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Chelsea midfielder Josh McEachran hoping to follow in the footsteps of Manchester United's Tom Cleverley
It is four years since Tom Cleverley joined Watford on loan but his subsequent success continues to provide an example of the pathway available to English football’s brightest talents.
Cleverley was 20 when he joined the Hornets on loan from Manchester United in 2009 and after winning the Watford Observer Player of the Year Trophy whilst at Vicarage Road, he enjoyed a season on loan at Wigan Athletic in the Premier League before breaking into the Manchester United and England sides.
Watford’s latest loanee, Josh McEachran, is the same age Cleverley was when he arrived at the Vic and was arguably considered the brighter prospect in their teens.
McEachran made his Chelsea debut at just 17 and appeared for the club 22 times in the following 16 months but he hasn’t featured for the Blues competitively since January 2012.
When Cleverley was mentioned as someone young players at big clubs can look to, McEachran replied: “Exactly, he’s a great example because he came here a few years ago and is now playing week-in, week-out at United so that [playing regularly in the Premier League] is definitely what I want to do.”
To outsiders, being a young player at a huge club such as Chelsea seems like a frustrating experience with the mind-blowing budgets and arrival of multi-million pound imports every summer.
But McEachran explained: “You don’t expect anything less at a world-class team like Chelsea. They can bring in who they want and it is good competition in training, working with world-class players week-in, week-out because that is what you want to become.”
He continued: “Young players at loads of clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United have to go out on loan to learn their trade and that is what I’m doing at the moment."
After making his breakthrough into the Chelsea first team as a teenager, McEachran had a disappointing loan spell under one of his former Blues coaches and ex-Watford boss Brendan Rodgers at Swansea City, where the form of fellow loanee Gylfi Sigurdsson restricted him to just two starts and three substitute appearances for the Premier League side.
McEachran enjoyed a more successful spell at Middlesbrough last season where he won the Young Player of the Year award and spent this pre-season with Chelsea’s first team before it was decided he would head out on loan once again – joining Watford until January 2 with the option of extending his stay further.
The England Under-21 international said new Blues boss Jose Mourinho told him to head out on loan this season and next summer they would review whether he was ready for the first team.
McEachran also spoke to former Watford loanee and Chelsea team-mate Nathaniel Chalobah who said, “Watford is a great club and that I’d have a really good time”.
McEachran has spent two-thirds of his life at Chelsea and grew up watching the man who is now his head coach at Watford.
He said: “I have been at Chelsea since I was seven so grew up supporting the team and grew up watching Zola. He is a Chelsea legend so to work under him is fantastic and I’m looking forward to the season.”
Zola has told McEachran he plans to use him predominantly in the holding midfield role although he can play slightly further forward.
McEachran played as an attacking midfielder growing up but Carlo Ancelotti, who gave the player his debut, prefered him as a defensive midfielder. He has since been used in both roles but likes playing deeper because he can get on the ball more and dictate the tempo.
Both Zola and McEachran have admitted there are aspects of his game which need improving and the 20-year-old explained: “My defensive game needs to be a lot better if I want to play in that defensive role. On the ball I’m fine but off the ball I need to get better. That is the main area I need to work on.”
McEachran made his Watford debut on Tuesday night and was performing well until he was forced off after 39 minutes with a back spasm, which he had struggled with a few weeks before he joined.
He said: “It is a shame because I wanted to make a good impression on my debut but you can’t do much about injuries. I thought it was going well until I went off so it has been all good so far.
“All the lads have been great with me, the training has been good, the manager is really nice and I’ve had a good time.”
On his targets for the season as a whole, he added: “Watford were close to getting promoted last year so hopefully we can go one step further this year. I am here until January and then we will see what happens. I just want to win every game possible until January.”
Below are quotes about McEachran from some of the men who have worked with him.
“In the changing room you see him getting ready to go and train and he looks nothing like a footballer. His power and pace is in his head. But you could say the same about Luka Modric, Jack Wilshere or Samir Nasri. All are built with slight physiques but they are all among the finest midfield players in the world. Josh is going that way. His brain is always five yards ahead of the rest.” – Andre Villas-Boas, his former Chelsea manager
“A couple of years back, when I had just joined Chelsea, I was watching an Under-17 match between us and a club side from Argentina. I’d never seen [Josh] play before but in the first half he cut inside someone and played an inch-perfect pass inside the full-back. I turned to the other Chelsea coaches next to me and said: ‘That’s Liam Brady’. It was the biggest compliment I could think of at the time.” – Ray Wilkins, his former Chelsea assistant manager
“Chelsea think extremely highly of him and you can see why. He’s got ability and vision. Josh has got an outstanding talent, similar to Jack Wilshere.” – Stuart Pearce, his former England Under-21 boss
“It’s difficult to say who he is like because to have a 17-year-old with his personality and character is amazing. His character is good, he is focused, he has balance and he is not afraid or quiet. He has fantastic quality.” – Carlo Ancelotti, the man who gave him his debut at Chelsea
“He’s a wonderful technician with the ball, with great vision. His talent is all there to see, it’s pure natural ability.” – Brendan Rodgers, his former Swansea manager
“He has the ability to change the game; he can make a difference. Josh is left-footed, really good on the ball and sees a pass. He’s one of those where you’ve got to decide where to play him, he can play wide or tucked in. He also has a good attitude.” – Trevor Brooking, FA Director of Football Development
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