Once upon a time, Josh McEachran was the biggest, brightest, bestest hope of the Chelsea Academy. He was going to be not only the first player since John Terry to make the leap from the youth to the senior team, but he was going to be a superstar. Real Madrid courted him, even, at 16.
But he was one of our own.
As McEachran tells it in his interview on BBC 5 Live radio yesterday, he chose to stay with Chelsea, his boyhood club. Isn’t it every kid’s dream to play for their favorite team, after all? And for a while, it looked like the best decision.
Young Josh joined Chelsea at age 7. Ten years later, at 17, he was playing in the Champions League and the Premier League. By the end of that 2010-11 season, he had collected 17 appearances. It looked like he would be a Chelsea star for the next 17 years.
As it turned out, he would make just 5 more first-team appearances, all in the first half of the 2011-12 season (under new head coach Andre Villas-Boas, who replaced Carlo Ancelotti in the summer). But he needed more minutes for his development. So the loans began.
And he slowly disappeared off the first-team radar. It’s a story we’re all familiar with, if not in his case, then in the case of many others who have come before and after him.
It’s easy to blame one thing or another, but especially easy to blame Chelsea’s use of the loan system. But as ever, it’s more complicated than that.
I said in the interview going out on loan and not playing killed my confidence.. not just going out on loan. At a top club you expect to go out on loan to get experience.— Josh McEachran (@JMcEachran20) August 17, 2018
In Josh’s case, that first failed loan at Swansea City, in the second half of 2011-12, under Brendan Rodgers was bad enough to completely “kill” his confidence and derail his career. Looking back six years later, he still doesn’t understand how or why that happened. So can we point the finger at any one of Chelsea, Swansea, Rodgers, AVB, or McEachran himself? Probably not. The blame, if any should be assigned, isn’t that simple to assign.
“I think me going out on loan and not playing ... that first loan spell did kill me. My confidence just went.
“Because I was the big thing — (Jenas interjects to clarify where the loan was) I went to Swansea with Brendan — I was on the back of the paper, most days really, saying that I was the next big thing: ‘Josh McEachran coming through the Chelsea ranks’. Carlo gave me, I think, 20-odd appearances, and I was making an impact.
“And then I went to Swansea on loan and for whatever reason... It’s not that I wasn’t playing; sometimes I wasn’t even on the bench. So I was just like, ‘what’s going on here?’ It was strange. And to this day I don’t know what happened there.
“From there, I went to Middlesbrough, Watford, Wigan, just bouncing around the Championship kind of thing.
“So, yeah, it was hard to take. My confidence, from there, was gone, and I only feel it recently starting to build up again...”
-Josh McEachran; source: BBC 5 Live
The overall effect however has been strong enough that only now, McEachran says, is he finally getting back to feeling confident about himself and about his prospects.
McEachran, as most do, eventually grew tired of the loanee life and struck out on his own, joining Brentford in 2015. His spell there began inauspiciously when he broke a bone in his foot just two weeks into preseason. Injuries have struck in each of the two seasons since and he’s yet to truly nail down a starting position with the Bees. But he’s started each of their first two games this season so perhaps now, at 25, he will indeed get his career truly back on track.
Engaging and interesting stuff from Josh McEachran this evening on 5 Live. Injuries (amongst other things) have limited him to 40 of a possible 140 league starts since he left for Brentford. Has apparently started this season in good nick, fingers crossed that lasts. #formerblue— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) August 17, 2018
We can only wish him the best of luck, while reminiscing about things that could’ve been and, more importantly, hoping to avoid similar situations with other highly promising youth players.