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Josh McEachran: Former Chelsea Wonderkid Once Labelled the ‘English Xavi’

Fans love few things more than seeing a young player climb through the ranks at their club before becoming one of the key players in the first-team squad. John Terry is Chelsea’s famous son, but the Stamford Bridge faithful once had similar dreams and aspirations for midfielder Josh McEachran.

Now with Brentford, the 25-year-old plies his trade in the Championship at a time when many had presumed he would be on his way to greatness, or, at least, a regular in the Blues’ Premier League midfield.

His Chelsea career started so well: after joining aged seven from Garden City of Oxford, he earned a two-year scholarship before playing a pivotal role in winning the Blues the FA Youth Cup for the first time in 50 years in 2010.

The youth team’s feats saw the whole squad win Chelsea’s Young Player of the Year Award in 2010, but only he and Dutchman Jeffrey Bruma made a senior appearance for the club.

Whilst Bruma, a full Netherlands international currently playing for VfL Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga, made only four Premier League appearances, McEachran made 11. He also featured in the UEFA Champions League six times in the 2010-11 season under Carlo Ancelotti.

Let the relative success as a youngster for McEachran compared to Bruma and the rest of the 2010 youth-team squad, from which only Middlesbrough midfielder George Saville is the only other graduate currently playing in England’s top two divisions, be a measure of the faith installed into him by the powers that be in West London.

With Terry at the peak of his powers at the turn of the decade, McEachran was often seen as the player that was proof of Chelsea’s willingness to blood in homegrown talent if they were up to the task – he enjoyed a deep-lying midfield role under Ancelotti, and was awarded Chelsea’s Young Player of the Year Award in 2011.

Ahead of the 2011-12 season, he was awarded a five-year contract, but the appointment of Andre Villas-Boas as manager and the signings of fellow midfielders Oriol Romeu, Juan Mata and Raul Meireles saw him frozen out and limited to only five appearances before the turn of the year – he did not know it at the time, but he was to never be named in a Chelsea matchday squad again.

In January 2012, he moved to Swansea City, reuniting him with his former youth-team coach, Brendan Rodgers. During his time at the Liberty Stadium, Kevin De Bruyne completed his move to Chelsea from Genk, which all-but sealed McEachran’s fate when he returned.

He was loaned to Middlesbrough for the 2012-13 season and formed an excellent midfield partnership with Grant Leadbitter. He made 38 appearances and won the club’s Young Player of the Year award for the season, but was no closer to breaking into the first-team squad, now managed by Jose Mourinho, on his return.

He again moved on loan into the Championship for the 2013-14 season, with Watford. He made only eight appearances before the turn of 2014 and moved to Wigan Athletic, again on a temporary basis.

His spell at the DW Stadium under Uwe Rosler was a relative success. He featured in the Latics’ FA Cup quarter-final and semi-final ties against Manchester City and Arsenal respectively, but the latter finished with heartbreak in a penalty-shootout defeat. His 11 appearances helped his side to fifth in the second tier and the play-offs, but he was left out of both semi-final legs against Queens Park Rangers, which ended in a 2-1 aggregate defeat.

It would not be an article about a former Chelsea youth without mentioning a loan spell at Vitesse Arnhem, would it? Well, he moved to the GelreDome for the 2014-15 campaign, but his opportunities were limited behind the exploits of Marko Vejinovic and Davy Propper in midfield.

Still, he had done enough to impress Brentford, who paid £750,000 to sign him permanently in July 2015. His first two campaigns at Griffin Park were inconsistent because of injuries; he fractured his foot twice in the 2015-16 season and suffered an ankle ligament injury in February 2017.

He was a regular during the 2017-18 season and started this campaign well: he was an ever-present as the Bees lost only once in their opening eight Championship fixtures, but his playing time has dropped under Thomas Frank during a run of one win in 10 games.

It is unlikely that Brentford will win promotion to the Premier League this time round, but few of Frank’s players, if any, will be as desperate to prove themselves in the top flight as McEachran. After a superb start to life in the promised land of elite-level football, five uninspiring loan spells took their toll and saw him fall from a certain for a distinguished Chelsea career to struggling for game time in the Championship.

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