Salomon Kalou has seen more playing time come his way ever since interim manager Robert Di Matteo took over, and helped himself to the winner against Benifica on Tuesday night in the Champions League.
However, Kalou’s time at Chelsea hasn’t been as spectacular as one might think. In the six years that he has spent at Chelsea, Kalou had been on the fringes of the first team. His record of 36 goals in 150 league games may not be impressive, but he has the potential to become a future star in an aging Chelsea side.
Growing up, Kalou began his career by playing at Mimosas, a little known club in the Ivory Coast. He later impressed scouts and eventually signed for Feyenoord Rotterdam where he made a name for himself with former teamate and friend Dirk Kuyt.
At Feyenoord, he managed an impressive haul of 35 goals in 67 league games and won the Johan Crujiff Award for the best young talent in the league. He was eventually snapped up by Jose Mourinho for £9 million, and the Special One praised the young Ivorian as being hardworking, versatile, eager to improve, and unafraid of the physical side of the game.
Kalou’s Chelsea career took off well. In the 2006/2007 season, he made 57 appearances in all competitions and had a decent return of 9 goals and 10 assists. In the 2007/2008 season , he carried his good form and scored 10 goals and assists in 48 appearances. Although used sparingly by Mourinho, the forward impressed with his skillful dribbling and pace. Yet his one weakness that would haunt him till now would be his poor finishing. Unlike his time at Feyenoord, Kalou failed to convert his chances and had one of the poorest shot coversion ratios in the team.
In the 2008/2009 season, Kalou did not feature much under coach Luiz Felipe Scholari, warming the bench until Guus Hiddink came in after the sacking of the Brazilian. Kalou was a favourite of Hiddink and started regularly on the wings for chelsea, scoring 14 goals and contributing 10 assists in 37 appearances.
The arrival of Carlo Ancelotti for the 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 seasons would be the defining moment of Kalou’s Career.
Kalou scored the winning penalty in the Community Shield match against Manchester United at the start of the season, but his form dipped midway through the season and he finished with 12 goals and 3 assist in 30 appearances. Yet Carlo Ancelotti was clearly impressed at the Ivorian and commented
“Salomon is an important player for this club. He is always well motivated and works hard at his game. Because of this, I’m sure he will become an even more important player for us in the future.” said Ancelotti in October 2009
It would seem that Kalou finally had the break through he needed to earn more game time but the arrival of Fernando Torres in 2010/2011 season scuppered his chances. With Ancelotti forced to play his £50 million signing, Kalou was left on the bench as Ancelotti paired Torres and Drogba up in front. Yet Kalou emphasized his importance with several match winning displays.
Against Tottenham in a crucial match, Kalou replaced Torres in the 63rd minute and scored the winner, bringing Chelsea within three points of league leaders Manchester United. However that season would end in failure as Chelsea faltered in the last stages of the campaign and lost the league title to United. Furthermore, Ancelotti was sacked. Kalou later admitted that he considered leaving Chelsea because of Torres.
The arrival of Andre Villas Boas as manager pushed Kalou further away from the first team. With the purchase of Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge’s emergence, Kalou’s position on the wings came under threat, especially with AVB’s preference of starting Sturridge on the right and Mata on the left. Kalou’s refusal to sign a new contract also further damaged relations with the pair.
Under Robert Di Matteo. Kalou has been granted a new lease of life, and has started four out of seven games compared to just eight games during AVB’s reign. The forward showed glimpses of his ability against Benifica with his clever dribbles and link up play. He was rewarded with a goal thanks to Torres who played in a clever chip which he finished off well.
On the international level, Kalou features regularly in the side already blessed with stars such as Gervinho, Drogba, Tiote and Doumbia. Kalou’s good international form and good link up play with club mate Drogba have helped the Ivory Coast greatly, including their impressive run to the finals in 2012.
However, despite his sucesses and talent, Kalou has always been living under the shadow of the bigger and more established stars in the Chelsea squad. That, however, could be set to change.
With the financial far play rules coming in to full force. Chelsea cannot afford to continue shelling out money for transfer targets such as Eden Hazard or Lucas. Furthermore, with Manchester City’s wealth and competition from wealthy clubs overseas, Chelsea cannot hope to dominate the transfer market as they did in the past.
In Kalou, Chelsea have a potential star that could offer a new dimension to their attack. Much like how Robben and Damien duff did during their time at the club.
However, Kalou is a wanted man and Arsenal still remain favourites to land the Ivorian’s signature. Arsene Wenger is a well known admirer of Kalou and would definitely try to bring him to the Emirates stadium next season. Perhaps, with this new lease of life given to him by Robert Di Matteo, he would decide to stay at Chelsea.
Forget abut Hazard, Lucas or Krasic and the ridiculous price tags that come with them. Chelsea already have a good and cheaper alternative in Kalou.