Last spring saw the U17 world European Championships played in May, and many little known prospects managed to make a big name for themselves at the tournament. Among those impressing we're England and Chelsea duo Josh McEachran and Nathaniel Chalobah, both of whom played key roles in England winning the tournament. Both have gone on to factor into any discussion of the club's future this year, with McEachran having become a regular substitute and Chalobah dressing for the first team at the age of 15. The tournament provided them a spotlight to become more well known in England, and has certainly cemented both in any discussion of future England senior squads. Chalobah will definitely feature for Chelsea in the youth cup game tomorrow against Manchester United, and Josh McEachran might as well if he's not included on the bench for the Champions League game.
The tournament provides other opportunities for fans to see the elite young talent of Europe though, beyond just the English squad. Most of these squads are made up of players who still train and play domestically, but after the tournamet many of the best players end up latching on in the bigger leagues in Europe. New Chelsea youth player Tomas Kalas was one such example. Playing in the Czech Republic, Kalas had received little exposure to fans in other countries. He'd been on the radar of some of the best clubs in Europe for sometime however, with Chelsea having been tracking him for two seasons. Amongst the other clubs who tried to sign Kalas, we see premier talent evaluting oufits such as Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Brossia Dortmund, AC Milan, and Ajax. Still, when Chelsea signed Kalas last July for a figure reported to be about 5 million pounds many fans had never heard of the youngster. Let's take a little deeper look into Kalas and get to know a little more about him.
As mentioned above, Kalas was signed for slightly over 5 million pounds. For a 17 year old central defender, that is an exceptionally large fee. This deal included a loan back to the club for the 2010/2011 season, and Kalas would come to England for two weeks during Sigma's winter break to train with Chelsea. Kalas made the most of his brief time at Cobham, convincing the Chelsea heirarchy that the best course of action was to renegotiate his deal and have him come to England immediately instead of returning to the Czech Rebublic until the close of the season. He's slotted in to both the reserve and youth teams starting lineups already, and will likely start the tie tomorrow against Manchester United next to Danny Pappoe (allowing Chalobah to play as a holding midfielder).
Kalas is a 6'1" central defender who is generally stronger with his right foot than his left. He's also capable of playing as a right back, although he'd be a defensive minded player in that role as opposed to the more attacking variety Chelsea prefer to employ. He's got good pace, agility, and strength for a center back, and can hold his own in the air. At 6'1", he's probably big enough to hold his own as a center back as long as Chelsea have other solid aerial defenders for set pieces. He's also quite likely to still add another inch or two at his age. Physically speaking, he's very similar to the player we had in Ricardo Carvalho right now and may well resemble David Luiz (with less hair) when all is said and done.
Where Kalas really stands out is his technical ability. On the ball, Kalas is considered extremely gifted for a defender. He's a good dribbler, and he's very calm and collected under pressure. He's noted for being an excellent passer out of the back, and his decision making is extremely sound for a 17 year old. He's also noted as a great one on one defender, allowing his defensive partner to gamble more when the opposition is beginning it's attack or possibly to wander forward from time to time and contribute to the attack themselves. It doesn't take a creative mind to see how this would pair well with a guy like David Luiz (who happens to prefer the left side of the central pairing), allowing him to be a little more creative when the ball is at his feet.
If you're into the reserve and youth teams, Tomas Kalas should be a guy that you follow very closely. He may or may not ever develop into a world class player, but he's got enough physical and technical ability that with experience he should at worst be solid role player in the Premier League. He along with Bruma, Pappoe, and Chalobah should give us tremendous internal depth at the center of the defense for the next several seasons and will probably lead to the summer departure of Michael Mancienne. It should also cast some real doubt about the credibility of any rumors connecting us to established center backs in the next several windows unless one of our current top four depart. Here's hoping he helps lead the youth squad to a second consecutive FA youth cup with a stong performance in the first leg of the semis tomorrow.