In the life of a Chelsea academy graduate, nothing is guaranteed except for uncertainty. Yet, there was no explaining that notion to the ball that left Trevoh Chalobah’s boot at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. From 25 yards out, the defender’s shot gathered speed with a statement of unbending will and defiant intent before cannoning past a helpless Vicente Guaita in Crystal Palace’s goal.
It was a fairytale moment underwritten by years of toil and perseverance. Chalobah, who joined Chelsea at just eight years old, had been set to embark on a fourth successive loan spell this summer, another season condemned to the peripheries of a dream, trapped in the churn of the club’s bloated loan system. Instead, with that fierce strike forever burnt into memory, the 22-year-old took centre stage in a reality more spectacular than he might have ever envisaged. His emotional celebrations told of the ecstasy but also the relief. For most of Chelsea’s prospects, moments and matches like these inevitably fade into figments of the imagination. “When I scored, I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I dropped to my knees. I was crying.”
The goal capped a remarkable week for Chalobah, who played all 120 minutes of Chelsea’s Super Cup victory on Wednesday before this brilliant and much-belated Premier League debut. Few have had to sustain such patience to finally forge a gateway into the first team, and even as Chelsea train their sights on domestic dominance, Chalobah will be a source of hope to those wondering if the bottleneck uncorked by Frank Lampard will run dry under Thomas Tuchel.
That was a point the head coach was quick to deny, with Mason Mount, Andreas Christensen and Reece James all mainstays of this squad on merit, but the departures of standout prospects Lewis Bate and Tino Livramento this summer highlighted how some have become disillusioned. “I truly believe we can have the best from abroad and also young players from the academy. It’s very important to have these young guys in the mix,” he said, before adding that Chalobah’s debut was “not a gift, it’s well deserved”.
But of course, even in triumph, there will always be a caveat at a club whose demands are so instant and unforgiving. Chalobah’s performance warrants him keeping his place when Chelsea face a wounded Arsenal next weekend, but Thiago Silva will soon regain full fitness. Beyond that looms the £68m shadow of Jules Koundé, the Sevilla and France international Chelsea still covet this summer. His arrival would, at least in the short-term, halt Chalobah’s breakthrough and almost certainly ensure he spends another season on loan. After all, even after dragging a dream into fruition, football offers precious few moments to savour the highlights and cruelty can just as readily cut through celebrations.
Chalobah need not look far for evidence of that fact. Another centre-back, Marc Guehi, made his own Premier League debut at Stamford Bridge but was instead lining up against Chelsea after leaving the club this summer. And after three loans spells, Fikayo Tomori’s spectacular introduction under Frank Lampard in 2019, scoring another memorable long-range goal, could not prevent his eventual sale to AC Milan this summer. He will soon be joined in Italy by Tammy Abraham, Chelsea’s first academy graduate to score 10 or more goals in back-to-back seasons since 1983, who is now on the brink of signing for AS Roma.
Their exits hardly represent individual failures or a seismic step backwards, but Tomori and Abraham can at least claim to have had sustained chances to prove their worth at Chelsea. After showing the fortitude to earn his own opportunity, and then taking it with such poise, it would be a shame if Chalobah was denied the chance to live out his “long-held dream”, regardless of whether it is materialised in full. At Chelsea, though, where spending shows little sympathy to sentimentality, nothing is promised.
What can be certain is that Chalobah has greatly enhanced his future, regardless of wherever it will ultimately lie. There may be few assurances in football, but just like the shot that fizzed into Palace’s goal on Saturday, nothing could stop him from at least seizing control over that slice of destiny.
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