It would seem that Chelsea's chosen Championship buddy for this season is Reading FC. Last season, we enjoyed a close relationship with Middlesbrough and Aitor Karanka; this season it's Steve Clarke's turn. So, joining Lucas Piazon on loan, after Nathaniel Chalobah decided not to return to the "Mad Stad", is defender Michael Hector. Of course, Hector was already a Reading player, so that's not much of a help. Sorry, Steve!
In fact, it is us who need to get to know all about the 23-year-old. Fortunately, The Tilehurst End, SB Nation's Reading blog, is here to help us out.
words by Wimb
While some younger players come up with plenty of hype and buzz, Michael Hector instead rose through the Reading ranks slowly before eventually becoming one of the brightest prospects we've had at the Madejski Stadium since Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Hector came through the ranks the hard way. Having spent time at Millwall's academy he joined us as a 16-year-old but had to spend the majority of his teenage years away on loan, slowly building his reputation. He first popped onto the radar of most Royals fans with a solid spell away at Barnet, playing on the slope at Underhill where plenty of experienced defenders have met their match. That led to a move up a division to third tier Shrewsbury but Hector didn't enjoy the happiest of times and soon found himself back in the bottom division with Aldershot. That move proved to be great in the long run as Hector rebuilt his confidence and helped Aldershot steam into the fourth round of the FA Cup where they were unlucky to lose to Middlesbrough.
Yet the real making of Hector would come in Scotland, where he'd put in some very impressive displays in the SPL and even score one of their goals of the season. Aberdeen wanted to keep him past January but Royals boss Nigel Adkins brought him back to the Mad Stad. Within six months he was one of the first names on the team sheet.
He hasn't always looked comfortable though, especially under Adkins. Hector was guilty a number of times of being caught in possession or trying to play his way out of trouble with silly passes, for example in this game against Huddersfield last August. The arrival of Steve Clarke was brilliant for the youngster's career, with the former Chelsea defender helping Hector to cut out the silly errors and get back to basics. His crowning moment at Reading came in the FA Cup Semi-Final against Arsenal where he helped drag Wenger's side to extra time and within an Adam Federici clanger of penalties.
Hector's reputation only grew this summer as he played for a Jamaica side that lost a series of hard fought games in the Copa America before helping his adopted country reach a first ever Gold Cup Final. Sadly the defender had a bit of a nightmare in that final, being responsible for two of the Mexico goals. He has vowed to improve because of it.
This season he's been largely rested by Steve Clarke so far, with Anton Ferdinand and Paul McShane forming an impressive partnership in the process.
So what are you getting from Michael Hector?
As mentioned he's a defender that's comfortable with the ball at his feet and has a decent amount of pace that can help him get out of trouble. He's no slouch in the air either and has chipped in with a few goals during his time at Reading and elsewhere. However he's clearly a defender that still lacks experience at higher levels and as that Gold Cup final showed, those sloppy errors haven't been completely cut out of his game. Yet Chelsea have now got a defender with a great deal of potential at a pretty great price. He can play both in the back four or just in front of them and some fans here have even suggested that midfield could be a better fit for him, just like it was for David Luiz. You can read our piece on Hector that was published back in April on how he's built for the top level here.
Right now I don't think he's ready to feature on a regular basis at Premier League level but with another year behind him at Championship level I'm confident he'll be on his way to being a very good player.