Gael Kakuta's always been the face of Chelsea's so-far-failed attempts to build from within. Brought in from Lens under controversial circumstances back in 2007 -- you might remember that the club was nearly banned from the transfer market as a result -- Kakuta was quite clearly a phenomenal talent, light years ahead of most footballers his age. Stardom awaited if he developed as expected.
The problem was he barely developed at all. He had an abortive run in the first team under Carlo Ancelotti, then went out on loan. He failed to impress wherever he played, and his most recent spell, at Vitesse Arnhem, ended this month. Now he's just hanging around the reserves, and unless Jose Mourinho decides to promote him to the first team, which strikes me as unlikely, he's not done much with the past few years except gotten older.
It's been disappointing to watch as a fan, but it must have been harder on the members of the coaching staff, who were trying to making him into a star and failed. L'Equipe -- translated by ESPNFC -- recently spoke to both scout Guy Hillion and goalkeeper coach Christophe Lollichon about Kakuta's failure to live up to his promise:
It's a huge waste, because I've already said it and I'll repeat it: he was the most talented one of his generation. He could be exceptional. But talent is not enough. There comes a time, when you accumulate failures, that there are problems at every club you go to, you have to ask yourself the right questions and question yourself. Because before Arnhem, there was Bolton, Fulham and Dijon.
He needs someone to guide him, show him the way. But he's also a little stubborn. He has an idea of what football is, but he needs to understand it's up to him to adapt to the others, to the team...
...I don't think he's lost to football, he's just very late in his development.
Hillion's comments are particularly damning, but they're in no way surprising. I don't know anything at all about how Kakuta trained or what went wrong, but from the looks of things it looks like his attitude has had a lot to do with his career not panning out so far. Lollichon, meanwhile, gives us a pretty good idea of what's in Kakuta's future -- going back to France and trying to establish himself as a top flight footballer. It was supposed to have been a mere formality.
He's only 22 years old, so there's time yet for Kakuta to turn his career around -- I think we'll all be rooting for him to do so. But once upon a time, he was a future Chelsea star. Perhaps the future Chelsea star. What a shame that didn't happen.