By Stefan Coerts
When Josh McEachran made his official first-team debut at Chelsea at the tender age of 17, he was regarded as one of the best youngsters to have come through the club's youth system in years. Not a single academy graduate had been able to make the cut at Stamford Bridge since John Terry, but there was a real hope McEachran could end that drought and become a Chelsea icon – just like the legendary centre-back.
After Roman Abramovich took charge of the club in the summer of 2003, the Blues initially made headlines for their tendency to spend big in the transfer market rather than look towards homegrown talents. However, after Abramovich's initial splurge, they decided to invest in youth in an attempt to create an academy production line into the first team. Foreign youngsters like Gael Kakuta, Miroslav Stoch, Patrick van Aanholt and Jeffrey Bruma all made their way to Cobham to supplement the young group - and that policy seemed to pay dividends in 2010-11 with the breakthrough of McEachran.
Following the departure of Deco, Michael Ballack and Joe Cole, the left-footed midfielder first got his chance in the Champions League win over Zilina, before more appearances in Europe, the FA Cup and League Cup as well. He particularly impressed in the 4-3 defeat to Newcastle and the 1-0 loss against Olympique de Marseille.
His close control, vision, passing skills and intelligence on the ball made him a joy to watch and many saw McEachran as Chelsea's answer to Jack Wilshere, his contemporary who had been making waves at Arsenal the season before.
"We won't be sending him on loan. He will stay here and play here," then manager Carlo Ancelotti commented on the prodigious midfielder after his first few games.
"He is a very talented player and we prepared a programme for him to improve. I think he is improving very quickly. I don't have a fear of rushing him because his character is good, he is focused. He has balance. He is not afraid or quiet. And for this reason I can say he can play.
"If we need him I think we can count on him. He has the ability to change the game – he can make a difference."
Yet irrespective of the Italian's praise, things have not gone according to plan since his promising start to life at Chelsea. Whereas Wilshere - despite injury problems and some criticism over his performances during the last year - quickly established himself as a key figure at Arsenal, McEachran failed to do the same at Stamford Bridge.
A lack of playing time in 2011-12 eventually saw him leave his boyhood club on a temporary deal in January 2012, but a loan spell with Swansea did not prove to be too beneficial either. More disappointing periods with Middlesbrough, Watford and Wigan followed before he headed back to the Bridge ahead of the 2014-15 campaign. Having first left the club as one of their most promising youngsters of the past decade, McEachran returned to Chelsea as damaged goods barely 30 months later.
His unimpressive performances elsewhere meant Jose Mourinho had no place for him and the player – still only 21 – jumped at the chance to relaunch his career when Vitesse showed an interest, but life on loan in the Eredivisie has brought him little success.
McEachran has mainly been warming the bench at the Gelredome so far this season, sitting fifth in the pecking order for a place in midfield behind the likes of Marko Vejinovic, Davy Propper, Kelvin Leerdam and Vako Qazaishvili.
Admittedly, three of these four players were Netherlands Under-21 internationals not too long ago, while Vako has been capped at senior level for Georgia, yet neither of them was ever regarded as the kind of extraordinary talent McEachran was.
The former England U21 star has made just three league appearances in three months for the Eredivisie's fifth-placed side, though, accumulating a meagre 32 minutes, and he is unlikely to get a more important role in the foreseeable future.
Ankle problems have kept him out of the squad in recent weeks, but there is little to suggest head coach Peter Bosz will drop one of Vejinovic, Leerdam and Propper in favour of McEachran now he has shaken off his injuries.
It's hard to judge a player on three brief substitute cameos and one cup game against an amateur side, but the young Englishman has yet to show why he deserves more playing time. Upon his arrival, there was a genuine feeling of excitement among Vitesse fans, but the club's supporters seem to have forgotten about the Chelsea youngster already after just a few months.
In the winter of 2010, McEachran seemed destined to become a Chelsea icon and potentially one of the best midfielders in the world. Fast forward four years and the Englishman can consider himself lucky if he gets playing time at a mid-table side in the Dutch top-flight.