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Kakuta: From Chelsea prodigy to Ligue 1 relegation battle

The Amiens attacker netted spectacularly in last week’s 4-4 draw with Paris Saint-Germain, prompting many to reminisce over his unfulfilled potential

Amiens’ rip-roaring 4-4 stalemate with Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain last weekend included a plethora of eye-catching moments: the relegation contenders led 3-0 after 40 minutes, were pegged back and trailed 4-3, before scoring a late equalizer in second-half stoppage time.

The home side’s second goal on the night stood out: Fousseni Diabate received the ball wide left and passed to Sehrou Guirassy (scorer of the Unicorns’ first) whose dummy allowed the ball run to Gael Kakuta on the inside left channel.

The Democratic Republic of Congo attacker then unleashed a powerful effort into the top left corner, a thunderous strike that beat Keylor Navas in the PSG goal before he could dive.

That Kakuta strike reminded people why the now 28-year-old was one of the highly-rated youngsters of the late 2000s and early 2010s at Chelsea.

In that opening half, the former Blues prospect also provided two assists for Guirassy and Diabate: the first was a well-weighted reverse pass behind the away side’s defence for the attacker, while the second still required a lot of work from the Malian left-sider.

In truth, not every gifted wonderkid in football turns out to be a top class talent, but when your transfer to one of the top European clubs eventually leads to that side being sanctioned by Fifa, a greater level of attention and scrutiny is drawn to your performances, as was the case with Kakuta.

Then-Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti predicted the youngster would be the “future of Chelsea”, so what happened to the precocious talent who was tipped to go right to the very top?

Kakuta signed for the West London club in 2007 after scout Guy Hillion, the club’s French football scout, reportedly instructed the hierarchy to swoop for a player he considered “one of the best players of his generation.”

The decision-makers at Chelsea signed the Lens player on Hillion’s recommendation and he started training with the youth and reserve sides initially, while there was the odd session with the first-team as well.

It was under Ancelotti, in 2009, though that Kakuta gained prominence.

In September of that year, the Fifa Dispute Resolution Chamber banned the wonderkid for four months owing to a breach of contract with Lens and fined him €780,000. The Blues were punished too, with restrictions placed upon them for two transfer windows, while they were also fined for their involvement in the player’s decision to leave the French side.

The ban was eventually lifted after the West London club’s appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport was successful, but the entire incident increased the pressure on the player to succeed.

Kakuta eventually made his long-awaited debut in a 4-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers in November, where he showcased some clever skills from his box of tricks, clearly looking undaunted by the pressure and attention that had emerged by his transfer to the club.

However, his career at the Blues never really took off after that; after a good individual showing in the club’s Champions League draw with APOEL, a performance that led his Italian manager to give the aforementioned prediction, Kakuta wasn’t to play again in 2009/10.

The attacking midfielder probably wanted to play more afterwards, and the inability to feature regularly caused discontent for the youngster who wanted to be the present and the future.

From 2010, the player’s inability to deliver on his early promise and an unwillingness to sit on the bench saw him loaned to city rivals Fulham in January, the his journeyman career had begun.

Temporary spells at Bolton Wanderers, Dijon, Vitesse, Lazio and Rayo Vallecano followed between 2011 and 2015, until his release from Chelsea at the expiration of his contract.

Several mitigating factors have been given for Kakuta’s failure to thrive in West London, but perhaps the biggest was due to the huge pressure placed on head coaches at the football club to deliver results or risk losing their job. Such short-termism isn’t the best breeding ground for a young player, as trainers are forced to favour instant benefits over long-term consequences.

Ancelotti, winner of the Premier League and FA Cup in his first year, was sacked in 2011 for finishing second the following season. His replacement Andre Villas-Boas didn’t last a full season before being jettisoned in March 2012, while Roberto Di Matteo, winner of Roman Abramovich’s Holy Grail – the Champions League – and the FA Cup didn’t fare better either, as he was fired in November 2012, six months after success in Europe.

That’s probably the greatest explanation for Kakuta’s lack of success in Chelsea blue, but the perception is that his impatience coupled with his misguided belief that he was ready and desperation to prove that all affected his ability to flourish.

On the other hand, one ought to remember that it was Kakuta, not Alexander Lacazette or Antoine Griezmann, who shone so brightly at the 2010 U-19 European Championship, and was deservedly named Best Player of the competition by Uefa.

However, 10 years later, Lacazette is at Arsenal, while Griezmann turns out for Barcelona, while the former Chelsea man is preparing for Amiens’ fixture at Strasbourg on Saturday night.

That is the sad reality for Kakuta, now 28, who hasn’t lived up to Hillion and Ancelotti’s high expectations of him.

After his time at the Blues, there were spells at Sevilla, Hebei China Fortune, Deportivo La Coruna, Rayo, before a move to Amiens in the summer (he’d spent 2017/18 on loan at the Unicorns).

The struggling side are without a win in the top flight since early November – a 1-0 win over Brest – with their wretched run now standing at 14 winless games.

Following Saturday’s draw with Strasbourg, Luka Elsner’s team remain in 19th, five points behind Dijon in 17th, and are staring relegation in the face.

A decade after Kakuta was tipped as one of the best players of his generation, he’s battling to keep his side afloat.

Last weekend’s wondergoal was a reminder of his enduring class, but Kakuta’s career must serve as a cautionary tale that not every bright wonderkid will grow into a world beater.   

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