Back in the day, in the Year of Happy One Mourinho Mk.II 2015, when Chelsea were seemingly set for world domination, Kurt Zouma was just in the infancy of his Blues career.
And what an infancy it was!
In his first twelve months at Stamford Bridge, a 20-year-old Zouma not only collected a Premier League and League Cup double, he also made 26 appearances in all competitions under a manager who was supposedly the worst at giving opportunities to young players.
We were set to rule the land for years to come, and José was going to turn us all into serial winners once again. Nothing could possibly go wrong!
Except then of course everything went wrong.
For Zouma, the wake-up call came in mid-September, after a 3-1 loss at Everton (the Steven Naismith hat-trick game), Chelsea’s third in the first five games of the season. As it turned out, it was too late already.
“I cannot remember which match we were playing, we were losing 3-1, away from home. The following day, [Mourinho] catches up with me, he takes me to his office, and he asks me if I am ok. I said yes, he asked me if I was sure. I said yes again, he replied ‘Because you were rubbish this weekend.’ Like that, direct.
“It shocked me, but it made me want to immediately respond on the pitch. I remember that it hurt me, that it affected me. But I really wanted to show him that I could react.”
The motivational technique worked and Zouma would indeed react well enough personally — even though he was far from the worst player in that game.
His development was one of the few positive things that season — perhaps the only positive thing — and then even that got taken away from us in early February, when he blew out his ACL in a match against Manchester United. By then, Guus Hiddink sat in the dugout, again, and we were just counting down the days to next season and wondering if we’d ever be good again.
Zouma’s own road back was even longer than Chelsea’s, taking multiple detours through Stoke and, incidentally, Everton, before landing back in the SW6 last summer. It wasn’t clear what his future held at the time, but by virtue of actually staying and staying healthy, if nothing else, unlike his fellow center backs, Zouma has become one of the most used players by Frank Lampard this season. Only Jorginho, Kepa, and Azpilicueta have played more minutes in fact.
Now 25, Zouma’s again set to start against Mourinho’s Spurs on Saturday. For him, José’s still the same as he once was and thus still holds him in the highest regard.
“He is someone who loves victory. He uses all the tools possible to achieve it.
“I came here at 19 and he played me. I was able to have my chances, I played my matches. I don’t know what other people think, we all have different opinions, but from my side, I don’t really agree [with the notion that Mourinho does not give young players a chance].”
-Kurt Zouma; source: RMC Sport via Goal
Hopefully after the game, we’ll all be thanking Mourinho for making a winner out of Zouma once again.