Things have always looked bright for Belgian “wonderkid” Charly Musonda Jr as he worked his way up through the youth ranks, his abundant talent making him a standout even among Chelsea’s glittering collection of youth prospects. As many of his peers in the Academy, he hit the loan trail when he became far too good for his age group, landing in the Spanish top flight as a 19-year-old in January 2016.
Things only brightened as he started 11 of Real Betis’s remaining 17 La Liga matches, making a substitute appearance in three more. In ten of those matches he played the full ninety minutes and his speed and skill turned heads. He was raw and scrawny, but his talent was obvious.
But things have looked increasingly less bright since. He extended his loan with Betis for the following season, but Gus Poyet took over in the summer and Musonda’s minutes dropped by half. By Christmas 2016 he was back at Chelsea with a knee injury. Since then he’s been searching for his next opportunity, lurking on the fringes of Chelsea’s first team. Antonio Conte was not quite convinced, though Musonda did make his Premier League debut and made seven appearances altogether. He scored his first Chelsea goal in a Carabao Cup win over Nottingham Forest, adding an assist for good measure, but he was firmly stuck behind all the other attacking midfielders in the squad, and that’s before Chelsea snapped up Ross Barkley in January.
So when Celtic made a case that they really, really, really wanted Musonda on an extended, 18-month loan, it seemed like a perfect opportunity. Brendan Rodgers may not have played Josh McEachran much when he was at Swansea, but he supposedly pushed very hard to get Charly. The Scottish Premier League sounded like the right mix of physicality and skill level that would give Musonda playing time and space to impress.
At first, that’s how it worked out. After a 28-minute runout in his first match, Charly started the next two and also played 65 minutes in a Scottish FA Cup match. But since then, nothing. Well, almost nothing: 26 minutes in Celtic’s last eight matches.
What’s gone wrong?
For one thing, Rodgers doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to replace proven veterans. Apparently, the length of the loan means he can take his time.
”It’s a different type of loan for Charly compared to when he went to Spain and had to succeed straight away. Here he has 18 months to settle in, find the way of working and realising the pressures of a big club.
“But he’s enjoying every minute of it and he knows that over time here that he will get an opportunity to show it in training where he works well and then in the games. It’s just time, that’s all.”
Whether or not Musonda is actually enjoying his time on the pine is open to question. But the Scottish Daily Record’s Liam Bryce says that Celtic have “a few” attacking players who haven’t committed to the club for another season, which might open a door for Musonda. Rodgers doesn’t appear to be worried that Chelsea will recall him before that happens.
“All players want to play but he’s no different to Patrick Roberts or some of the others. They have a respect for where they are and what the team is doing. They respect that you can only pick 11 players.
“He’s absolutely fine. He’s here for the 18 months and by the end of that he knows he is going to be a better player. He’ll make some appearances from when he arrived in January to the end of this season. Then I think next season will be a big one for him to make his mark.”
-Brendan Rodgers; source Daily Record
Celtic are beating everyone in their (domestic) path, which makes Charly’s lack of playing time even more annoying — for both Chelsea as well as the Celtic faithful. He is now going on almost two full seasons without regular match action, and those are crucial minutes missed in his development. Let’s hope that Rodgers is indeed true to his word and unleashes Musonda next season.