[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he name Kurt Zouma has been on collective radars for a number of years, with the versatile and physically impressive defender taking the next step in his evolution over the last 12 months.
With a move to Chelsea, the 20-year-old has followed the path that many expected by being signed by one of European football’s biggest teams.
The Lyon-born starlet’s rise to prominence first started at national age grade level, with Zouma starring for France under-17’s in 2010 and 2011.
Having progressed through the ranks at Ligue 1 sleeping giant Saint-Étienne, the centre-half made his senior team debut at the start of the 2011-12 campaign and quickly started to show why such a furore was building around him.
Fast across the ground, dominant in the air, comfortable on the ball and with the possession of footballing intelligence beyond his young years, Zouma was introduced gradually into Ligue 1 action and moved up the age-grade ranks at national level.
A leg-breaking tackle on Thomas Guerbert in 2013 blunted the defender’s progress, with the Saint-Étienne man handed a ten-match ban for the challenge.
Despite this, it was apparent that the young Frenchman had all the attributes to become a top player, with Chelsea winning the race for his signature and bringing him to England last summer.
This season Zouma has spent his first campaign at Stamford Bridge and will look at it with both positive and negative outlooks.
The defender has stepped into the breach when needed and put in a number of commanding performances at the heart of the Premier League champions’ backline, starring alongside John Terry.
Perhaps the standout showing was in the Capital One Cup final, where José Mourinho deployed Zouma in the centre of midfield to make up for the missing Nemanja Matić, with the youngster more than up to the task.
Although Zouma’s future appears as a central defender, this versatility has seen understandable comparisons with former Chelsea star and compatriot Marcel Desailly.
That said, despite the potential for Zouma to fulfil this boiler room role in the future in certain fixtures, his pace at the back has been an impressive feature and negates the ageing of captain Terry.
From a negative perspective, despite playing a role in Chelsea’s double success, Zouma will feel slightly frustrated that he has spent prolonged periods on the sidelines.
A total of seven Premier League starts is a relatively limited amount of football for a player that needs time on the pitch to continue his impressive rate of improvement.
There is an argument for sending the former Saint-Étienne man out on loan in 2015-16, with plenty of foreign Champions League-qualified teams surely ready to jump at the chance for a temporary deal for Zouma.
This would probably hand Zouma more regular action than he is likely to receive in West London, but would also rob Chelsea of a player that can become important next season.
It appears that the young French star will have to continue to be patient, as the next step in his development is a week-in, week-out role for the Blues’ starting XI.
Finding Terry’s long-term successor is an unenviable task given the youth team graduate’s impact over the years, but the Blues may well have struck gold in signing Zouma.
For the time being the newly capped France international will need to bide his time, but he has all the attributes and the potential to become a world star for club and country in the next couple of years.
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