Aston Villa have been linked with a handful of new players in recent days as Dean Smith looks to bolster his options ahead of the promotion race, and a recent report suggests he has turned his attention towards a fantastic talent.
Sometimes reality does not mirror expectation and Nathaniel Chalobah’s career of underachievement serves as an acute reminder of how misfortune can shape the careers of precocious footballers.
According to a recent report from Sky Sports, Villa have approached Watford over a loan deal for Chalobah, who wants an increase in first-team opportunities to force his way into Gareth Southgate’s plans.
The story of Chalobah’s career has panned out in a similar fashion to that of Chelsea’s Ross Barkley: Watford’s outcast was hailed as a huge talent when he was breaking through the ranks at Chelsea as a youngster, but his career has failed to materialise into anything exceeding mediocre and suddenly he is 24-years-old.
The shelf life of a footballer is so limited that it’s not outlandish to consider 24 as edging towards the midway point in an average career at the top level, so it’s no surprise that Chalobah is looking for first-team opportunities.
Injuries rather than his quality, though, have dictated the pattern of his career. During his first spell at Watford in the 2012/13 season, manager Gianfranco Zola made a bold claim about Chalobah which is yet to turn prophetic (via Watford Observer).
“He can go as high as he wants to. He has all the qualities to become a top player but he just needs to work hard every day and not lose the desire to work hard in training.
“The common mistake for players of his age, when they play and are having compliments like I am giving him right now, is to stop learning.
“It is too early; he has the potential but he has to really keep his feet on the ground and work hard.”
When Chalobah burst onto the scene at Watford his performances stunned those who saw him grace the turf at Vicarage Road; he was classy in possession, mature beyond his years and clearly an exceptional talent.
The manner in which his career has plummeted into insignificance is a genuine shame, but a January move to Villa could be the transfer which resurrects his career. Playing under a manager like Smith, who places huge value on technical quality and strives to implement a possession-based philosophy, Chalobah would be well placed to develop while simultaneously offering Villa an option of Premier League quality in midfield.
That Gareth Southgate called Chalobah up to the England squad last October speaks volumes about how highly he is regarded, but he will never build upon his brief flirt with international football until he acquires regular opportunities.
The final hours of the January window will undoubtedly shape the outcome of the Championship season for Villa, and if Smith can get a genius deal over the line for Chalobah there is no question it would represent a priceless boost for everybody involved with the club.
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