Today's addition to the WAGNH top ten list is one that I'd have assumed wouldn't have been in the discussion two seasons ago. That's not saying I didn't think he had talent, but after his debut and several impressive cameos, I assumed that he'd be a first team regular by now.
Instead, this youngster kind of dropped off the face of the earth before a bit of a resurgence in the last calendar year. He finished as our #9 prospect, the same place he ended up in the community voting by our readers. Our number nine prospect is:
The French youngster seems like he has been at Chelsea forever, and it's easy to forget that he's still just 21 years old because of that. He joined Chelsea in controversial fashion from Lens in 2007 after some fuss about a broke pre-contract. He immediately showed fans what all the fuss was about, easily outshining the rest of the Chelsea academy and earning regular minutes with the reserve team at just 16 years old. Kakuta made his senior Chelsea debut under Carlo Ancelotti in 2009, and has made a total of 16 appearances for the Chelsea first team since that time.
Kakuta was easily one of the more exciting prospects Chelsea had several years ago, but after loan spells at Fulham and Bolton which saw him barely used, his stock had dropped considerably. In fairness, much of the blame can fall with Chelsea, as they were very aggressive with his assignments and loaned him to clubs with which he fit very poorly. Had Chelsea been a bit less aggressive with their prospect, his stock may never have dropped at all.
They looked to remedy the situation in January, sending Kakuta back to France for the remainder of the year. He had a tremendous loan spell with DIjon, becoming a regular starter before being inexplicably benched for the run in to the season as Dijon managed to lose their way to relegation. As it turns out, Kakuta was a very unfortunate victim in a spat between the coach and board of Dijon. That spat caused the coach to stop using players that he hadn't picked himself, and Kakuta was unfortunately buried for the last several games of the year.
After a trio of loan spells that saw Kakuta yanked around, there were rumblings this summer that he either wanted to remain with Chelsea and fight for his place or leave the club on a permanent basis. It's hard to criticize the youngster for feeling that way, as he's had just terrible luck with his loans. The flashes of talent he kept showing were unquestionable, but his decision making just wasn't improving without any regular time on the pitch. Chelsea wisely decided to send him to a club they had a great working relationship with, and he joined Chelsea players Tomas Kalas and Patrick van Aanholt at Vitesse Arnhem for the season.
Kakuta got off to a slow start this fall, as he was injured shortly after arriving in the Netherlands. When he finally regained enough fitness to play, Gael was late to training and earned himself a short team imposed suspension which further delayed his debut. Luckily for Gael though, he made an impression as soon as he got on the pitch and has been an integral member of the team ever since. Despite the late start, Kakuta has already played 856 minutes this fall for Vitesse, and would seem likely to be a regular starter for the rest of the 2012/13 season.
Gael has been getting minutes in several different roles for the Arnhem side, playing in a central midfield role* and on both wings. He's been far more composed with the ball than he has been in any previous loan spell, and has now chipped in with five assists in all competitions. He's been instrumental in Vitesse's strong start to the season, they currently sit 5th and just five points from the top.
*Before we get 50 people asking in the comments section, no, he would not fit in the pivot if we recalled him in January.
Kakuta has always been a gifted offensive player, but he's always struggled with the other facets of his game. He provided next to nothing defensively, and often times he'd press to do something eye-popping instead of simply taking the safe route. While that will make people stand up and take note, that kind of decision making is going to make it hard for managers to rely on him regularly.
With that in mind, one of the things we really wanted to see from Gael was some improved decision making. He showed real progress in that regard at Dijon, generally doing a much better job of reading the game and taking what the defense was giving him. As he began to see more time on the bench, he responded by trying to do too much again. Combined with the petty decisions of the manager, this probably sealed the end of Gael's time on the pitch for Dijon.
That decision making has been notably improved this season with Vitesse, as he's been far more willing to make the simple pass instead of trying to set someone free on goal with every touch of the ball. That's led to the coaching staff allowing him to come a bit deeper to get involved in the buildup, which has in turn allowed him to flourish a bit defensively as well. Kakuta has been one of the key players for Vitesse to unlock opposing defenses, and they have been notably better in their attack since his debut.
The progress Kakuta has shown thus far this season has been encouraging, as he was getting to the point where he really needed to show something if he was ever going to have a future with the club. There have been rumors of interest in a permanent move from other clubs (such as Anderlecht), but Kakuta may have shown enough that Chelsea decide he's worth keeping around for a little bit longer. He's under contract until July 2015, so there is no reason to rush a decision because of that.
At this point, the path to the Chelsea first team will still be very difficult for Kakuta just due to the ridiculous amount of talent the club already has in his position. He's been playing well enough of late to suggest that he can play at this level should the opportunity ever arise, which is always good for developing the reputation of the academy. Gael will be worth watching closely this spring, as he's getting to the point where his Chelsea future will need to be decided soon. Hopefully he makes the decision to extend him an easy one by continuing to play very well.