Of the several talented young attacking prospects Chelsea have in their ranks at present, midfielder Charly Musonda Junior stands out as the brightest. TheHardTackle profiles the Belgian teenager, whose loan move to La Liga side Real Betis has finally given him the platform to shine on the world stage.
Upon first glance at the 5ft 8in teenager with a slight frame and no perceptible muscle strength, one could be forgiven for being sceptical about his prospects in senior football. Perhaps in a different era, Charly Musonda Jr.’s body type alone would have precluded him from ever playing professional football.
Thankfully, this is an age in which the world’s best player is not exactly a physical specimen, while several fleet-footed, diminutive attacking midfielders are plying their trade at the very highest level of competitive football and mesmerising the world.
Chelsea have one of the most exciting young prospects in Europe in Charly Musonda, and the attacking midfielder’s first steps in senior football have opened a window through which the football world at large can get a glimpse of his mercurial talent.
So good, they named him twice
Charly Musonda Jr. was in fact born Musonda Musonda, and gets his name from his father, Charly, who was a professional footballer for Belgian giants Anderlecht as well as the Zambian national team. Charly Jr. was born in Brussels in 1996, and after making his first foray into football with the world-renowned Anderlecht academy, the attacking midfielder was signed by the Blues in the summer of 2012.
His exceptional talent meant that rapid progression through the club’s youth ranks was an inevitability, and the year 2013 in particular was full of milestones for the young Belgian. May 2013 saw Charly Jr. make his first start for the U18s, and after impressing with Adi Viveash’s side, he signed his first professional contract with Chelsea in October that year. An U21 debut followed in December, and in a climactic end to the 2013-14 campaign, Musonda opened the scoring in Chelsea’s U21 Premier League title decider against Manchester United at Old Trafford, while also getting on the scoresheet in the Blues’ FA Youth Cup final triumph over Fulham.
His progression continued steadily in 2014-2015, and although the likes of Dominic Solanke and Isaiah Brown received most of the plaudits for Chelsea’s FA Youth Cup and UEFA Europa League double, Charly Musonda quietly stood out in both competitions, while also adapting effortlessly to playing in the more physical U21 league on a regular basis.
His involvement in Chelsea’s post-season friendlies in Thailand and Australia was an indication of how much the club rated him, and the Belgian was unlucky to miss out on a place in the first-team squad’s pre-season summer tour in 2015.
An opportunity to showcase his talent in senior football has been a long time coming, and Charly Jr.’s eagerness to grab it with both hands has been palpable in the two matches he has played for Real Betis thus far.
Playing style — Charly Jr. is a mix of Eden Hazard and Alexis Sánchez
Musonda is primarily an attacking midfielder, but has also featured deeper in midfield as part of a double-pivot for the Chelsea youth sides over the years. The 19-year-old has exceptional technique, the Hazard-esque ability to turn, accelerate and then dribble past opposition defenders like they do not exist, as well as the vision and passing ability to split defences and send his team-mates through on goal.
Charly Jr. also has an eye for goal himself, and a deceptively powerful shot. He has scored some spectacular efforts from outside the box, including in Chelsea’s 2-1 win against United at Old Trafford which helped the Blues lift the U21 Premier League title.
Despite his short stature and apparent lack of upper-body strength, the Belgium U21 international is extremely clever with the way he uses his frame to shield the ball, and is consequently very difficult to dispossess. An additional feather in his cap is his ability in dead-ball situations. Charly Jr. is capable of scoring directly from free-kicks, and is also adept at taking indirect free-kicks and corners to set his teammates up for efforts on goal.
However, arguably his most impressive quality is his work ethic. His tireless running up and down the pitch and his willingness to embrace his defensive responsibilities have already earned him plaudits at the youth level, but those are the very skills that make him more ready for senior-level football than the other academy graduates Chelsea have on their books. Like Arsenal’s Alexis Sánchez, his relentless pressing of opposition defenders and midfielders makes him an absolute nuisance to play against.
Charly Musonda Jr. is the complete package, and that is perhaps why he has gone straight into the Real Betis starting lineup after completing his loan move. He played the full 90 minutes of the 1-0 win over Valencia at home as well as the 2-2 draw at Deportivo de La Coruña, in which he scored his first professional senior goal with a brilliantly placed header.
The 1996-born midfielder was also the man-of-the-match on his début against Valencia, where he tormented Gary Neville’s side from his position on the right flank, and made life extremely difficult for left-back José Luis Gayà, who was eventually sent off for two yellow card offences (both on Musonda).
It is evident from his willingness to run at players and his demands for the ball from teammates that he is not fazed by the huge step-up from U21 football to La Liga, and perhaps his eagerness to impress the Betis manager and the club fans has led to some uncharacteristically poor decisions being made by the Belgian. Apart from his decision-making in terms of choosing when to take players on, his decisions with passes in the final third could also do with some improvement.
Some of Real Betis’ attacking moves have broken down as a result of this, but to his credit, Musonda has shown commitment to recover the ball immediately. With more and more experience at this level, there is no reason why such issues cannot be ironed out.
Prospects at Chelsea better than other academy graduates
Charly Jr.’s fearlessness, versatility, work ethic, and of course, his technical ability, mean that he is capable of adapting to any tactical set-up, regardless of the manager Chelsea choose to appoint in the summer. Indeed, even if Diego Simeone takes over at Stamford Bridge and plays his usual 4-4-2, Musonda would fit in perfectly in either wide position in midfield.
The youngster is also suited to any of the three attacking midfield positions in the Blues’ current 4-2-3-1 formation, and if there is a willingness from the club to integrate him into the first team, the Belgian has the quality to contribute to the cause next season. Chelsea have Musonda tied down till 2019, but the teenager is well aware of his abilities, and will seek first-team football elsewhere if he does not get it at SW6.
— Tom Cox (@tomcox_7) December 2, 2015
Appointing Adrian Ward — who is also Raheem Sterling’s agent — was as clear a signal of his intent as any, and rumours in the British press about potential Arsenal interest were perhaps not entirely co-incidental. The last thing Chelsea would want is a repeat of what happened between Paul Pogba and Manchester United, and there are sure to be interested clubs lining up in case Charly Jr. decides to move on.
The Belgian has all the right attributes to become a top-class footballer, and whether or not he stays at Chelsea, one thing is certain: Charly Musonda Junior is a prospect worth getting excited about.