‘That’s Liam Brady!’ yelled Ray Wilkins in excitement after seeing young Josh make a move reminiscent of the footballing great. McEachran, as a 15-year-old, was with the Chelsea side when they competed against Argentinian club side Racing, in an Under-17 encounter. Despite being one of the youngest players on the field that day, it didn’t faze the youngster in the slightest. He continued to impress, stringing consistent after consistent performances and soon enough he was drafted into the first-team and made his European debut at just 17, becoming the first player to be born to feature after it was renamed the UEFA Champions League.
It was all very exciting for the young boy from Oxford. Having been recruited by Chelsea as an eight-year-old prodigy playing for local side Garden City FC, McEachran soon received his first comments of praise from former Chelsea defender Jason Cundy, who was manager of the Under-11 and Under-12 Chelsea youth teams. He said the youngster had “the mental ability and toughness to not get overawed in situations and instead took it all in his stride.”
Under the watchful eye of Ray Wilkins, McEachran continued to flourish and was an integral part of the England side that won the 2010 European Under-17 Championships, chipping in with an assist in the final from a corner, which co-incidentally, is considered as one of the finer points to his game.
“Young Josh”, as Ray Wilkins often refers to him, then graduated to the Chelsea first-team last season and went on to feature 9 times in the Premier League, coming off the bench for 8 of them. But it was in the Champions League where he made that all-so-important mark that people remember most.
Chelsea had already qualified for the latter stages of the competition when then-manager Carlo Ancelotti decided to field a weakened team that featured only four regular first XI members and Josh McEachran was given a chance from the off for his European home debut.
The above screenshot shows how McEachran fared against MSK Zilina back in November. His successful pass ratio of 85% was among the best of the Chelsea XI that night and his 102 passes even managed to better football’s finest passer Xavi’s efforts, when he and the Catalans drew away to Danish outfit FC Copenhagen on November 2 last year. Mainly employed as a regista (deep-lying midfielder) by Italian scudetto-winning coach Carlo Ancelotti, the youngsters’ passing suggests he spent a large portion of his time playing quite deep into the opponents half, which isn’t actually so surprising considering his natural position is in fact a trequartista, not a regista as Ancelotti thought.
Newly-appointed manager Andre Villas-Boas has already commented on the situation and said that he’d be willing to try McEachran in both positions come the new campaign. “I spoke to Josh at the start of the season about where he felt best on the pitch,” he began. “The position six for me is a very, very important position and I know that Josh touches more of the ball in that position and likes to organise play,” he said.
“But he also likes to face the play more often and he has the vision to see people in attacking options and it’s good for me to test him as a number eight, further forward. He has the tactical and technical ability to fulfill both positions.”
However, McEachran’s passing wasn’t the only thing under the microscope that night at Stamford Bridge. His ability to dictate the play was examined closely and the result was quite astonishing. Throughout the ninety minutes McEachran was Chelsea’s best and most influential player, as the above screenshot examples. He outshone the likes of established Blues performers such as Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda, and did so in quite magnificent fashion. This being his inaugural start in Europe, he wasn’t expected such an impact as he did, and Carlo Ancelotti showered praise on the 17-year-old.
“I think Josh McEachran can play every game,’ said Ancelotti. ‘He showed his quality. He was good defensively, won a lot of tackles. And, obviously, with the ball he’s fantastic. ‘He can play it short or long without problem. He played with personality and I’m happy with his performance. He has to grow, he has to improve, but he’s ready to play.’
Despite his thrilling performance for the Blues in Europe, questions were still being raised over if he could thrive in the Premier League. As already mentioned, he appeared 9 times in England’s top-tier last season and began the game against Newcastle in mid-May. Limited to just 171 minutes of top-flight football, he certainly made the most of it finishing with stats such as completing 91% of his 194 passes from open play, as well as coming off with a rather modest 67% success rate from his tackles. In truth, it’s remarkably difficult to make an impact with such little game time but even with the little time he had, McEachran still managed to impress. Often coming on late in games in the regista role for Ancelotti, McEachran was simply told just to close out the game and he did exactly what was required of him, if not more with 176 successful passes in just 171 minutes – over a pass per minute.
In the only game he began (vs Newcastle in the penultimate Premier League fixture in May), he completed 87% of his 67 passes, with most of them coming from inside his own half. Here, he also averaged over a pass per minute as Michael Essien came on for McEachran on 64 minutes, bringing an end to his illustrious debut campaign for the 2009/10 champions.
At times last season, Josh was often compared to now-established Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere. Comparisons are to be expected again this upcoming campaign, especially when McEachran is playing in a similar position to Wilshere.
Last season, McEachran, who’s only a year younger than Wilshere, completed a whopping 90% of his passes, compared to Wilshere’s 84%. The Chelsea man also succeeded in trumping Wilshere in playing more forward passes bettering him by 6%. Wilshere, however, dominated elsewhere and proved better in minutes per chance created, – 42 vs McEachran’s 57 – mins per loss of possession, – 27 to 34 – tackling success – 72% to 67% – and interceptions per game – 1.9 vs 1.05. It’s true that Wilshere enjoyed considerable success during his loan at Bolton in the 2009/10 season and it was the impression he made there, at the Reebok Stadium, that consolidated his place in the Arsenal XI the subsequent season. If a Premier League team (or Championship side) decide to take a gamble on securing McEachran’s services for the upcoming season he may well find himself keeping the likes of Frank Lampard and Michael Essien out of the side come 2012/13 – obviously pending consistent performance for whoever he may join.