Kurt Zouma: A Tribute

Contemplating the departure of any player from your favourite club is difficult. That this one comes with a player whose middle name is ‘Happy’ is doubly hard. Kurt Happy Zouma has been a Chelsea player for the better part of the last seven seasons. A colossus at the back, a giant in (rare) attacks and a multiple trophy winner, Zouma leaves Chelsea with a legacy, even if he never quite got the chance to establish himself. A story of belief, crippling injury, determination, talent, and abundant joy, this is a player whose lasting mark on Chelsea will be there for all to see.

Bye, bye Kurt: Zouma bids farewell to Chelsea after moving to West Ham before deadline day. Credit | astamfordbridgetoofar.com

Zouma: The Beginnings

Signed from AS Saint Etienne in January 2014, Kurt Zouma was a teenage prodigy of whom much was expected. Tall, well built, very quick and notably dominant in the air, this young French talent alerted the eyes of Europe’s elite with his abilities. Perhaps his most obvious and positive characteristic, though, is his ability in the tackle. This was a defender who was young but ready to compete at the top level. All his attributes made him perfect for the Premier League and Chelsea. A near €15m fee closed the deal.

Any highlight reel of Zouma will show you there is no player like him when it comes to using recovery pace to get a last-ditch tackle in. It’s a trait that has persisted throughout his career. At Saint Etienne, it was indicative of his potential but also got him in trouble. Young, enthusiastic, and perhaps overly eager, Zouma received a 10-match ban for a dangerous tackle on FC Sochaux midfielder Thomas Guebert in November 2013, shortly before his Chelsea deal was closed, that left the latter with a severely broken leg.

Temperamentally, this was very unlike Zouma. A player who is always levelheaded and never seeks to cause harm, it was nonetheless rash and proved how much room he had to grow. He would see out the rest of the 13/14 season at Saint Etienne before moving to Chelsea in the summer of 2014.

Crushing Lows

Zouma joined Chelsea as a teenager. Coming into a team with senior players like John Terry and Gary Cahill ahead of him didn’t make it easy, especially under a manager in José Mourinho who placed such high expectations on his players.

Ahead of the 2014/15 season, Chelsea had clear ambitions to be title contenders and thus patience was a virtue for the young Frenchman. Still in a team that included stalwarts Gary Cahill and John Terry, Zouma managed to make 15 Premier League appearances that saw him win his first Premier League title.

Arguably not first choice that season, the Premier League winner nonetheless began to assert himself in the 2015/16 season as Chelsea visibly struggled. One of the bright lights in a very poor season, Zouma was cruelly struck down in a home match against Manchester United.

As he went up to compete for a high ball, an awkward landing on his right leg saw the young Frenchman badly rupture is anterior cruciate ligament.

This was the beginning of a terribly tough, lengthy road back to full fitness and form for the promising young player.

Incredible Highs

It wouldn’t be until halfway through the next season that Zouma would make an appearance on the Chelsea bench. Suffering such a devastating low at just 21 can be potentially career altering. Yet if you look at his infectious smile and contemplate that his mother chose the name ‘Happy’ to be his middle name, there can be no doubt that a person with such a positive, indomitably positive spirit would bounce back.

Though his return to Chelsea was not immediate and he took in two years on separate loans to Stoke City and Everton, Zouma recovered his quality, his fearlessness, and his physical presence. This is a player who has contributed massively to Chelsea Football Club and whose indelible mark will always be there for all to see.

Whether it is the audacious run from his own half that nearly resulted in a goal against Ajax in the Champions League or an iconic, powerful header to put Chelsea on the front foot. Or perhaps a precise clearance or an inimitable last ditch, dominant tackle of which there are so many examples.

In an interview with the Premier League, Zouma never shied away from the fact that his horror injury is part of who he is and has made him stronger. He stands as a testament to the fact that hard work, desire, and motivation are as essential to a top player’s game as much as talent is.

He leaves Chelsea as a two-time Premier League, a Carabao Cup, a UEFA Super Cup and a UEFA Champions League winner. But, more than that, he leaves as someone whose personality, ability, and service to the club he ably represented mean that he will always be a cult hero in Blue.

Thank you, goodbye and good luck, Kurt Happy Zouma.

Written and edited by Dan Hill (@idanknow05)

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