Josh McEachran has agreed to spend the season on loan at Vitesse, making him the fourteenth Chelsea player to spend time at the Arnhem club since the 2010-2011 season. He will join Chelsea teammates Bertrand Traore and Wallace, both of whom have already established themselves in manager Peter Bosz' starting eleven.
The loan represents a marked change in Chelsea's loan policy, as it has never sent an English player to Vitesse for footballing purposes. Sam Hutchinson spent a few months at Vitesse last season, but that was exclusively for rehabilitation purposes, and more specifically, to work with Vitesse Arnhem's former physiotherapist, Eduardo Santos. Santos, now the head physiotherapist at Zenit Saint Petersburg, is an expert in knee injuries, and Tottenham Hotspur also sent players to Vitesse to work with Santos (not on loan, but just for rehab).
While Chelsea has been sending Vitesse better quality prospects each year (and in fact, Vitesse now receives some of Chelsea's very best young players), it has been hesitant to send English players abroad.
About eight months ago, I wrote the following on Chelsea's loan policy with regards to English players -
Since the primary goal with regards to youth development is to give the players the best possible opportunity to earn first team minutes at Stamford Bridge, it only makes sense to keep English players in England where they can continue to play English football. While there are admittedly some enormous benefits to playing in other countries, Chelsea very rarely sends its English players abroad, and outside of a Vitesse squad in the Champions League (which is a real possibility), I don't think the club will change course.
A lot has happened at Vitesse since, including the development of Christian Atsu and the club signing very lucrative commercial sponsorships (most notably, a shirt deal with Roman Abramovich's company). Both Vitesse and the partnership with Chelsea are only growing stronger, and sending English players to Vitesse now seems like a natural next step. Loaning McEachran to Vitesse also reaffirms the trust Chelsea has in Vitesse's ability to develop young talent.
McEachran, who only just turned twenty-one this past spring, was once among Chelsea's brightest young prospects. When Carlo Ancelotti gave him some solid run in the Champions League back in 2010, he became the youngest player ever to feature in the European competition.
Kristan Heneage, a writer who can be found all over the place (ESPN, Sky, A Football Report, New York Times, etc.), and I have been chatting about the possibility of McEachran spending time at Vitesse for a few weeks, and having seen quite a bit of McEachran at Middlesbrough during the 2012-13 season, Heneage thought that despite McEachran being misused playing in a wide position, he was still good, although lacking a bit defensively.
More recently, McEachran could be found on the trainers table at Watford or on the bench at Wigan, in what seemed to be something of a lost season.
One common thread about McEachran is his fitness level, or lack thereof. Both Heneage and resident youth expert, @chelseayouth, have mentioned that McEachran's fitness isn't where it should be. A season in Arnhem should certainly help McEachran work on his fitness, as Vitesse plays at a fast pace, even by Eredivisie standards (which is a very high tempo league).
At Vitesse, McEachran projects to play centrally in an attacking role. Manager Peter Bosz favours the 4-2-3-1 formation, and Davy Propper and Kelvin Leerdam appear to be rather entrenched in the two "defensive" midfielder spots (air quotes used, so as not to imply that anyone on Vitesse, except for Guram Kashia, is primarily focused on defending).
Defensively, McEachran would certainly be a downgrade from Leerdam and likely Propper as well. The last thing Vitesse needs is weaker defenders in the lineup, so McEachran's path to first-team minutes will probably be as a central attacking midfielder (he wouldn't play on the wing at Vitesse, because 1. he's not a winger, and 2. Vitesse doesn't need more wingers).
That said, from what I remember, McEachran's quality on the ball is excellent and has always been a top distributor. As @chelseayouth writes, McEachran prefers "to sit deeper in midfield and build the play patiently and creatively." While "patient" is not a word I'd use to describe Vitesse's style of play, having someone who can bring some order to the chaos that is a Vitesse match should help the Arnhem club.
McEachran has two years left on his contract, and while I'd be hesitant to say that his time at Vitesse is "make or break," a successful campaign will surely go a long way towards McEachran getting back on track to fulfilling the extraordinary promise he once showed. It will be exciting to see what McEachran can do in the Eredivisie, and if all goes well, he'll not only get himself back on track, but he'll also help Vitesse earn a spot in European competition next year.
We'll have much more on Vitesse later this week, so stay tuned to WAGNH.