In Profile | Nathaniel Chalobah
By Kevin Affleck
Gareth Southgate was born in Watford General Hospital and the England manager could be a regular in the Graham Taylor Stand that backs on to the place of his birth next season.
He could even be present for the opening day game with Liverpool. Southgate will now not just be in attendance to watch the opposition or a trip down memory lane – he’ll be turning up to run the rule over a genuine England midfield candidate in a yellow shirt.
That’s the calibre of signing the Hornets are making these days, the sort of player Watford are fielding in their ranks.
“[Chalobah] will be in the England squad if he plays and does well,” tweeted Daily Mirror Chief Writer John Cross. “Great to see a young one want to go out and play.”
Chalobah is only 22 but he’s already been around the block long enough to know this, being a World Cup year, could be a breakthrough one. Fifteen appearances, including a start against Watford, and a Premier League winner’s medal last season is all well and good but that’s not going to be enough to earn an England call up, not now his distinguished career as an England youth international is over.
He’s had a taste of Premier League football and wants more. He needed a new home, a platform to showcase his talents as a complete modern-day midfielder. Step forward Watford.
“Great signing for Watford,” tweeted Lloyd Doyley. “Defo one of the best players I’ve played with, even at the tender of age of 18.”
That’s quite a statement from someone who pretty much saw and did it all in a Watford career spanning more than 400 appearances.
Doyley didn’t influence the signing of Chalobah but two of his former teammates did.
Chalobah called Troy Deeney a couple of weeks back to see how the land lies at the club these days when it became clear he wanted regular football.
Whatever Deeney said did the trick as Chalobah turned down the chance to join his former coach Paul Clement and friend Tammy Abraham at Swansea. Then there was the presence of Fitz Hall, the former Hornet and Chalobah’s agent, in the deal. He, you suspect, would have been pleased to place his client at the club where he finished his career.
The biggest pull was the emotional connection Chalobah made during his loan spell with the Hornets as a callow teenager in 2012/13. It was much more than just the memory of that goal against Leicester. He made friends on and off the field. That loan spell crystalised his thinking regarding his best position.
“When I went there at first I thought I was Ronaldinho and could do anything I wanted,’’ said Chalobah after he returned to Chelsea.
“Gianfranco managed to get me focused on my task as a midfielder.
“I’ve learnt a lot. I am now looking to get settled in that position. Claude Makelele played that role really well at Chelsea. Back at the club, there are clips of him on the computers and sometimes you just sit down and watch some of the things he did.’’
Mourinho came to watch him at Wembley in the Championship Play-Off Final against Crystal Palace. “He is a very, very good player,” said Mourinho. “I like him very much - very, very much. I am very impressed.”
He won the England Youth player of the year award that year – Will Hughes was second – but could have been forgiven for wondering whether he was coming or going over the next three years as he joined five different clubs on loan.
“I’ve had a lot of loans — some that were good and some that were bad — but out of all the loans I’ve had, I’ve tried to learn as much as I could from them and I think that’s helping me now,” Chalobah told Chelsea’s official website.
Some worked out better than others.
He played 12 times at Nottingham Forest, scoring twice. “He's a tremendous young talent,” said the then Forest manager Billy Davies. “His use of the ball is excellent, he has a football brain and is a good young talent.”
Then came a 19-game spell at Middlesbrough, a result of Mourinho’s long-standing relationship with Aitor Karanka. Despite his status as a loan player and being a 19-year-old rookie, Chalobah, who doesn’t lack confidence, took the responsibility of scoring a match-winning penalty against Derby.
Next stop was Burnley and a less than distinguished spell at Turf Moor under Sean Dyche. He only played four times. Sometimes things just don’t work out. It was all character building, though.
“We hope he has developed here, albeit not on the pitch as much as he would have liked,” said Dyche. “He has, however, been an active part of the group and has been a credit to himself. We wish him well as he looks to further progress his career.”
Burnley’s loss was Reading’s gain. The Royals were his next port of call on a whistle-stop loan tour. “Nathaniel is a good young player who I have known about and followed for some time,” Steve Clarke, the former Chelsea coach and then the Reading manager, said.
“He burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old when he was part of the Watford team that narrowly missed out on promotion to the Premier League in 2012-13. Since that season, he has gained experience at other clubs and now feels that Reading is the right club to further his development as a player.”
Chalobah then deserves huge credit for stepping outside his comfort zone and moving to Italy to play for Napoli, the former club of Valon Behrami and Miguel Britos. He only played nine times but the experience would have been invaluable.
Amid all the different clubs, the one constant has been his involvement with the England age-group set-up: he was only three caps short of representing England 100 times, quite an achievement since the day he first played for the Under-16s as a 13-year-old.
Now his age-group career is over, he now wants to kick on, put down some roots and feels there is no better place for his development than Vicarage Road. The Hornets are delighted to have him.
You can always tell the quality of a signing by how disappointed the selling club are to see him go. A few at the Bridge certainly waved him goodbye with a heavy heart.
“The very best of luck to @chalobah,” tweeted youth-team coach Jody Morris. “Watford have a very talented young man.”
If the signings of Jerome Sinclair, Tom Cleverely and Will Hughes hinted at a change in emphasis by the club, a move to towards a more English feel, then Chalobah confirmed it.
“Nathaniel Chalobah is an absolute steal for Watford,” tweeted the Daily Telegraph’s Matt Law. “Chelsea will be gutted to lose him, especially for that fee.”