Before the World Cup, Colombia coach Jose Peckerman said that Juan Cuadrado was “ready to go to a great club,” and few could argue with him after what they saw in Brazil. If it weren’t for his one goal and four assists, which was notably the joint most assists of the tournament, the memorable goal celebrations gained Cuadrado many admirers around the world. More importantly, however, were his admirers across Europe. Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United all reportedly wanted him, but Chelsea got him.
Fast forward six months and we are still waiting for the player we saw at the World Cup, the ‘special talent’, according to Thierry Henry, that seemed perfect for the Premier League. There have been reports that he could be sold provided Chelsea can make their money back but just how this situation has come about remains a mystery. There may be reasons for his underwhelming start, or excuses if you like, but the fact remains that he shouldn’t be sidelined completely by Chelsea and their fans as he has a lot to offer.
The World Cup is often described as a very deceptive market for Premier League clubs and so logic dictates that a player should not be bought merely on the back of a few performances in front of the TV cameras. That said, Cuadrado’s talent was evident before then, for he was the star man at Fiorentina scoring 13 goals in 38 games; an impressive tally considering he was playing at wing back in a 3-5-2 formation. While he had an important role defensively to track back and make a 5 man back line, he had a free creative license when going forward and was heavily relied upon to make things happen. Fiorentina finished fourth and much of that came down to Cuadrado who was pivotal in the system employed by Montella.
The Colombian’s dynamic pace plus silky skills, multiplied by an all-important end product, equalled quite a mouth-watering equation, which inevitably made him a fans’ favourite. The season prior to joining Chelsea he averaged 3.7 dribbles a game in Serie A and also averaged 4.8 in the cup. These are statistics that wholly summed up everything good about him. His ability to take the game by the scruff of the neck and take risks on the ball was clear to see. Compare this to his short time at Chelsea with 0.4 dribbles a game, the spark in his game seemed to have fizzled out under his new boss, and his identity altered.
Perhaps Mourinho’s tactics have held back the raw and edgy side to his game, with much more emphasis on the tactical over the technical. This, of course being the side of the game that Willian seems to master under Mourinho, earning his manager’s trust, a trust that seemed unbreakable throughout the season. It seems harsh to point the finger at Cuadrado when it was so well-documented how stubborn Mourinho was with his player selection; rarely rotating and hardly trusting others to come in and take on the responsibility. A total of four starts and nine substitute appearances is barely enough to form a solid judgment of a player.
Having said that, he made nothing of the appearances given to him and that provides a simple reason for his indifferent Chelsea career thus far. He lacked any sort of end product that his wing play was renowned for showing and a shortage of confidence was certain to follow. Add to that the factors of moving to a new country, having to speak a new language and having to adapt to everything both on and off the pitch. These things, even if footballers are paid thousands a week, are not easy to deal with.
This summer, Colombia’s poor showing at the Copa America was partly down to the no-show of Cuadrado, among others. He seemingly took his Chelsea form to Chile and while he couldn’t be solely blamed for his efforts, it was apparent that something was not quite right with him. Colombia’s play was disjointed and lacked any real creativity. Their dogged display against Brazil which contained their only goal of the competition was a flash in the pan and the team never looked like going all the way. His average of 2.8 bad controls per game summed up a very clumsy showing.
Does he have a future at Chelsea? Yes. It does not help that he has missed some of pre-season due to an extended break for his time at the Copa America but the fact that he now has a full season ahead of him, as opposed to joining in January, makes a big difference. In some ways, he almost has to start again and do the simple things well to earn Mourinho’s trust, but perhaps he feels he can make a bigger contribution now that more starts should come his way.
This is undoubtedly a phase for Cuadrado; an unfortunate crash after such media hype succeeding the World Cup. Either way, his ability to take players on and change the game on his own makes him greatly sought-after around Europe. He is a match-winner and has a lot more to give whether it is at Chelsea or not.
By James Abedian – @