Social media is a wonderful tool but, in the hands of a disgruntled, impassioned footballer, it can be a headache for clubs.
Chelsea will attest to that. Having sent Brazilian youngster Kenedy home from their pre-season tour this summer following an Instagram post that caused offence to Chinese supporters, the club have recently had another social media related predicament.
The Blues were again put in a troublesome position when Charly Musonda, one of the club’s rising stars, launched an angry tirade on his Instagram account which seemingly hit out at his lack of first-team opportunities.
The 20-year-old attacking midfielder, who scored on his full debut in the Carabao Cup win over Nottingham Forest, took it upon himself to express his discontent having made just three appearances at that point in the season, and played just 25 minutes of Premier League football since.
He wrote: “You sacrifice, you work hard, harder, you give more than what’s expected, and often more than you can because you love what you do and clearly more than you should. And what do you get back? Literally nothing… Done.
“However, with this being said I will continue with same dedication and commitment to this great game.”
Although Musonda didn’t explicitly reference manager Antonio Conte or anyone at the club, the sentiment was clear. It was an undeniably intelligible reflection of Musonda’s feelings having impressed on loan at Real Betis, but it was also a breach of club rules.
Musonda, who has since apologised, was spoken to by Conte in the days following the rant, commenting: “Above all, with young players, it is important to speak with them and try to explain which is the right way and I did this. I am sure he understood and I don’t see a problem with him.”
However, are Musonda’s misgivings valid? We take a look to see if the Belgian starlet deserves what he craves; more game time at Stamford Bridge.
BRIGHT BETIS BEGINNINGS
After working his way up through Chelsea’s youth academy, Musonda was sent on loan to Real Betis in January 2016 to attain some top-flight experience.
On his first senior professional appearance for any club, Musonda starred in Betis’s 1-0 win over Gary Neville’s Valencia. It was his clever back-heel that set-up Ricky van Wolfswinkel’s chance to score, with the Dutch striker’s scuffed effort being tapped home by Ruben Castro.
At just 19, Musonda’s electric pace was a key attacking feature for Betis and offered an exciting glimpse of the Belgian that suggested he could one day break through the glass ceiling of first-team football at Stamford Bridge.
A week later, Musonda scored his first goal, impressively glancing a header into the corner during Betis’s 2-2 draw with Deportivo La Coruña.
The young Belgian went on to sparkle for La Liga club. He was an outlet of devastating pace and skill on the wing, making 16 appearances and creating 12 chances in total and averaging 3.6 dribbles per game.
His WhoScored rating of 7.09 for that season was higher than any other player in the squad, illustrating his encouraging progress at the Seville-based club.
It looked as though Musonda’s initiation into professional football was going smoothly and that it had set him on an upward trajectory. As a result, at the end of the 2015/16 campaign, Chelsea announced that Musonda would return to Betis to continue his education following a productive first six months.
And the player was hugely excited by the prospect.
“I am very happy. This year was very good and I hope the next will be. For my progression, I hope to play well here and learn,” Musonda said. “Playing in a Primera Division team is very good and Betis is the perfect club.”
However, Musonda’s development was plunged into uncertainty following Gus Poyet’s appointment as Betis head coach.
The Chelsea legend initially appeared pleased that Musonda had rejoined the club on loan. “It gives us the freedom to have a footballer in the squad that will dribble, and grow,” he said.
However, differing from the approach of his predecessor in the Betis dugout, Juan Merino, Poyet opted not to start Musonda on a regular basis.
At the time, Musonda seemed content. “I want to learn and give the best for the team. If now I play 20 minutes, fine; and if it is longer, good as well. The season is very long,” he told Marca.
However, Poyet was sacked in November after taking just 11 points in as many games and replaced by Víctor Sánchez, but the situation remained unchanged for Musonda, while a knee injury only complicated matters.
In January, having made just one start in the first-half of the campaign, he returned to Chelsea where he hoped to make an impression following Oscar’s departure to Shanghai SIPG.
BIDING HIS TIME
After returning to Stamford Bridge, Conte confirmed that Musonda, along with returning loanees Kenedy and Nathan Aké, would be staying at the club for the remainder of the campaign.
However, as the Blues marched brilliantly to the Premier League title, Musonda failed to register a single minute of action.
In the summer, he decided to put the hard yards in as he continued his quest for Conte’s approval. During the club’s pre-season tour in China, the creative attacker was pictured being put through a series of gruelling sprints in training.
The intensity of the exercise caused Musonda to collapse to the pitch. He was fine, rising to his feet with a smile, but it certainly offered a glimpse of the Belgian’s work ethic.
Despite being linked with a move to Celtic, Musonda was given a chance to impress against Internazionale in a friendly in Singapore having missed out on previous games against Arsenal and Bayern Munich through injury.
The winger looked willing and sharp after replacing Willian in the second-half and came close with an effort from just outside the area. But if Musonda had hoped that pre-season would be the pre-cursor to bolstered opportunities in the first-team, he had another thing coming.
Outside of his eye-catching performance against Forest, Musonda has made just two brief appearances in the Premier League this season, so his frustrations are somewhat legitimate. Venting them on social media in a flash of impetuousness, however, was ill-advised.
WORRYING TREND FOR CHELSEA?
Musonda’s outburst is congruous with recent developments at Stamford Bridge, with several of the Chelsea academy graduates struggling to break into the first-team.
This summer Nathaniel Chalobah refused to sign a new contract before making a permanent move to Watford. Following six loan spells away from Chelsea in four years, the 22-year-old is now excelling at Vicarage Road and earned his first senior England call-up in August.
Elsewhere, Aké joined Bournemouth on a permanent basis having impressed there on loan last season, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek pushed to ensure he secured a loan switch to Crystal Palace, saying he needed to leave to improve.
Dominic Solanke, meanwhile, moved to rivals Liverpool and it seems to be a natural consequence of Chelsea’s extensive loan network. The club currently has 18 players out on loan and, when they return, the Blues are struggling to meet their expectations as regards to first-team action.
It’s a disconcerting situation for Chelsea considering that they let Romelu Lukaku leave the club but, while it’s true that youth prospects struggling to establish themselves at Stamford Bridge has become a recurring narrative, aiming not-so-thinly veiled jabs at their employers is not the greatest display of judgement, nor does it reflect well on Musonda’s professionalism.
Conte recently defended his methods of promoting youth: “Sometimes I think that the young players lose their patience very quickly. A lot of time because of parents or the people around these players.”
The Italian has more than 200 games as a manager under his belt at an elite level. He knows how to evaluate a player’s development, their character and, ultimately, he is the one who decides if they are ready.
Also, it was Musonda’s decision to stay and fight for his place among a group of established stars and expensive summer recruits. Although he has shown flickers of genuine promise, one good game against Forest does not warrant a place in a team fighting to win back the Premier League and progress in the Champions League.
The now 20-year-old would have been wise to look at the example of Andreas Christensen. The defender made 80 appearances across two season-long loan spells at Borussia Mönchengladbach but now, given that he has had proper time to develop, is starting to reap the rewards with first-team minutes.
While Musonda may have been entitled to expect some more game time since returning from Betis, his comments will have strained his relationship with the club.
With a Carabao Cup fixture against Everton tonight, the timing was also questionable. Now, more than ever, his future at Chelsea is far from certain.