The eyes of football observers around the world turned to Chelsea’s Gaël Kakuta as a teenager and with his career approaching the crossroads the on-loan Vitesse Arnhem winger is clear in his mind on what brings the best out of him.
An impressive performer at various youth levels for France, the former Lens youngster moved to England with Chelsea in 2007. He made global sporting headlines with the Blues in September 2009 when FIFA banned him from playing for four months and forbid Chelsea from signing players for the following two transfer windows. The sanction related to the West London club allegedly inducing him to break his Lens contract but the ban was suspended two months later and lifted in February 2010 after the Court of Arbitration for Sport cleared Chelsea of any wrongdoing.
The case was extremely high-profile and it catapulted the Lille-born player into the limelight but his pace, skill and penchant for committing opposing defenders with his direct running had already won him admirers. Midfielder and club legend Frank Lampard described his natural talent as ‘amazing’ and he made his first-team debut in November 2009 under Carlo Ancelotti.
To date he has made 16 appearances for Chelsea but the bulk of his experience has come in loans spent with Fulham, Bolton Wanderers, Dijon and Vitesse Arnhem. Having finished 4th in Holland’s Eredivisie with Vitesse last season he is back for a second stay in 2013/14. He is one of six Blues players on loan at the club and one of them, Brazilian attacking midfielder Lucas Piazón, has likened the Dutch style to Spanish football.
Gaël is similarly complimentary about the standard and approach to playing in Holland’s top division and he has been impressed by the chemistry in head coach Peter Bosz’ squad.
“I like the atmosphere in the team, which is important to me. We are friends and working together as one strong team.
“About the Dutch league, I really like the technical way of playing football. Almost every team tries to play football.
“The technical and tactical level is high.”
The 22-year-old has been easing back into first-team action after a slight injury setback and has featured six times for Vitesse so far this season, although only twice from the start. The inter-squad harmony matters greatly to Gaël but having the right sounds to zone out to also plays a part in keeping him in positive spirits.
“Music is very important to me – I listen to music every day and everywhere. It helps me to relax and to let me feel good.
“ASAP Rocky is one of my favourite artists. I like hip-hop and r&b music.
“I don’t know exactly when I bought my first CD. When I was young it was quite normal to download music but my first CD must be from a French singer, an r&b artist.”
Last August, another of Vitesse’s on-loan Chelsea contingent, left-back Patrick van Aanholt, was on this site and he discussed his role in charge of the team’s playlist on game day. The Dutchman had a moment to remember this weekend as he scored the dramatic late winner as Vitesse came from 2-0 down at Marco van Basten’s Heerenveen to win 3-2.
The aforementioned Lucas Piazón (top scorer with five goals in eight games) scored twice for Vitesse and as well as grabbing the decisive goal van Aanholt still has his unofficial off-pitch task to take care of, as Gaël describes.
“Patrick van Aanholt is the team DJ at Vitesse. He’s always playing the same music, mostly r&b, Usher, Chris Brown and P-Square.
“Sometimes they play Dutch music in the dressing room. I don’t understand the lyrics however, but the songs sound good!
“I prefer to listen to my own music prior to a match. It helps me to concentrate.”
During the 2011/12 season, Gaël had a loan with Bolton Wanderers as well as Dijon of France’s Ligue 1. The Burgundy club were relegated at the end of the campaign but Gaël did manage four goals in 15 games while back in his homeland and he also played alongside someone who had a significant influence on him. The midfielder in question once represented Reading on loan from West Ham United in a brief stay in English football in 2005/06 and he has a shared interest with Gaël.
“Sekou Baradji was the team DJ at Dijon. He became a close friend.
“Sekou likes music very much and he was playing every kind of music.”
The win over Heerenveen for Vitesse moved them up to 6th in the Eredivisie and equaling or bettering last season’s finish of 4th place is on the agenda. They have lost striker Wilfried Bony, the league’s top goalscorer with 31 last year, to Swansea City for £12million as well as Dutch international midfielder Marco van Ginkel to Chelsea for £8million.
Nevertheless, they are in touch with the leading group so far in 2013/14 and besides Gaël, Patrick van Aanholt and Lucas Piazón they have defender Sam Hutchinson, Chilean left-sider Cristián Cuevas and Ghanaian international Christian Atsu on loan from Chelsea. One of the players involved in the win at Heerenveen was a defender who Gaël has ‘had a word with’ about a certain issue!
“The worst taste of music? Definitely Frank van der Struijk.
“His music sounds aggressive, it’s club music or hardcore. I don’t like it and I already have said it to him!”
As Chelsea won the Premier League and FA Cup in Carlo Ancelotti’s first season as manager at Stamford Bridge (2009/10) an 18-year-old Gaël played four times. The 2010 UEFA Under-19 Championship’s Golden Player then added another 12 appearances the season after, before a loan with Fulham in which he scored his first professional goal in a 3-0 win away to Sunderland.
Chelsea’s youth team’s top scorer in his first year in England, Gaël has played for France from Under-16s all the way through to Under-21s and at both club and international level he has had the customary initiation challenge to overcome.
“We have to sing in front of our teammates at Chelsea when you make your debut and in the French national squad Under-21s as well. At the lunch I sang a French song, I didn’t remember the lyrics so I made my own remix.
“Zié Diabaté was the funniest singer – I played with him in France at Dijon. He often sang an African song but when he forgot the lyrics he was singing the same words time after time.”
When he is not with the team training, playing at Vitesse’s GelreDome or travelling, Gaël just seeks that release to fully switch off. Arnhem is in the eastern region of the country and Gaël’s living quarters have enabled him to find the balance in his spare time.
“The place where I live is really quiet. I like to be in a quiet surrounding when I’m at home, it helps me to relax.”
One of the newer questions on this site is to ask the player which of their career teammates they would choose to record a song with. For Gaël, it is not too difficult to make his choice and the ex-Le Mans youngster he mentioned earlier is the one he goes for, with a reason beyond musical chemistry an overriding factor.
“I would record a song with Sekou Baradji. When I came to Dijon I didn’t know anybody.
“Sekou was helping me to settle and to let me feel comfortable.”
Gaël has of course had to contend with a large degree of hype surrounding his potential in the early stage of his career and that undoubtedly brings its share of pressure. It is therefore interesting to get his take on the players who have made the biggest impact on him during those years up to now as he answers this final question.
He was asked to select a 5-a-side team of the best players he has ever worked with and included in his line-up is a high-profile French duo who acted as mentors for him when he arrived at Chelsea. This team was supposed to include Gaël himself but as he wanted an extra striker he will have to be a substitute!
“Goalkeeper: Ali Ahamada – he plays at Toulouse but I played with him in the national team Under-21s. He is very skillful and has a lot of technical skills – I was impressed by his skills, especially because he is a goalkeeper.
“Defender: Jan-Arie van der Heijden – we are teammates at Vitesse. Jan-Arie used to play as a midfielder in the past, now he’s a defender and he never panics in the field.
“Midfielder: Florent Malouda – he was a father and friend for me when I came to Chelsea. I learned a lot off him and he is obviously a great midfielder.
“May I choose two strikers? First, Wilfried Bony – he is just brilliant, I have never seen someone who is training like he did.
“Every day he gave 100% at the training, he works very hard to improve. Last year, Wilfried became top scorer in the league.
“It was fantastic to play in the same team and in the summer, he went to Swansea City. For sure Nicolas Anelka, the same as Malouda, I learned a lot from Anelka when I came to Chelsea.
“Anelka and Malouda helped me to settle. I’m very grateful for the way they helped me to feel welcome.”