Every club has that one player they had high hopes for but were ultimately unsuccessful, and fade away in obscurity; in Chelsea’s case, that one player is more like four or five.
A few have already gone from Chelsea rejects to world-class players for other clubs, none more so than Kevin De Bruyne, Mohamed Salah, and Romelu Lukaku. Other lesser-known players such as Thorgan Hazard and Patrick Van Aanholt were also let go too soon.
But there’s one case which is very compelling, because it may not be over yet, and that is Charly Musonda.
As a teenager, he was billed as a future superstar, and he was on the cusp of breaking into the first team. In fact, by 2017 he had already made his Premier League debut and scored his first goal for the club in the EFL Cup against Nottingham Forest.
He is Belgian, just like a certain Chelsea star at the time, and Eden Hazard was taking the youngster under his wing. The staff knew he was on the verge of a breakthrough, but needed more playing time that the club just couldn’t afford him, so he went on loan to Celtic for six months.
But Musonda did not find much time there either, so when he returned to Stamford Bridge, they decided to do what they do with a lot of their youngsters, including recent academy graduate Mason Mount. They sent him on loan to Dutch side Vitesse Arnheim, hoping that would give him some experience.
That is when tragedy struck for him, though, suffering a major knee injury before even making his debut. He was out for the entire season, barring a 14-minute cameo in the penultimate game, so it’s safe to say he didn’t gain much experience there.
He wanted a second chance at Vitesse, but it was the same exact story. The next August, just three games into the season, he injured his knee again and had to get surgery. Chelsea decided to cut short his loan and send him back to London to work on his rehabilitation there, so that was the end of that.
Ever since then, he has been quietly working to get back to fitness, but it wasn’t that simple. The club doctors felt his knee injury may be chronic, which would certainly have cut short his footballing career.
Musonda even admitted that doctors gave him a 20% chance of ever playing again, which must be disheartening to any player, especially a 23-year-old with dreams of stardom. However, he posted a video on Instagram yesterday showing him at Cobham, training on the pitch for the first time.
The video showed him passing, dribbling, and most importantly, running, without any issues, which looks very promising. He trained by himself, of course, similar to the training Hakim Ziyech underwent in his first few days at the club.
While he is as far from match fitness as a player can be, he seems to be recovering quite smoothly. There is still a lot of work to do, but there is a very real possibility that he could feature at some point next season.
Manager Frank Lampard has been known for giving youngsters their opportunities this season, and he will no doubt be aware of this latest development in Musonda’s recovery. I don’t think he was counting on being able to use him, but he could be an unexpected boost.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek suffered a similar long-term injury blow this season, and he is now back amongst the first team. Having risen through the ranks with Musonda, he should be giving the young Belgian advice on how to proceed.
Loftus-Cheek has shown just how long it takes to not only regain match fitness, but to find your confidence and form again after such a long time out. He finally looks to be doing it, though, which is great news. Musonda is on the first big step of this long process.
He is back on a football pitch, training by himself. Who knows? In 3-4 weeks he could be training with the first team again, or the under-23s just to play it safe. He has had some attitude problems in the past, but these past few years appear to have humbled him.
Musonda knows the hard work he needs to do, and he seems ready to take on the challenge. In truth, he is probably farther along the recovery path than many people expect because even though he’s been out of the limelight for some time, he has been working for eight months to get back fit.
His goal is to be training with the team by next season, which would obviously open him up to potential first-team minutes. Cutting short his summer vacation and putting all his focus towards rehabilitation would be a great indicator of his desire and motivation, one which would not go unnoticed.
Lampard now has to start thinking of Musonda as a potential option next season, and he has qualities this side could really use, with his electrifying pace and flair. He plays similar to Callum Hudson-Odoi, another former academy player.
I realistically see Musonda challenging Hudson-Odoi for playing time next season, provided he returns to full training with no setbacks, because he certainly has the talent to do so and he is hungry to show it.
The man who was once touted as the next Hazard could be back soon, and he could be an unexpected boost to give Lampard and Chelsea another attacking weapon in their arsenal. Watch this space.
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