By brazenly purchasing Demba Ba, Roman Abramovich has already begun fanning his blank chequebook like a seductive peacock. However, in amongst the speculation and rumour, Chelsea may have quietly boosted their future aspirations with the signature of a player you’ve probably never heard of.
Information is incredibly sparse regarding Connor Hunte, so much so that many media outlets are still deliberating over how many letter n’s are needed to spell his forename. The talented youngster is clearly a close guarded secret in West London but that hasn’t prevented him from decorating gossip columns and lighting up online forums in recent weeks.
Why has he been in the news?
Only last week, the 16-year-old finally put pen to paper on a professional contract at Stamford Bridge, ending a rather prolonged spell of uncertainty concerning his future at the club.
The English midfielder had reportedly been attracting the interest of several prominent outfits in the Premier League, including both Manchester clubs and Liverpool.
Why all the fuss?
Hunte has been strutting his stuff on the international scene over the past year, with breathtaking pace, trickery and a natural composure on the ball that has prompted some to draw comparisons with Real Madrid star Mesut Ozil.
Despite his schoolboy status, Hunte’s raw potential has allowed him to flourish with the Chelsea U18s. He plays the game with a natural desire to roam forward and will gladly take on any defender placed before him.
Last November, with his side trailing 3-2 against the highly rated Crystal Palace U18s, Hunte tore down the left hand side, leaving three defenders in his wake before his blocked shot fell kindly to team-mate George Cole, who stroked home the equaliser. If the player’s youthful exuberance is carefully nurtured then he may fulfil his potential as one of the standout stars of his generation.
Haven’t we heard this all before?
Perhaps, it’s common knowledge that Chelsea’s youth academy hasn’t decorated the first-team with any long-term stalwarts since an unsullied John Terry made his debut as a 17-year-old back in 1998.
Since then, the recognisable names of Fabio Borini, Scott Sinclair, Franco di Santo and Michael Mancienne have all emerged-yet-failed to establish themselves in a squad repeatedly injected with high profile signings.
A similar aura surrounded Josh McEachran, dubbed the ‘next Liam Brady’ by former coach Ray Wilkins, after he made his competitive debut in 2010. However, the midfielder was limited to only a handful of appearances and became increasingly frustrated during an uninspiring loan spell at Swansea last year. In spite of this setback, McEachran is currently a regular member of Tony Mowbray’s resurgent Middlesbrough side, which look on course to challenge for promotion.
Will he grace the Chelsea first-team anytime soon?
Highly doubtful, there are a number of promising individuals waiting patiently in the wings, who possess a far superior physical maturity and are long overdue a taste of first-team action. The likes of Islam Feruz and Nathaniel Chalobah – currently on loan at Watford – are perhaps more deserving candidates.
Interim manager Rafael Benitez is a recognised advocate of handing young players a chance to shine, but he can only afford to do so in rare circumstances. Lucas Piazon’s introduction in Chelsea’s match against Aston Villa proved highly profitable but only occurred in the dying stages of the 8-0 demolition.
Where will I see him next?
Due to his age and relative inexperience, Hunte flickers in and out of the Chelsea U18s or is deployed primarily as an impact substitute.
Fans eager for the chance to make their own judgement should try to attend England U17’s next batch of fixtures in the Elite Qualifying Round of the upcoming European Championships. John Peacock’s side will face the tricky trio of Slovenia, Portugal and Slovakia but considering the games will all be played on home soil – as England will be hosting the games – it could provide the perfect stage for Hunte to live up to his newfound reputation.