Rhys takes a closer look at Fulham’s latest stellar investment after his exemplary debut.
Born in Freetown, Sierra Leone back in December of 1994, Nathaniel Chalobah would go on to make his name in the youth academy at Chelsea following a short spell on the books at Fulham.
During the 16-year period between his first and second spells at Craven Cottage, Chalobah made 205 career appearances for seven different clubs, won the Premier League, and became a full England international.
Although many wouldn’t have expected the talented midfielder to be back in the second tier after helping Watford into the top flight last season, his latest switch feels like the start of a productive relationship.
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Marco Silva couldn’t believe his luck when the chance to sign Chalobah on a free transfer arose on the final day of the window, admitting that it was an offer far too good to ignore.
Another aspect of the deal was the instant replacing of Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa following his loan to Napoli, a side whom Chalobah played nine times for during 2015/16 while on a temporary move from Chelsea.
“Chalobah is a player I know very well from Watford,” said Silva.
“We signed him from Chelsea and he was called up by England before he suffered an injury.
“To sign a player like Chalobah for free, for zero, where we don’t pay anything, with his quality and with his profile after losing Andre-Frank Anguissa, it was a very good opportunity for us.”
A very good opportunity indeed.
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It didn’t take long for Chalobah to show fans of his worth in a promotion-chasing Championship side, slotting effortlessly into Silva’s team as they bounced back from a shock defeat against Blackpool to brush Birmingham aside on Wednesday evening.
Finishing third in the Man of the Match vote behind the immovable Tosin and exuberant Harry Wilson, Chalobah is the sort of midfielder that can either provide a defensive anchor or be deployed further forward to free up his keen eye for creating chances.
Chalobah is not shy in the opposition box, playing a key role in each of the opening three goals as a clinical Fulham brushed aside Lee Bowyer’s Blues in a debut that was more assured than most.
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His first key moment included a quite-obviously telegraphed block of Jeremie Bela that gave Denis Odoi the freedom of St Andrews to hand the visiting side a handy opening goal after just 10 minutes.
Minutes later, Fulham’s new No. 12 expertly flicked Harrison Reed’s short pass through the legs of Ivan Sunjic before reclaiming it inside the box before being tripped by Harlee Dean – Aleksandar Mitrovic doing the honours from the spot.
His third contribution was a direct one, slotting the clinical Wilson through on goal with a curving through-ball after more tidy work from his midfield partner Reed.
On his style of play, Chalobah told FFCtv: “I try to go forward as much as I can, depending on certain points of game. Today the game was quite open and the spaces were always going to be in behind.”
Adding of his pass for Wilson’s goal: “I’ve seen clips of Harry before and I know he likes making that run inside so I already saw the image in my head and I was screaming for the ball so I could play him in.”
In helping Watford to automatic promotion last season, despite a change of manager in December, Chalobah even wore the armband and received notable praise from Xisco Munoz for leading by example.
The reason for his departure? Summer arrivals of Imran Louza, Juraj Kucka, Moussa Sissoko, Peter Etebo and Ozan Tufan gave Chalobah the chance to find a new challenge, and it seems he was immediately drawn to the Fulham project.
Using that word in his first message to supporters, his Instagram offering following this debut victory hinted a bit more emotion that might’ve been expected.
He wrote: “About last night. Solid from the team and a wicked feeling to finally put the shirt on in front of our fans. On to the next.”
Looking forward, Chalobah looks set to a play a key role in a midfield that has eyes on automatic promotion, with connections already building with both Reed and Jean Michael Seri.
Although there is uncertainty over Tom Cairney’s fitness woes, Josh Onomah and Fabio Carvalho are further midfielder options that will hand Silva a plethora of welcomed selection possibilities.
Chalobah, though, already looks a rather smart addition on a free transfer with a two-year contract and club option for a further year, and looking back at the end of the campaign – don’t be surprised if we’re calling him the signing of the summer.