Here we are, 18 months after he was supposed to make his Chelsea debut, and Dutch centre-back Xavier Mbuyamba has finally been unleashed.
The 19-year-old was supposed to join up with Chelsea in the summer of 2019, only for the transfer ban to put an end to that. Mbuyamba joined Barcelona instead, but jumped at the chance to finally move to Stamford Bridge last summer just one year on.
Then he suffered a nasty knee injury in just his second training session and was forced to watch on from the sidelines until Monday’s Under-23 meeting with Southampton.
Mbuyamba came off the bench midway through the second half and needed just five minutes to announce himself to fans. He fired home from a corner with his very first touch to put Chelsea 3-1 up and celebrated like a player who had been waiting for this chance all his life.
“The comeback is greater than the setback,” he wrote on Twitter. “This is a mental game, that’s why I have already won. Made the debut I have been dreaming about for months. With my first goal. What a feeling!”
Obviously, Chelsea didn’t sign him for his goalscoring prowess. This is a young defender who came through the Maastricht academy with a reputation as ‘the next Virgil van Dijk’, so Chelsea are expecting big things from Mbuyamba at the back.
The walking skyscraper did not disappoint, putting in a dominant 24-minute cameo which saw him overwhelm the Southampton youngsters both in the air and on the ground.
You’d expect a player who stands at 6’5 to dominate at the back, but what was most impressive about Mbuyamba was his technical ability. He was incredibly comfortable with the ball at his feet, spraying long-range passes around with ease, and even showed some impressive recovery pace for someone of his size.
Chelsea officials will have been watching Mbuyamba’s return closely. His agent, Carlos Barros, confessed to Voetbal International that the Blues see him as capable of challenging for a first-team spot in a few years, and that’s probably a fair timeframe.
It’s obviously too soon for Mbuyamba to be thinking about a senior appearance; he has played 24 minutes of academy football for the Blues, who will want a lot more before they bump him up to senior level, but this was a mightily impressive first step.
Centre-back is a position in which Chelsea are looking to rejuvenate themselves. There’s talk of a blockbuster move for a young star like Sevilla’s Jules Kounde, while academy gem Marc Guehi has been earmarked for a spot in the first team soon after an outstanding loan spell with Swansea City, and Mbuyamba could be next in the queue.
There are a lot of obstacles to navigate before we’re ready to talk about a spot in the senior squad for Mbuyamba, but first impressions count, and the Dutchman has given the best audition possible.