Championship: 26 starts + 4 substitute appearances (2364 minutes)
FA Cup: 2 starts + 1 substitute appearance (260 minutes)
League Cup: 2 starts (180 minutes)
Bookings: 5 yellow, 1 red
On Transfer Deadline Day in the summer of 2015, Michael Hector of Reading Football Club was all set for a move to Crystal Palace. But then his phone rang. His father picked up. The call was from one of Chelsea's directors, expressing interest in the young Jamaican centre back, who can also play holding midfielder. Within hours, Chelsea successfully gazumped (that's right, gazumped!) Palace's move for Hector, and by the time the transfer window slammed (that's right, slammed!) shut, both Michael Hector (and fellow centre back, Papy Djilobodji) were Chelsea players.
Djilobodji remained with the Chelsea squad (at least in theory), but Hector, already 23 years of age, was sent back on loan to Reading for the season. While Chelsea have a (bad?) habit of hoarding young talent and sending them out on loan until they're ready for the first team or ready to be sold for a profit, most of our loanees are 21 or younger. Signing a 23-year-old only to consign him to the same fate seemed like an odd move even for Chelsea.
Could there be slightly greater purpose behind Hector's signing? Put your tinfoil hats on, because while it's entirely possible that Chelsea bought him simply as a money-making investment or a favor to his agent, there has been talk of Michael Emenalo rating the youngster highly, and Guus Hiddink came away rather impressed by Hector in the two weeks of training that he had with the squad.
Hector has played fullback at times in years past, and recently he's coming into his own as a holding midfielder as well, but his primary position is centre back, which is where he started off this season as well. Initially paired with Anton Ferdinand or Paul McShane, Hector fell out of favour during Reading's disastrous run of form in the winter, which led to the sacking of Chelsea legend Steve Clarke. Brian McDermott, returning for his second stint at the club (and, as of Friday, sacked, again), restored Hector to the lineup, but preferred to deploy him in a holding midfield role instead, in a 4-1-4-1 formation that often featured three defensive midfielders in total. Hector finished the season with 20 appearances in central defence and 15 in midfield, four of them from off the bench.
As you can see, against Hull City, who liked to play the ball in early from the wings to the likes of Abel Hernandez and Chuba Akpom, Hector was patrolling the space between the lines (with Oliver Norwood occasionally dropping back as the game progressed). He carried out this role with relative ease, not allowing the Hull attackers much time or space on the ball.
While defending moves further forward or more central, though, Hector would drop back and help form a five-man compact defence, as shown below.
Here's also a video clip of his involvement against Hull City.
As far as raw numbers, Hector registered 2.6 successful tackles (74.2% success rate) and 2.9 interceptions and 1.5 blocks per 90 minutes this season, though he did register more successful tackles (3.4, with a 75.5% success rate) when deployed in midfield and more interceptions when deployed in central defence (3.2). Hector hoofed the ball out of defence often and quite well and collecting a large amount of successful clearances as well (4.9). The number of times he took the high road out of danger, along with his tendency to give the ball away too easily at times and play unnecessary long balls resulted in a rather low passing percentage (67.9% as a defender and 73.9% as a midfielder).
A prominent strength of Hector's is his aerial prowess, no doubted aided by his height (193 cm = 6'3"). He wins 2.1 (70% success rate) aerial duels per game as a midfielder, and 3.6 (62% success rate) as a defender. As you'll see in the following clip of Hector playing at centre back against QPR, he's also a target on free kicks and corners, registering 0.6 attempts at goal from set-pieces and 0.9 in total.
Among Hector's weaknesses are dealing with pacy opposition, highlighted against both QPR as well as in the FA Cup Quarter-final against Crystal Palace, when facing the likes of Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha. Hector is a solid tackler of the ball but can lack composure, which then further exposes him. Also, while his technical ability and awareness on the ball is good, he tends to lose possession easily under pressure, especially when the rest of the Reading midfield also has a day off against the likes of Mile Jedinak, Joe Ledley and Yohan Cabaye.
You may view Hector's involvements against Palace in the following video clip.
This is what Hugh van-de-L'Isle, a contributor at Reading's SB Nation blog, The Tilehurst End had to say about Hector:
At his best, he's a very composed, good passer of the ball, strong in the tackle, better suited to a holding midfield role, I think. Often, when played at center-back, he can switch off a bit and become careless in possession of the ball. He also plays up for big games; his best performance in the last two seasons for Reading was definitely versus Arsenal, where he looked absolutely class at center-back. He sometimes seems to have an air of "I'm better than this", when playing against smaller clubs although I don't know if he'd have that air about him at Chelsea. I personally feel he's good but not quite good enough for Chelsea; he could play a holding midfield role for a mid-table side but probably not for a team pushing for the title.
I think as with a lot of Chelsea players, the reason behind buying him was also re-sale value. Chelsea as a business are run very intelligently in my opinion, bringing in good, young talent from around the world, loaning them out and then selling them at a profit if they don't quite make it. I could see Hector going to, say, Bournemouth on loan next season and then being sold on for a profit.
I'd say loan him out to give him him another chance to develop but at 23, he can hardly be called a youth player anymore, unless he has a great summer and manages to play center-back next season because you seem a bit thin at the back. Though, having seen both at Reading, I'd say Nathaniel Chalobah is better than Hector as a holding midfielder.
Rating: Teetering between :-) and :-/
Verdict: Hector has had a decent, if unspectacular season, with a fair share of errors in defence and positive performances in midfield. Is he ready to make the step up to Chelsea? He is apparently backed by Michael Emenalo, and more vocally so by Guus Hiddink...
As of this moment, he could probably provide decent depth in midfield and in defence, although after John Terry's contract renewal, we already have four center-backs in the team (and hopefully will be adding to that with a new summer signing as well). Then again, Conte could decide to go three at the back, or sell Branislav Ivanovic, or one of our current midfielders and opt not to retain any midfielder currently on loan. Hector's future at Chelsea seems dependent on a great number of factors, but do keep in mind that he will be 24 in a month and that's about the time most players start looking for some stability in their lives. He's already a veteran of a dozen or so loans, most of those coming before 2014.
Hector's future seems largely undecided as of now. Anything could happen! I believe he could blossom into a much better player with the right guidance and team around him.