When Chelsea snapped up Croatian youth international Matej Delac in the summer of 2009 they were quite simply signing a player widely believed to be the best teenage goalkeeper in the world.
Ever since making his Croatian league debut at the age of just 16 years and 186 days (the youngest player in the league’s history) he was touted as the next big thing. On that debut game for former club Inter Zapresic he saved an 85th minute penalty from former Croatian international and Lecce striker Davor Vugrinec as Inter defeated NK Zagreb. He became the team’s first-choice goalkeeper; one of the youngest in Europe by far.
Those impressive displays even saw him receive a call-up for the senior Croatian national team by Slaven Bilic; the youngest player ever to be called up by Hrvatska for the 2010 World Cup qualifiers against Belarus and England.
He stayed behind in England and that is when he signed for Chelsea. The dawn of an exciting new career was supposed to begin hear.
Unfortunately that was not the case; Delac has been refused a work permit ever since.
Instead he has been out on rather uneventful loan spells at Vitesse Arnhem, Vitoria Guimares, Ceske Budejovice and a slightly more beneficial return to his first club Inter this season.
But this summer his Chelsea career may finally be about to take off; four years after joining the club.
Because on the 1st July Croatia will become the 28th member state of the European Union; meaning he will no longer need a work permit to play professional football in the UK.
On the same day confirmed free agents Ross Turnbull and Henrique Hilario will leave the club whilst Thibaut Courtois is expected to agree another loan-spell at Atletico Madrid; making Delac the second most senior keeper at the club behind Petr Cech.
With Croatia’s hope of more integration into European affairs thanks to their accession into the Union comes a new hope for English clubs as Croatian talent is now a bounty for the youth teams across the land; and for Delac he hopes to integrate into the Chelsea first-team squad just like his homeland will into Europe.
Can Delac be the number two stopper? Or do Chelsea need to buy?