In Profile: Nathaniel Chalobah

Ben Jarman 1st September 2021

Ben takes a look at one of our two deadline day signings and assesses the former Watford midfielder.

Well here we are, buying the Championship again. Somewhere on Twitter, tears are beginning to flow from the eyes of certain podcasts that shall remain unnamed. We’re less than 24 hours removed from the end of the deadline and opposition fanbases are already naming Fulham champions. From my point of view, it’s bloody refreshing to look at our squad page and find only one loanee. There’s a great vibe around the club at the moment, and it was only heightened by the arrival of two high-calibre players from Watford. Domingos Quina arrived on loan with an option, and he is going to be an exciting player to watch this year. But, this profile is actually about Nathaniel Chalobah, who signed on a permanent two-year contract, with the option of another year.

Chalobah has two very fun facts about his playing career: firstly, he has one England cap but has officially played zero minutes for the Three Lions, his only appearance came in injury time against Spain in 2018. Any injury time appearances are officially registered as zero minutes, but still acknowledged as caps. Secondly, he had 97 caps for England before making a senior appearance. The most for any “junior” player ever to play for England.

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So yes, there’s certainly pedigree with this signing, and it’s an important one. Fulham have an abundance of talent across the pitch, but central midfield is a slight concern, with the departure of Anguissa and the ongoing knee issues for Tom Cairney, leaving minimal cover in the engine room. The arrival of Chalobah represents a strong message to the rest of the league that we’re not going to take any prisoners on our quest for the title.

Making his name

Chalobah burst on to the scene as a 17 year old many years ago, in a Watford team that featured the brilliant trifecta of Vydra, Deeney and Forestieri. At such a young age the quality was there for all to see, and fans will remember his absolute thunderbolt against Leicester at the King Power. A stunning, 25 yard half-volley that crashed in off the under-side of the cross bar, leaving Kasper Schmeichel helpless. Watford failed to get promotion that season, and this also signalled the start of a few years in the wilderness for Chalobah, before landing once again at Vicarage Road.

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Exciting attributes

Traditionally seen as a holding midfielder, Chalobah was pushed forward by Xisco towards the back end of last season, and benefited with the additional responsibility, scoring two goals and assisting one. Although the numbers don’t scream that Chalobah can be a creative force on paper, there are elements to his game that are not naturally reflected in a statistical nature; his ability to hold on to possession and to see a pass from the middle third of the pitch is a standout feature of his game. Watford fans also speak highly of his tendency to create chances from the “eight” position, which makes a tandem of Chalobah and Seri and/or Reed a mouth-watering prospect.

Aside from his chance creation, there is the mental side of the game which also makes Chalobah a Championship stand-out. When on his game, the midfielder can make football look like the easiest game on earth, floating round the pitch and progressing the play with ease. His athleticism and strength should not be underrated in a league where physicality is a top trait, he’s a battler and will compete for every ball and although not the fastest, can certainly get around the pitch in the same mould as Josh Onomah.

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These are aspects of his game that made fans think that Chalobah could have been a key England player for years to come, but injuries have curtailed his potential somewhat, leaving Watford fans wondering when the star player may emerge for the Hornets.

But this is life in SW6 now, and arguably a squad with more attacking options from both central, wide and striking positions that Watford had last year, Ismaila Sarr aside. The prospect of Chalobah settling in next to Seri, Reed or Onomah is a tantalising one, but also offers a massive decision for Marco Silva in terms of rotation and balance. With the weapons around him, and his great form in an advance role last season, don’t be surprised to see Chalobah pop up in the 10 at times and cause some damage. For a reported fee of £3m, it’s definitely worth the gamble.