A little over a year ago, a young Chelsea defender was forced to retire from football after doctors determined that his chronic knee problems would render him unable to play professionally. It was a very sad blow for everyone interested in the team - Sam Hutchinson had never been marked our for superstardom, but he was a very promising talent nonetheless, and it was a real shock to see him retiring so young.
Sixteen month later, a rejuvenated Hutchinson has signed a deal with Chelsea that will keep him with the Blues until the end of the 2012/13 season, capping a remarkable comeback that at one point saw him taking on coaching and commentating duties for the club. The first hints we got of a return to competitive action came at the end of the summer, and it's gone so well that the defender has earned himself a new contract:
Sam signed a one-and-a-half year contract and should he make progress, we anticipate there could be a further contract but he is still going through the very end stages of rehab and he is still not training with first-team-type loading in terms of intensity and demands.
The plan is that Sam will gradually build up training intensity going into January.
He was coaching a little and realised that the pain wasn't there anymore and although it is fantastic news because we have a player who has been with us since he was seven who we thought had retired, it is a case of every six weeks, let's visit where we are at.
It is looking good that he will have a professional living in the game but we have to stay patient with the plan.
-Neil Bath, Chelsea Academy manager. Source: ChelseaFC.com.
However unlikely it may be that Hutchinson, 22, will ever make a significant impact at the senior level, he's already played with the first team and now looks set to have a real career in professional football, whether or not that's at Chelsea, and that's something to be celebrated.
It's easy to think of prospects in terms of our fandom. If, say, Gael Kakuta turns out to be rubbish (and goodness knows the signs are there), he is dropped into our mental 'to be discarded' bin. If Bertrand Traore washes out before he hits the senior level, we never think of him again. It's only the people who are good enough for the first team we tend to pay real attention to, and that means we miss out on some really interesting stories.
Hutchinson's comeback isn't really about helping Chelsea out. He doesn't have a great chance of cracking the first team anytime soon, and he's unlikely to ever be a huge footballing asset for a top European club. Rather, it's about helping Sam Hutchinson, who wants to be a professional footballer, go back to professional football. And that's pretty awesome, if you ask me.