Josh McEachran interview: Wigan midfielder can remind Chelsea of his promise in FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal
The youngster looked destined for the top three years ago. Now, he tells Kevin Affleck, an Cup semi-final is a timely chance to shine
Friday 11 April 2014
The phone book of Josh McEachran is an eclectic mix. There is Ashley, JT and Jose taking up the same space on his SIM card as Barney the plumber, students Henry and Frank, and Josh who works at Homebase. And that's not to mention Brooke Vincent, the Coronation Street actress. Reece Brown, the brother of former Manchester United defender Wes, gave McEachran the number of the actress who plays Sophie Webster in the ITV soap.
"They were good friends and I asked him for her number," McEachran says. "We were texting a lot but she was playing hard to get. We eventually met up and I've been with her two and a half years."
Professionally, things have not gone quite as swimmingly. Since partnering Frank Lampard in the centre of Chelsea's expensively assembled midfield in a League Cup game against Liverpool in 2011, McEachran has appeared once for them in two years, spent a period kicking his heels on loan at Swansea in a spell that he described as "not good for me physically or mentally", and played a season for Middlesbrough who finished in the lower half of the Championship.
Most recently, he did not play a single minute of the last seven games of a loan at Watford. One of the country's brightest prospects returned to Chelsea in January and barely had time to be reacquainted with his team-mates before he was packed off for another loan spell – his fourth in 18 months – to Wigan, who are taking on Arsenal in Saturday's FA Cup semi-final.
While McEachran, 21, is excited about the prospect of running out at Wembley, he doesn't know who he will be running out with next season. Indeed, his career is in such a state of flux that he has not yet put down roots anywhere.
It all started so promisingly. McEachran was plucked from a youth tournament aged seven in Oxford by Chelsea scout Pete Harris and recommended for a trial. Chelsea recognised his potential immediately and, amid interest from West Bromwich Albion, Birmingham, Leicester and Oxford, recruited him to their youth system.
Ten years later, in 2010, Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti handed him his first competitive appearance for the Blues in the 4-1 Champions League away win over MSK Zilina. Two months after that, after several substitute appearances in the Premier League and League Cup, he made back-to-back Champions League starts against Zilina, at home, and then away at Marseilles.
"I remember all of it," says McEachran of the experience of playing 90 minutes in the 1-0 defeat. "I remember Ray Wilkins telling me I was playing. It was a great moment. The night before I was just happy to travel with the team. I didn't know I was even going to be on the bench. It didn't hit me straightaway. If I had had long to think about it I would have got more nervous."
Frustratingly, the taste of European football so early in his career has not provided the launchpad to stardom he or many expected. That can partly be attributed to the fact Chelsea have had five managers in that period, the theory being that pressure is so intense and the expectation level so high that the man in the hot-seat cannot afford to blood a youngster. There is also a feeling that McEachran has not quite kicked on as expected, something perhaps not helped by being farmed out on loan.
He did, however, win the Young Player of the Season award at Boro last year. Could he be taking the same circuitous route to the top navigated by Andros Townsend, who endured nine loan spells before establishing himself at Tottenham?
"I haven't thought of Andros as an example," says McEachran. "I look at Ryan Bertrand. You are not going to walk into a world-class team like Chelsea – you have got to work hard. He worked hard and played in the Champions League final. If I don't break in next year I'll just do what the manager [Jose Mourinho] tells me to do and keep working hard. I spoke to him in pre-season. He is one of the best managers in the world and his training is first-class. I enjoyed working with him."
The way McEachran's career has plateaued can be put into sharp perspective by the progress of others who starred at the Under-17 European Championship in 2010.
Ross Barkley, who McEachran partnered in the midfield of England's tournament-winning team, is bound for the World Cup this summer. France's Paul Pogba provided the direct opposition for McEachran in the semi-final and is now one of the most coveted midfielders in Europe at Juventus. Jese was part of the Spain team who England beat 2-1 in the final and is breaking through at Real Madrid, while Barcelona's Gerard Deulofeu has shone at times in the Premier League for his adopted club Everton.
"He scored from a corner in the tournament and we were thinking, 'Oh my god, this guy is unbelievable'," says McEachran. "Jese was on the wing and our full-backs were nervous as they thought they were going to get roasted, but we beat them. That was an unbelievable result."
McEachran can take some comfort from the fact that he is not the only star of that tournament yet to establish himself at his club. Spain's Francisco Alcacer Garcia scored twice as many goals as anyone else at the tournament but is yet to make an impression at Valencia, while Connor Wickham scored England's winner in the final and has been sent out on loan twice by Sunderland.
The slightly built McEachran stands at 5ft 10in but admits to feeling like the smallest person in the room when he was required to stand up on a chair and sing an initiation song in front of his team-mates. "It's horrible, the worst 30 seconds of your life," says McEachran. "You can't eat at the team meal as you know you are going to sing soon. At Swansea and Middlesbrough I did 'Build Me Up Buttercup' and at Watford I did 'So Sick' by Ne-Yo."
If performing on stage isn't in his genes, it is in his partner's. McEachran is a Corrie convert now and has been on the set of the Rovers' Return to see his girlfriend act. The pair have also been photographed together outside some of London's best restaurants. "It's part and parcel of it," says McEachran. "I don't really mind it."
McEachran is from a sporty family. He has three younger brothers. Zac, 18, plays for Oxford City in the Southern League Premier Division, and Will is also on their books but it's George, 14, who is impressing. He is at Chelsea too and plays for the junior teams.
"My dad always says the talent comes from him but it never did," says Josh. "I used to watch him play and he was shocking. My mum's dad played a good standard so it probably came from him."
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