The life of a professional athlete is full of highs and lows. It’s the nature of the beast. Even such accomplished performers as John Terry, Fernando Torres and Peter Bonetti have scaled the heights and plunged the depths.
So the troubles of a callow 22 year-old, a player with just eleven Premier League appearances and three goals to his name, are scarcely the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy.
And yet... the journey that Robert Kenedy Nunes do Nascimento has taken this season is an interesting one.
A barely utilised winger with size and pace, he struggled to find a regular place in Chelsea’s team either as a fullback (under Mourinho and Hiddink) or as a wing-back (under Conte).
But as this summer’s training camp rolled through Asia, word emerged that in the privacy Conte’s intense sessions, Kenedy was making an impression. Could this be his breakout year?
In the space of two Instagram posts, Kenedy took a stick of dynamite to his standing at Chelsea (indeed, to his welcome in China), lit the fuse and stood back to watch his dreams explode. It’s not often that a football player is able to offend 1.3 billion people but Kenedy pulled it off. He also stained Chelsea’s name in China — a stain that has hopefully washed out by now.
After that, he disappeared, becoming almost a non-person at Chelsea. Within a week Antonio Conte announced that the young Brazilian, kicked out of China, would also be kicked out of West London by being sent out on loan. However, as it turns out the frustrating summer transfer widow netted no new left wing-back; and so Kenedy stayed on as Marcos Alonso’s backup.
Not a trusted backup, though. He never played in the Premier League, making just five appearances in the EFL Cup and the FA Cup.
This was his low. His Mariana Trench: the end result of the depth charge he detonated under his career.
But in late January, he was finally loaned to Rafael Benítez at Newcastle United.
And football being football, Kenedy began his resurrection.
Rafa played him at what many regard as his natural position, on the wing. He brought a pace and directness that Newcastle had been lacking. After he started (but didn’t finish) just two games, against Burnley and Crystal Palace, the buzz on Tyneside was so loud that Benitez felt the need to calm everyone down.
“[Kenedy] did well and everybody is a little bit excited, but still he is a young player and he has to be consistent.”
“He has played well, but I want to see him playing more good games and after we can be talking about ‘Kenedy can do this’ or ‘Kenedy can do that’.”
”At the moment, we are happy with what he did. We want him to carry on like this every week.”
”I don’t want to put him in the position where everyone is talking too much and too nice about him. He has to compete, to perform, and then we will see in a few games if he is doing well.”
-Rafa Benitez, February 7th, 2018; Source: The Chronicle
Well, Rafa, he is doing well. People are talking about “Kenedy can do this” and “Kenedy can do that.”
Because on Saturday, in only his sixth game for the Magpies (all of them in the Prem), Kenedy scored twice. And his second was a peach, taking in a perfect lob from
Lord Voldemort Jonjo Shelvey.
That pretty effort came after his first goal, a classic breakout that leaned heavily on his ability to run fast and be in the right position.
Making this all the sweeter, the goals came against relegation rival Southampton.
Over to you, Rafa.
“With him, any situation is good for me when you see a player with quality using his quality to make a difference. Obviously, I enjoyed even the third goal, so all of them.”
“He’s a different kind of player to what we had.”
“He’s comfortable on the ball with his left foot, his deliveries, his passes, his shooting, so he’s quite comfortable with his left foot.”
What IS this?! Rafa bigging up a young player with proven maturity issues? Nah, not a chance... Benítez has been around too long for that.
“Still, he is a young player who is improving, but he has the potential to grow, to be a much better player.”
“It’s the challenge for him to be ready for the next team or whatever, but we are happy to see him here and playing well for us.”
-Rafa Benitez, March 10th, 2018; Source: The Chronicle
Grow. Improve. Be better. That’s more like it.
But grow where? Improve where? Be better where?
He may yet end up back at Chelsea next season. He clearly has talent. Under Benitez, a manager who’s in a position to give minutes to youngsters, Kenedy is being given a chance to do the things he’s good at.
If Chelsea decide he’s not ready, what other options are there? One might be a return to the banks of the River Tyne.
According to Evening Chronicle columnist Mark Douglas, if Benitez stays at Newcastle he’d love to have Kenedy back, this time on a season-long loan. But given Mike Ashley’s unwillingness to invest in his squad, Douglas speculates that there’s no chance that they’d buy him, should Chelsea even consider a sale. Too expensive.
“Too expensive”. That’s an interesting thing to say about a player who was an international pariah eight short months ago.
Football, eh? A life of highs and lows.