paolo Maldini. At Chelsea he is staking his reputation on a group of youngsters who last night did not let him down.
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