Jose Mourinho has made it clear that he sees the France Under-21 international Lassana Diarra as the natural successor to his midfield holding player Claude Makelele at Stamford Bridge.
Diarra, one of nine Chelsea players still on international duty, was set to line up for France against Peter Taylor's England Under-21 side last night in the return leg of their European Championship qualifier.
The 20-year-old has made no secret of his happiness at joining up with Mourinho following his move from Le Havre in the summer. "Maka and I are working hard with him so that he will replace him in the team when Maka finishes," the Chelsea manager said.
And Makelele is keen to help the youngster learn about the position he has turned into an art form in the Premiership. "I had already seen him in the national youth team," said the 32-year-old. "I'm old so why not tell the younger player things for the future? He's intelligent and has ambition, so if it is possible to help him, I will."
Diarra admits that he has modelled himself on the France international. "The coach made it clear that he has confidence in me and I've been working like crazy since I arrived," Diarra said. "I speak regularly with Mourinho and trust him completely.
"Claude has been my role model for years, so to work alongside him every day is a pleasure. He's been a great support for me and when the coach says I'm being groomed to replace him, it's an enormous compliment."
Diarra was invited to train with the club during pre-season after Chelsea's scout Gwyn Williams monitored him as he played in every game for France en route to their victory in the Toulon Under-20 tournament in May.
A week with the club was enough to convince Mourinho and Diarra made his first-team debut as a substitute for Makelele during the home win over Real Betis in the Champions' League.
Diarra, along with Petr Cech, Paulo Ferreira, Geremi, Ricardo Carvalho, Asier Del Horno, Didier Drogba, Hernan Crespo and Carlton Cole remains on international duty this week while the club's contingent of English, French and German full internationals have returned to training.
But Mourinho's preparations for Saturday's visit of Newcastle will not get under way properly until the rest return and the Chelsea manager is wary of what state they may be in.
"National teams prepare in such a disparate way that it's hard to find criterion beyond criticism," explained Mourinho. "Once more there is confusion, once more I have my heart in my mouth. It was with their national teams that I lost Claude Makelele, Asier Del Horno, Damien Duff and Arjen Robben.
"That's without looking further back at last season when Paulo Ferreira also had to undergo surgery. England seem intelligent to me. They think about the burden constituted by the Premiership and opted for just one game, in Europe, but against a South American opponent, in this case Argentina, who could offer them a different playing style.
"Argentina were looking for a European opponent with a different playing style to those it meets in South America. But then they are going to Qatar, returning their players to their clubs one day before the weekend's competitions."
Mourinho hopes to have Robben fit again for the weekend after the Dutch winger's recent hamstring problem. The midfielder Michael Essien and Argentina striker Crespo should also have shaken off minor injuries to return to the squad.Reuse content