Over the last few seasons Celtic have had great success targeting young players unable to gain minutes in top English sides, and tempting them with not only first-team football, but exposure at European level.
Chelsea’s Charly Musonda could be the next talent on Brendan Rodgers radar as the Scottish champions are reportedly closing in on a January move for the 21-year-old.
Musonda is a graduate of the Anderlecht youth system but moved to Stamford Bridge in 2012. He has since been capped 12 times by Belgium’s Under-21 side, however, he is yet to start a Premier League game for Chelsea.
With Ross Barkley’s signing from Everton, the Blues are ready to let Musonda leave the club on loan in order to enhance his development. And that’s where Celtic come in.
The winger does have top flight experience, though. He spent 12 months on loan at Real Betis in Spain, joining in January 2016 and making 24 La Liga appearances across two seasons before a knee injury stopped him having a real impact last term.
Musonda returned to London in January 2016 and has since been part of Antonio Conte’s first-team squad, but match time has been limited.
This season he’s made four substitute appearances in the Premier League and FA Cup and while he did score on his full debut in the Carabao Cup, it’s not enough for a player of his talent.
If Celtic could persuade Chelsea to let Musonda spend the remainder of the season on loan in Scotland, then Rodgers’ will be securing a player who has the potential to be the best in his squad.
Yes, he remains raw, but his natural talent is limitless. It just needs unlocking.
The Loan Spell That Proved Musonda’s Potential
During his time at Betis, Musonda demonstrated that he is capable of impressing in a top European division.
He can play on either flank, however, he favours the left as it allows him to come inside on to his right-foot and drive at defenders.
Comfortable with the ball, it’s difficult for opposition defenders to show him on to his weaker foot, as he has the ability to create havoc on both.
He plays with a direct and positive style, like Pat Roberts and Scott Sinclair. With his head constantly up, looking for gaps or opportunities, Musonda runs straight at full-backs, yet has an eye on where the space is for himself and his team-mates.
During his two campaigns with the Spanish side, he averaged 6.9 attempted dribbles per 90 minutes, and succeeded 3.8 times per 90.
In comparison, that’s more attempts than Barcelona’s Lionel Messi (6.5) – although the Argentine is successful with four per 90.
Valencia’s Zakaria Bakkali and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco with 5.9 and 5.8 can’t measure up to the Chelsea prospect and in terms of getting past his marker, Musonda completed more successful dribbles than Matteo Kovačić, Dani Ceballos, Iker Muniain, Isco and the aforementioned Carrasco. An impressive list of La Liga talent.
What Musonda does very well is utilise his speed and change of direction. He sucks the defenders in, inviting them to make a tackle only to burst past them and deliver a dangerous cross or pass.
But despite this desire to constantly run at the opposition, the 21-year-old is far from a ball-hog.
Picking the ball up in injury time against Granada last season, Musonda pushed inside with the ball and looked to find a winner deep in injury time.
Once he reached the edge of the box, many young players would have seen the bright lights and the headlines and looked to find the finish themselves.
Musonda had space to fire off a shot, but he saw a teammate in a better position and slid the ball out wide.
The chance came to nothing as the shot is saved, however, it is a great example of a talented young player knowing how to create a higher percentage opportunity instead of just focusing on glory.
A Potential World Beater
Without going over-the-top, Musonda is the type of player, who at this stage of his career, has no ceiling.
With Musonda’s ability to beat players, sometimes with just power and pace – although he does love a step-over – he could develop into a player worthy of an eight-figure transfer fee in the future.
His touch and balance is, at times, world class. But like many of Chelsea’s young prospects, his lack of first-team opportunities means a temporary move away is a must for Musonda this month.
And with Rodgers pushing the youngster to match the likes of Dembélé and Sinclair, it might just be a match made in paradise.