Chelsea may have angered Everton by making a bid for young defender John Stones, outrageously offering money for a player during the transfer window, but aside from the spat between Jose Mourinho and Roberto Martinez, a far more intriguing issue is bubbling under the surface.
At 21, Stones is one of the hottest young prospects in the Premier League, so you can understand why the big boys are casting admiring glances in his direction, but his career is developing well at Everton under the tutelage of Roberto Martinez, where he is given the chance to play week in, week out, and if a mistake is made, not be dropped or be vilified in the media because of it.
It is precisely that thought that has prompted pundits, fans and the media to claim Stones could well be better off staying at Everton for now and rejecting a move to Chelsea, where he could join a very long list of young players who had so much potential but ended up crashing and burning – or more accurately, fading into obscurity on the bench.
For a side who are the ones often used as an example when talking about the club with more money than sense, that buys up young players and ruins them (see Shaun Wright-Phillips as exhibit A), Chelsea ironically have a better crop of young stars than anyone else at the minute, with the likes of Patrick Bamford, Lewis Baker, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jay DaSilva and Nathan Ake all hoping to make the first team, and if there was ever going to be a crop of players to follow John Terry into that starting eleven, this is going to be it.
Jose Mourinho has made it clear he is here to stay at Chelsea and wants to oversee the development of the young kids and get them not only playing for the Chelsea senior side, but also England as well, and that will only serve to make Stones want a move even more.
The biggest success story of boy doing good after moving from a smaller club to one of the big boys ironically comes from Everton, who saw Wayne Rooney up sticks and leave for Old Trafford at the tender age of 18, going on to become one of the best forwards the Premier League over the last decade.
United had plenty of top talent in their squad – and cash to buy more, but that did not stop Rooney from becoming a fixture in the first team, although the Champions League debut hat-trick complete with an assist probably didn’t harm his cause.
Even Manchester United, who do so well when giving young players a chance in the first team aren’t exempt from the curse at times. Nick Powell would be the first one to tell you that, but when you look at the ones who have made it and the ones who have not, the conclusion that you arrive at on the majority of occasions is that if a player is good enough, he will make it at a top club. Even if they fail at one club, they will succeed at another, because they’re too good not to.
Paul Pogba is case in point. He felt he was good enough to make it at United, Fergie opted to play Rafael in the middle of the park ahead of him. Pogba left the club and has gone on to become one of the best midfielders in the world and is still at the start of his career. Alvaro Morata looks like he is doing the same thing, ironically also at Juventus.
After being sold by Real Madrid, who opted to keep Jese, Morata has torn up Serie A and downed Real Madrid in the Champions League as well, even getting Juve’s solitary goal in the final against Barcelona. He is good enough to be a top forward, and despite the club he broke through at failing to offer him enough of a chance, he moved on and has taken one somewhere else – and is now dogged by rumours that Real Madrid want him back.
If your head gets turned by one of the big boys and you’re not good enough however, things can end up being a very different story indeed.
Look at Scott Sinclair, who is now famous for two things. Ending up on the footballing scrapheap after ill-advised moves to Chelsea and Manchester City, and being Mr Helen Flanagan. Neither are ideal, but he is at least being given the chance to try and salvage something out of his career after failing to learn from his initial lesson at Chelsea and swapping Swansea for Manchester City.
Then you get the players who have all the talent in the world but can’t control themselves off the field, with Ravel Morrison being the poster boy for this. The majority of young footballers – and young people – do something at some point in their teenage years or early twenties that is ill-advised and they would rather take back, but Morrison has found himself in serious trouble time and time again, and unlike some players who are of a similar ilk off the field, he cannot seem to be consistent enough on it for a club to overlook his temperament and penchant for jail cells.
To make it as a young player at a top club, various things have to come together at once – and talent is only one of those factors. Sometimes injuries to other players or a new manager and a lucky break can see a player get his chance, take it and never look back.
Iker Casillas became the youngest ever goalkeeper to play in a Champions League final at just 19 years of age, and won the trophy with Real Madrid, later losing his place to César Sánchez in the following season – but broke back into the first team after Cesar injured himself in the Champions League final, was impenetrable in stopping Bayer Leverkusen and has not looked back since.
Even his international career bore the hallmarks of fate – Spanish number one Santiago Cañizares severed a tendon in his foot after dropping a bottle of aftershave on it, leading to Casillas starting in the 2002 World Cup at only 21. Casillas might have been lucky to get the nod, but after saving two penalties against Japan, proved his worth tenfold and was known as San Iker to the Spanish people – a nickname that followed him throughout his career.
From what we have seen of Stones, he is good enough to make the cut, and as the mooted replacement for John Terry, he will get chances given Terry cannot play on for too much longer (although the Chelsea skipper might have something to say about that), and it speaks volumes that Mourinho is pursuing Stones and not Raphael Varane or Jose Maria Gimenez. He rates Stones that highly – and it is worth noting that Stones’ best attributes would complement Kurt Zouma’s perfectly.
Many things would have to fall into place for both Zouma and Stones to make it at Chelsea and be their centre back pairing for the next decade, but on last season’s evidence and Mourinho’s determination to land Stones, don’t bet against it.