Player profile: A midfield prodigy blighted by injury at Stamford Bridge
Friday 04 September 2009
The coaches that work under Frank Arnesen at Chelsea's academy grade their young players according to three standards. Grade C are the kids on scholarship deals, earning £100 in traditional apprentice wages. Grade B earn £40,000-£75,000 with the potential for more. But Grade A are gold-plated, on salaries of £100,000 plus.
Gaël Kakuta, it goes without saying, is Grade A. He was part of an elite group of young players at Chelsea lured to the club with the promise of a professional deal that was signed on his 17th birthday, 21 June, last year. Under Football Association guidelines, 17 is the earliest date a professional deal can be signed but Kakuta, and his family, did not come from France on the off-chance of a deal. They came on a promise.
The youth development programmes at big English football clubs have grown out of all recognition since Howard Wilkinson introduced the academy system to the nation in 1998. Since then, hampered by the academy system's geographical restrictions, and punitive compensation costs for poaching young English players, the clubs have increasingly looked abroad where their financial clout has enabled them to cherry-pick some of the best of teenage talent.
Kakuta fitted the bill for Arnesen's new wave of teenage recruits. He had the full repertoire of tricks, he was fast, physically strong and a goalscorer. His predominantly left-footed style might have counted against him but he could cut in from the left wing and take players on. Despite his diminutive stature – 5ft 8in – he could compete with players two years or more ahead of him in age groups.
Arnesen badly needed one of his young charges to break through. Kakuta showed some great early promise. In his first season at the club, 2007-2008, he won the academy's scholar of the year award, playing in the Under-18s team that reached the FA Youth Cup final before being beaten by Manchester City's academy side.
In the season just gone, Kakuta scored a dazzling goal against Manchester United in the FA Youth Cup second round. He made a few more appearances before he suffered a double ankle fracture in February in a game against the academy for young players run by Glenn Hoddle in Spain.
Details are sketchy about the player's life in England. Kakuta is thought to have a sister in east London and , as with many teenage boys right across English football, those lucrative wages will probably support a network of family members.
Kakuta was always destined to be a star but there will be extra scrutiny on him now. The £680,000 fine he will not have to worry about – Chelsea will pick that up. If he can keep his nerve as the spotlight falls on him, he should still have a very successful career to look forward to.
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