Chelsea’s heir to Eden Hazard can still fulfil his ultimate dream after long-awaited comeback

Chelsea's heir to Eden Hazard can still fulfil his ultimate dream after long-awaited comeback

It was the ease with which opponents were taken out of the game that truly stood out. A body feint followed by a couple of swift touches and the young Belgian was away and off to cause more havoc in the final third.

Yet this wasn’t Eden Hazard. It was the teenage winger who idolised Chelsea’s No.10 and hoped to one day follow in his footsteps at Stamford Bridge. It was Charly Musonda.

“Eden has taught me a lot coming through and he still teaches me a lot in training and after games,” the then 21-year-old told Chelsea’s website in October 2017, shortly after scoring on his full debut against Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup.

“We are good friends and you saw in the game against Nottingham Forest that there is a good understanding on the pitch. I am very lucky to have a guy like him here.”

It’s not outlandish to state that Musonda’s ceiling was as high as Hazard’s. He joined Chelsea aged 15 and those who watched him perform for the Chelsea sides would attest he had the same innate ability to beat defenders and possessed a penchant for the spectacular.

“When he was recruited, arguably at the time he was the best under-16 in world football, not just in Europe,” former Chelsea youth coach Adi Viveash told the Athletic in 2019. “You’re talking about a special talent.

“I remember I was doing some of my coaching badges and Osian Roberts, the technical director on one of my ‘A’ Licence courses, told me that Wales had played against Belgium in the under-16s when Musonda was there and it was the best performance at that level he had ever seen at that age. He just said Charly controlled the game and was unplayable.

Yet like many burgeoning talents before him at Chelsea, there wasn’t a pathway created for Musonda to blossom. He did make seven appearances during the 2017/18 campaign after an 18-month loan spell at Real Betis but then was sent to Celtic and Vitesse.

It was during pre-season with the latter that Musonda suffered an injury that would reshape his career. He tore his posterior cruciate ligament in a friendly against Antwerp and would make only one appearance during the 2018/19 campaign.

In an effort to provide the youngster with some continuity, it was decided that Musonda should remain at Vitesse for the following campaign, to continue his recovery in the less physically demanding Eredivisie.

Unfortunately, he would manage just three further substitute appearances before the decision was taken to undergo surgery again.

“The doctors said: ‘If you have a surgery now, you’re going to miss another year. It’s going to be three years of no football so it’s going to be impossible for you to come back’,” he told BBC Sport in May.

“A PCL surgery is not common in football. It’s not like an ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] where you have surgery and in six months you can come back.

“They told me the odds of coming back were like 20%. Of coming back and being at the top level, being able to compete and play for a club like Chelsea, it was slim to none. It was very difficult.”

It will be two years next month that Musonda last played a competitive game and he hasn’t played in back-to-back matches for four years.

Musonda has spent the last two seasons working hard at Cobham – and elsewhere – on his recovery. He returned to training last season and was slowly reintegrated into contact football via training sessions with the development squad.

It’s not until October that Musonda turns 25 years old. He still has plenty of time on his side. Yet this summer was always going to be a big one in the Belgian’s career.

What would his next step be? Well, the first appears to be showcasing his many talents to Thomas Tuchel.

Musonda has been included in the first-team group for the early weeks of pre-season alongside the likes of Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech and Callum Hudson-Odoi. And beaming smile on his face during Monday’s session told its’ own story.

“It’s very difficult to have three years without being able to do what you really love,” he added in his interview with the BBC. “I would be lying to say that it’s been easy, but I’ve always known that some struggles are worth going through.

“I feel like a fighter now preparing for a boxing match. It would be an incredible comeback – an incredible story. Every day is part of the journey, every day a step closer to coming back. I’m on the right track.

“I do believe that if I put a run together and I come back, I can play for a good 10 years. I’m still 24 – if I come back in the prime of my career, I can put a run together – that’s my goal.”

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