When Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho signed a teenaged Kurt Zouma in the transfer window last January, “The Special One” never envisioned that he’d be entrusting him with a first eleven spot in a Capital One Cup final just a year later.
But Sunday, with just 13 senior appearances to his name, that’s exactly where 20-year-old Zouma found himself when Mourinho’s Blues bested London-rivals Tottenham at Wembley Stadium, 2-0.
Zouma, a natural center-back playing out of position in the holding midfield role for a suspended Nemanja Matic, was tremendous all evening. His ability to read the build-up play was crucial in preventing the lethal Christian Eriksen-Harry Kane partnership from shifting the momentum in Tottenham’s favor.
His presence was immense, winning aerial duels and picking out effective passes, fooling everyone into believing he’d been playing the position his whole career.
And he proved to everyone, including some perplexed Chelsea supporters before kick-off, how much he has to offer at Stamford Bridge.
Zouma was only 16 years of age when he made his professional debut with Saint Etienne in Ligue 1. He made an impressive 73 appearances with the senior side in three seasons, finishing the second half of his third year on-loan from Chelsea.
Although he’s yet to earn a call from Didier Deschamps and the French national team, it should be a matter of months, if that, due to his recent performances.
“Happy,” as he’s known around the dressing room, has impressed fans and analysts alike alongside skipper John Terry in the center of the back-line, giving first-option Gary Cahill more than just a whiff of competition. Zouma has started 13 matches at center-back, including three in the Champions League.
Zouma anchored the midfield again away at West Ham on Wednesday night in an important domestic derby, helping to record another Chelsea shut-out and another three points for the league-leaders at a hostile Boleyn Ground.
Mourinho was elated with his make-shift midfielders performances this week, even speaking to the Frenchman’s potential to succeed John Terry as captain.”Zouma is now 20 years old and one day he will be 23, 24 and a player with great maturity, probably even with leadership to replace John [Terry].”
While Matic will presumably slide back into his defensive midfield role in the second leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie with Paris St. Germain next week. The uncertainty in an otherwise consistent first XI for Chelsea comes in the backfield.
Regardless of the center-back pairing Mourinho chooses, one thing is for certain: Zouma has cemented himself in the conversation, and it seems he’s going to be there for a long time.