Having watched Jay Dasilva regularly during his 18 months with Charlton Athletic, reports of Jody Morris bringing the hugely promising Chelsea youngster to Derby County by way of Frank Lampard brings as much joy as concern – pleasure in the fact such a talented player could get a chance at a big club, but unease over whether it’s the right move for his career.
Yes, the 20-year-old is ready to make the step up to the Championship after ending his loan spell at The Valley with the Fans’ Player of the Year award, and yes Morris is probably better-placed than anybody to integrate him into a more competitive team that will expect to be challenging near the top of the second tier.
But the concern stems back to his early outings for the Addicks, when Karl Robinson tried to use Dasilva as a winger on the left-hand side. The quality he offered to the team wasn’t initially obvious, simply because the youngster was getting muscled out of the game in midfield as a consequence of his diminutive 5 foot 7 frame, struggling to find or make the space for himself to show off his technical quality.
That saw Dasilva move to left-back, a position he’s often occupied for Chelsea’s youth teams and within the England setup, and brought about his best form for the South East Londoners. Starting deeper gives Dasilva that extra yard of space to work in and also allows him the whole wing to gallop forward into – able to arrive on the ball at pace in more advanced positions on the overlap, rather than receiving it static and being expected to do something special.
As Lee Bowyer attests too, Dasilva is far more effective defensively than his modest stature and offensive instincts would initially suggest. He’s become a tough tackler and a smart tackler, timing his challenges well enough to compensate for a lack of natural power, and he uses his body shrewdly as well – Bowyer’s key example being how he copes with aerial balls to the far post.
“Everybody thinks because he’s small, he might struggle. But he’s unbelievable in the air. He’s a baby but uses his body so well.
“People think they can pick him out and get balls to the far post but he uses his body so they don’t get a clear header against him when he can’t win it, and people don’t score.”
And yet, despite showing immense improvement at left-back, the attributes that stand out most still aren’t quite what you’d expect from a No.3. His first touch is nothing short of exceptional, his passing is crisp and when he builds up momentum he can weave his way through a succession of defenders in almost effortless fashion. Suddenly, we’re talking about the kind of qualities you’d expect more of a No.10, winger or advanced midfielder than a Championship full-back.
It begs the consideration of whether Dasilva is being used in the right way, or whether to some extent he’s been misinterpreted – perhaps because the Football League is so physical. Of course, Morris will argue he knows the England U20 better than any other coach out there, but that means a Derby move would seal off the debate pretty much instantly; Morris clearly views him as a No.3, and that’s likely the position the Rams are recruiting him for.
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In fairness, it’s clear Dasilva’s effective there and at this point in his career it’s easily where he’s picked up the most minutes. On top of that, it’s certainly not unusual for left wingers to end up playing left-back – it’s a development path most No.3s in the Premier League have probably taken at some point during their careers whether that’s at youth or senior level. Likewise, full-back is one of the most important positions on the pitch these days because of the width they give to tucked-in, modern day attacks, so using the Luton-born prospect in that capacity would by no means be a waste of the unique abilities he brings to the role.
But the idea of Dasilva taking up a more prominent attacking position in the team, one where his technical strength can have a more direct and regular affect on the scoreline, will continue to linger. As good as he is there, the left-back role will always shackle the Blues prospect down to some extent.
Rather than working under a coach in Morris who already has fixed ideas on him positionally, albeit one who clearly rates his talent highly, perhaps it’s time for Dasilva to start carving his own path under someone new – someone who might just be tempted to play him in a freer, more advanced role.
It’s that kind of opportunity which could make Dasilva a superstar, but there are very few players in the world who rise to such status as part of the defence.