I confess, I am a fan.
There's really no real footballing reason for it. I'm not sure there are any reasons for it actually. It's emotional, but not really. A tenuous, flimsy bond born out of a shared fatherland, maybe. Something, certainly. Perhaps it's just a nostalgic, pseudo-nationalistic ideal of a footballer from Slovakia* playing for Chelsea. From the ashes of Miroslav Stoch shall rise the Phoenix of Lalkovic!
* I make this awkward distinction as I only really consider myself "Slovakian"** in matters of sports.
** This is in quotation marks because technically it should read "Slovak," but that always sounds weird to me. And the one thing I've learned after moving to the USA is that rules of (English) grammar are more like guidelines anyway.
Maybe it's because he's a Twitter aficionado, affording his 20,000+ followers many glimpses of what it's like to be a well-paid teenage footballer. Yes, it's mostly about girls and partying and stupid things. It's good to be young. It's even better to be young and rich.
Milan, unfortunately, is not that young anymore. He's 20, going on 21, which is the same age as Oscar and just a year younger than Eden Hazard. He's older than Romelu Lukaku. Most crucially, Milan's contract is expiring this summer and Chelsea do not have a strong history of keeping 21-year-olds around purely for reserve football funsies. Just in the past twelve months alone, the club has released (or sold for a six-pack and a Snickers bar) Rhys Taylor (23), Ben Gordon (22), Conor Clifford (21), Adam Coombes (21), Rohan Ince (20), James Ashton (20), Marko Mitrovic (20), while the previous transfer windows saw the departures of Nemanja Matic, Fabio Borini, Jack Cork, and a few others.
On some level, this is the reality of Chelsea running a top class youth academy where the talent is superb and is getting better with each passing day, not to mention the reality of Chelsea needing to stay consistently competitive immediately - if not yesterday - at the senior level. And as much as I wish he were, Lalkovic is not an elite talent.
He was gangbusters for the Chelsea youth once upon a time, his speed and trickery proving far too much for many a fullback. Joining the club as a 14-year-old, Lalkovic worked his way up the academy ladder, impressing alongside the likes of Josh McEachran, Nathaniel Chalobah, and Todd Kane as Chelsea first won the FA Youth Cup (2009-10), then the national title in the old Reserves League setup. He got his first taste of loan football last season, joining then Championship side Doncaster Rovers for two months, where he made his professional debut in addition to five substitute appearances. A second loan was to follow starting in the winter, this time making the Chelsea right of passage to the Eredivisie, specifically ADO Den Haag. A few months, an injury, and a grand total of 26 minutes of substitute action later, his Dutch adventure was terminated early. This season's loan to Portugal's Vitoria SC, intended to be for the whole season, had a similar ending and Lalkovic returned to Chelsea in January.
On Monday, he started for the Chelsea under-21 team for the ninth time. For whatever reason, the Twitter-verse actually took notice this time and the rumor echo chamber kicked into full gear. After all, his contract is expiring in a few months, so that must mean that he's going to be released, right? Well...
Lol no am not being released— Milan Lalkovic (@LalkovicMilan23) April 8, 2013
If I was I wudnt be playing— Milan Lalkovic (@LalkovicMilan23) April 8, 2013
Yes my contract runs out this summer but u can't see behind the scenes wats going on so wait till summer and see— Milan Lalkovic (@LalkovicMilan23) April 8, 2013
Spurious reasoning and expectedly horrible spelling aside, he sounds confident of staying. His "behind the scenes" comment is certainly consistent with what we've seen previously from Chelsea. But I just don't know. I fear we may have come to the end of the Lalkovic gravy train. At least at Chelsea. Fair or not, from my outsider's perspective, it does not seem like he will be getting a chance to shine above the youth/reserve level. Rationally, this is not surprising, but would it really have killed somebody to put him on a Europa League or FA Cup bench at some point this calendar year?
There once was an FA Youth Cup winning team, Chelsea's first in 31 years. The current great period of fantastic youth talent began with them. Only seven of the 16 named to that cup final remain: Lalkovic, McEachran, Billy Clifford, Saville, Jeffrey Bruma, Sam Walker, and Aziz Deen-Conteh. I have no idea if this is actually a good ratio or not - a quick glance at the roster of the beaten Aston Villa side (hey, them again!) lacked much name recognition outside of Samir Carruthers who impressed in the NextGen final a few weeks ago - but by the way I set up the narrative, this makes me a bit sad.
What I'm trying to say is, I have money set aside for my Lalkovic Chelsea shirt. So let's make this happen. Please?
And I do mean a shirt, not just a bucket of blue paint.