This morning we heard the surprising news that Chelsea FC were on the verge of an agreement with Standard Liege over 18 year old center back Kenneth Omeruo, so it seems logical that we should take a little deeper look at the young center back. The young Nigerian is just breaking into the Standard 1st team so he hasn't featured too much there yet, but I have seen him quite a bit on the international level during both the 2009 U17 World Cup and the 2011 U20 World Cup. For those of you who were reading this blog regularly this past summer, you'll know that the Nigerian team was a big favorite of mine all summer. Besides being the youngest team in the tournament they were also probably the biggest, strongest, and fastest side in the competition. What they lacked in technical polish they made up in raw physical ability. Our latest transfer target very much fit that bill.
Omeruo stands 6'2" tall and is very solidly built for a player his age. Playing last summer's U20 tournament at just 17 years of age made him one of the youngest players in Colombia, but he more than held his own against the much older competition. Omeruo is noted for his raw athleticism at this point in his career, boasting exceptional pace, strength, and leaping ability. At just 18 it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility to believe that he'll greatly improve in all of those areas either, but I have little concern with this particular player that he'll lack the physical tools to play center back in the Premier League.
From a technical standpoint we have far less information to work with on the young defender. In the handful of times I've seen Omeruo play he's looked very strong in the air and at cutting out passes, but the Nigerians typically play a very deep back line and attempt to use their ridiculous speed on the wings to counter. Defensively he was very impressive, especially when considering he's typically been playing at a level above where he should be at his age. With the system the Nigerians use it's really hard to gauge how he is at positioning himself. At just 18 I'd anticipate that particular aspect of his game needs plenty of work, but you never know.
I really don't have too much to tell you all about his passing, as the Nigerian system typically led to very short outlet passes from the center of the defense where either the fullbacks or the holder would then ignite the counter. He didn't make any memorable cockups when I've seen him, but other than that it's hard to gauge his passing. Omeruo was a real threat when coming forward on set pieces, and his only international goal came in just that fashion (it's the second goal in this compilation):
I wish I had more video to show you, but sadly with a player this age it's awfully hard to come by. Hopefully this will help to encourage you all to watch more of the Nigerian youth setup though because they are an awfully fun team to watch.
At this point I've only seen Omeruo play in the center of the defense, and with his size and strength there is little reason to believe that's not his eventual home. He's certainly mobile enough that he could probably cover at fullback in the mold of Branislav Ivanovic or Micah Richards, or maybe even as a holder depending on how he develops technically. That's simply speculation at this point though, I've yet to see him in any role other than the center of the defense. Still, it's food for thought with a player so young that he's probably capable of playing several roles if that can increase his time on the pitch.
This would be an excellent time to buy Omeruo, as a purchase and loan before next January would mean he's on our books long enough to qualify as homegrown if he ever breaks through to the Chelsea first team. As far as a loan goes, Den Haag seems an excellent fit. He'll likely challenge for some playing time relatively soon there as Den Haag are both defensively terrible and in a relatively safe position in the table. A few years in the Netherlands won't be a bad thing for him as he attempts to gain a work permit either.
If the reports of this signing turn out to bear fruit, that would mark the third standout performer from last summer's U20 World Cup that Chelsea have signed (Davila, Romeu). This one will not be a signing that will help in the near future but he'd certainly be yet another interesting young talent to add to the mix down the line. I can't imagine this deal will be prohibitively expensive either due to the extremely early stage in his development that he is at. Cross your fingers that this one is true guys (and girls), this kid was really impressive in the few times I've seen him.