How Sheffield Wednesday-linked Josh McEachran stumbled with the world at his feet
Josh McEachran was 16 years old when Real Madrid expressed an interest in bringing him to the Bernabeu. Ten years later, he’s a free agent who has just joined Sheffield Wednesday’s pre-season training camp.
So it’s fair to say not everything has gone to plan for the midfielder once lauded as ‘the future of English football’. His presence in Portugal is not a trial, the club insist, but McEachran surely has a point to prove after he was released by Brentford when his contract ran out last month.
His is a cautionary tale of how not to manage a bright young thing and the fiercely talented McEachran, who cruised his way through the ranks at Chelsea before finding himself caught up in the churn of the club’s controversially vast loan network, is measured in his evaluation of how his talent was nurtured.
“Chelsea is probably one of the hardest if not the hardest club in the world for a young player,” he said in an interview with The Times last year.
“Everyone thought I was going to be the first one to come through since [John] Terry, but it didn’t happen.
“There’s been a few more since me like [Ruben] Loftus-Cheek, [Nathaniel] Chalobah and Callum Hudson-Odoi, who had a really good pre-season, but now isn’t really involved.”
The midfielder was a star in five different age groups at international level and in 2011 won the Stamford Bridge club’s young player of the year award after a promising breakthrough season in Carlo Ancelotti’s side. But from there, he found himself a victim of the club’s cut-throat nature, Andre Villas-Boas shipping him out on loan to Swansea, before similarly temporary spells at Middlesbrough, Watford, Wigan and Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem.
It’s a reality shared by Wednesday’s reigning player of the year Michael Hector, who has been loaned out on four season-long loans without making a single competitive appearance for the Blues.
The wheels began to loosen on McEachran’s career during that spell at Swansea where, though highly-rated, he failed to make an impact under the club’s then-manager and former Chelsea youth coach Brendan Rodgers.
The teenager had gone from making Champions League appearances to not making the matchday squad in south Wales, and suffered from a chequered relationship with the Northern Irishman. The loan was cut short after only four appearances.
The upheaval suffered by McEachran took its toll and his confidence suffered. A more positive experience at Championship ‘Boro followed, though it did nothing to change his prospects at Stamford Bridge and unsettling short-term spells with Watford and Wigan were endured rather than relished.
Speaking on BBC 5Live in August, he said: "I think me going out on loan and not playing ... that first loan spell did kill me. My confidence just went.
"Because I was the big thing — I went to Swansea with Brendan — I was on the back of the paper, most days really, saying that I was the next big thing: ‘Josh McEachran coming through the Chelsea ranks’. Carlo (Ancelotti) gave me, I think, 20-odd appearances, and I was making an impact.
"And then I went to Swansea on loan and for whatever reason... It’s not that I wasn’t playing; sometimes I wasn’t even on the bench. So I was just like, ‘what’s going on here?’ It was strange. And to this day I don’t know what happened there.
"From there, I went to Middlesbrough, Watford, Wigan, just bouncing around the Championship.
"It was hard to take. My confidence, from there, was gone, and I only feel it recently starting to build up again."
He signed permanently for an ambitious Brentford outfit in 2015, and his luck took a downturn once again in the form of a broken foot that kept him out for the majority of his debut season.
Though he recovered well, the deep-lying playmaker was deemed surplus to requirements this summer. After 90 appearances for the Bees, he finds himself looking for a new club and with a point to prove yet again.
If his attitude last year is anything to go by, you wouldn’t bet against him doing exactly that.
“You get praise, you get criticised all the time so it’s just part of the job,” he said. “You have to just take it, really. Like on most weekends - if I have played really well and got man-of-the-match there will still be the odd person saying ‘you’re this, you’re that’.
“I still believe in myself. When I was 17 I believed I could play at the top-level and I still believe that now and that’s what I want to do.”