Chelsea’s stockpile of young, creative, attacking players creates some tantalizing options for Roberto Di Matteo this upcoming season. Of course, the flipside is the Blues manager will likely be unable to incorporate all of them into his rotation over the next 10 months, meaning several highly-rated, high-priced starlets could well flame out during their time at Stamford Bridge.
Oscar is one of them. The 20-year-old Brazilian playmaker completed a €25 million move from Internacional earlier this month and will join up with his new teammates following the Olympics. The star of the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup final in Colombia, Oscar is widely seen to have replaced Paulo Henrique Ganso as Brazil’s up-and-coming artistic force and his performance against Egypt on Thursday will have surely pleased Chelsea officials and fans alike.
That said, Oscar arrives in English football at a crucial juncture in his development. Largely ignored at Sao Paulo after turning professional in 2009 (a contract dispute kept him on the outskirts at the club, and the confusion was only sorted last May), he endured an injury-plagued 2010 season at Internacional and only put in his first, full campaign in 2011.
It was an impressive one. After starting slowly in the Campeonato Gaúcho in January, Oscar caught fire in the Copa Libertadores and carried that form into the Brasileirão, where he scored 10 goals in 26 matches. Midway through the season he helped Brazil’s U-20 side to the World Cup in Colombia—his hat-trick and extra-time winner sealing victory in the final against Portugal.
But it was only one season—his first at senior level—and for his talent to truly blossom he’ll need regular playing time in his second.
It’s unlikely he’ll get that at Chelsea, what with similar and more experienced playmakers also vying for selection, and his progress as a footballer may well be hampered as a result. This is especially true given the change of scenery; he’ll need minutes in order to adapt to the Premier League.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with accumulating young, imaginative players. If even two of Oscar, Eden Hazard, Marko Marin, Lucas Piazon and Kevin De Bruyne (who is heading to Werder Bremen on loan) reach the heights they’ve been projected to hit, the London club will benefit from the abilities and artistries of two of the top playmakers in the division.
But it becomes another matter when accumulation looks more like hoarding.
Di Matteo will be hard-pressed to incorporate the four above players who will be at Chelsea this season into a regular, matchday squad. And that’s assuming he wants to. The likes of Frank Lampard, Juan Mata, Raul Meireles and Ramires will be expecting regular starts as well, and in the win-or-nothing world of Premier League football—especially at Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea—the manager will almost always opt for experience ahead of youth.
Still, Di Matteo does have options, and those options could see Chelsea become one of the most captivating sides to watch over the next few months.
There has been speculation that the manager may experiment with a 4-6-0 formation (this formation doesn’t actually exist; it merely acknowledges the interchanging of roles in the attacking positions) à la Barcelona—a setup that would likely use Hazard as a “false 9”. Mata and Marin would flank him, and the midfield trio in behind could include Ramires, John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard.
There’s no room for Oscar and Piazon in that team, nevermind Fernando Torres and the recently-bought-and-already-ignored Romelu Lukaku, who happens to be the perfect example of a promising prospect damaged by misuse.
Oscar could, however, see some time in the centre of the “3” in a 4-2-3-1. This formation would also allow Torres to lead the line, and Mata and Hazard would provide attacking options playing from the right and left of the Brazilian. Ramires and Mikel—or Mikel and Lampard or Ramires and Meireles (there are several combinations here)—would operate in behind.
These are fascinating scenarios, but neither of them includes Michael Essien and Florent Malouda, nevermind young players who have been at the club a few years already such as Josh McEachran and Daniel Sturridge. Stamford Bridge will be an unhappy place for a good many footballers this season no matter who Di Matteo puts in his teams.
But it’s Oscar who stands to suffer most given his inexperience, slight frame and the presence of veterans in the squad who will be ahead of him in the pecking order for playing time. In an ideal world Chelsea would have loaned him back to Internacional for one or two years of seasoning, but that was never going to happen given the fee paid for his signature.
Chelsea may play some exhilarating football in 2012-13, but it will come at the expense of some promising careers gone down the drain. Here’s hoping Oscar’s isn’t one of them, but then again the same could be said for each of the other young players whose futures are hanging in the balance.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer