The emergence of Kurt Zouma was one of the few bright spots of last season — at least until the unfortunate ACL injury in February ruled him out for the season, if not the calendar year. While the big defender seems to be recovering well and quickly, and has even managed to return to (light) training earlier this week, he's still a few steps away from full recovery.
"It was so good to be with the squad, an unbelievable feeling. I've been working alone for a while and now I'm training, learning and improving with the guys. When you're coming back from injury that's all you want to do so I'm very happy. I'm working hard every day."
"I didn't know I would be back on the training pitch by now, I thought it would be a bit later. But my knee is okay and I don't have any pain, which is great."
"I don't know [when I will return], I will need to discuss that with the manager and the medical team. I'm not fit enough yet but hopefully in six weeks or a couple of months I will be, we will have to wait and see."
Torn ACLs are no longer career-ending injuries (as they once used to be), but they do tend to have lasting effects on athletes' careers. This varies from person to person, but as a player who relies so heavily on physicality, agility, and quickness, Zouma could be affected greatly.
But in spite of these possible pessimistic outlooks, the 21-year-old prefers the positive approach, believing that he will return stronger from the issue. One could say he has no choice other than to stay positive and work hard, but Zouma's sunny disposition is commendable nonetheless.
"It's been really hard but if you're strong mentally you can do anything. It's football, lots of players have had big injuries and been out for a while. It's important to stay positive in your mind and say to yourself: 'Okay, I've been unlucky to get a bad injury but I will come back stronger.' You have to be determined."
"I'm the type of person who doesn't like to be negative, I always try to be positive and have a laugh and joke with the guys and my family. The time has gone quite quickly, it's been five months but it only feels like about two."
Zouma might be months away from returning to competitive play, but head coach Antonio Conte still invited him to join the first team on the preseason tour. In addition to the light training, Zouma thus got to act as cheerleader on the sidelines. A bit of team spirit never hurt anyone!
"I'm really pleased about that. He's brought me on the tour so I'm really happy. He's a good guy and a very good manager. We are working hard with him and he wants to create a strong team spirit in the group. He has a lot of quality. He has new ideas so we all need to watch him and be aware of what he wants from us."
Currently starting on an arduous quest to return to being title contenders in England, Chelsea have added some excellent reinforcements in Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi and French midfielder N'Golo Kanté. Zouma talked a bit about the two new fellow Francophones in the squad, who are adding to the young and re-building core of the club.
"I know Michy and he's a very good striker. He's only 22 and it's great to have another talented player in the team. The manager will have a lot of options, which is a nice problem for him and when there is competition for places everybody improves."
"He doesn't speak English so we are all here to help him settle. A few of us speak French and there is a very good team spirit here, we are all friends."
"Kanté will bring a lot to the team. We saw him in the Premier League last season with Leicester and he was unbelievable. He runs all over the pitch, makes lots of tackles and interceptions and he's very effective with and without the ball. The midfield area, like the attack, is full of competition and that's really good for the whole team."
-Kurt Zouma; source: Chelsea FC
It's probably far too optimistic to expect Zouma to play a role until maybe late autumn or early winter, but for now, it's great to see him out there on the training pitch and on the sidelines and in front of the cameras with his ridiculously deep voice, and in this dark dungeon where he keeps pictures of his teammates hanging on a clothesline, all the while keeping his Happy and positive attitude.