Football’s Rising Stars – Kurt Zouma

Leading into the 2014/15 League Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho had to make do without the presence of Nemanja Matic in midfield. The Serbia international had enjoyed a sensational season shielding the Blues defence as they eventually marched their way to the league title.

And in his absence in the League Cup final was surely going to be a big gap for Mourinho to address especially against a resurgent Spurs side that had hammered them 5-3 at White Hart Lane on 2015 New Years Day. Mourinho decided to field his young centre-back Kurt Zouma in defensive midfield instead of central defence and the Blues went on to collect the League Cup with a convincing 2-0 win.

It was largely due to Zouma’s huge presence in defensive midfield that the Lilywhites barely got a sniff of the Chelsea goal and were kept at an arm’s length as their London rivals won the domestic cup with relative ease.

Zouma, who is an extremely talented central defender, went on to show his ability to play in a new position if need arises. He has demonstrated time and again what a valuable addition he has been to the Pensioners’ ranks.

Playing style

Zouma is an old style centre-back. His burly presence makes him an imposing figure for the opposition attackers to get past. As the modern game has grown to admire ball-playing centre-backs, Zouma is a throwback to the times when central defenders were expected to hoof the ball away at the first opportunity.

There is no question about one type of defender being better than the other rather an ideal defensive partnership should have a combination of the two. While the ball-playing centre-half ventures further up the pitch the more defensive minded remains behind to mop things up. Zouma also has great aerial presence and despite his size his tackling is up to the mark.

Future at Chelsea

The Blues boss Antonio Conte has reverted to form and has been deploying a three-man defence. Chelsea struggled to get their primary targets in the summer transfer window and managed to only bring back David Luiz from Paris Saint-Germain. In the current team, John Terry is showing signs of slowing down while Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill have struggled for form.

In the given circumstances, Zouma once he returns to full fitness will be expected to be amongst the first names on the team sheet.

Prospects with the national team

Zouma made his debut for the France national team against Denmark last year in a friendly encounter and was on course to be an integral part of the team at the 2016 Euros before an ACL injury put paid to his plans.

Nevertheless, he is expected to serve Les Bleus for a long time in tandem with Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane.

Achievements so far

  • His first major club honour came with Saint-Etienne with whom he won the Coupe de la Ligue in the 2012/13 campaign.
  • In his first season with Chelsea, Zouma collected a domestic double of the Premier League title and the League Cup and went on to be named the Chelsea Young Player of the Year for the 2014/15 campaign.
  • He was part of the 2003 FIFA Under-20 World Cup winning France national team.