When Ray Wilkins was released in controversial fashion this past season, he was replaced on the bench by head scout Michael Emenalo. Emenalo's primary duties in the past have included scouting the Premier League teams that Chelsea are due to face, but in the last year he's become one of Abramovich's most trusted opinions on how players will fit with the Chelsea system. After several years of signings that provided less than maximum returns for the price paid, Emenalo's opinion was given far more weight within the Chelsea hierarchy as the club tried to identify players who would better fit in a role with the club. Emenalo was reportedly a huge proponent of Yossi Benayoun, Ramires, and David Luiz over the summer, and to date all three have looked to be good fits into the system we run (Benayoun in a small sample). He's less involved with the talent we bring into the academy, but it's worth noting his presence when Emenalo ends up at senior games (as he regularly did with Benfica's contests this past year).
While looking at Emenalo gives us a nice little view into the coaching staff, it's really of note today because he wasn't in attendance at the Bridge on Sunday for our huge clash with Manchester City. He also wasn't scouting out Manchester United ahead of our three big clashes with them, or any other Premier League opponent as we enter our "title push" phase. He was in Croatia, watching the derby match between Hajduk Split and Dinamo Zagieb. It's certainly not unusual to see scouts at these games, Emenalo's stature with Chelsea makes it particularly noteworthy though. The Croatian press spotted him immediately, and even managed to get a few quotes out of him in the process. After the jump we'll get an idea of whom Chelsea were there to watch, and a video clip of both players. If nothing else, it give us something to think about during the international break.
It seems that every outlet covering the game has given Emenalo's presence at the game as much weight as the game itself, so it was not hard to find some that had quotes. My Croatian isn't the strongest though, so a few of them may be open to interpretation. Here's a few that seem pretty straightforward, but bear in mind that they were translated to Croatian by the press there before being converted to English for this writeup:
Vukusic I really liked. It was by far the best player Hajduk, feels great game, great opening, it is always close to the hinterland, but never in the hinterland. Rangy and fast. However, the team Hajduk it is by far not followed.
I liked the Dinamo midfielder Milan Badelj! Class, there is no doubt.
Definitely both of them have the quality in the future playing for Chelsea! Will it happen or not, I do not know.
That pretty clearly identifies two players that we were there to watch, and while we've likely not even discussed these players with their teams yet the fact that we've sent Emenalo to watch them indicates that we have strong interest in at least one of the pair.
First we'll take a look at Dinamo's Milan Badelj, as he is the more established of the two at this point. He's a 6'1" Central midfielder who plays in a very Michael Essien like role. He's a box to box player who prefers to join in the attack when a run or shooting spot presents itself. He's also very comfortable if moved into the holding role, although he's better suited to that as a double pivot player in a 4-2-3-1 type of system (which without Anelka or Drogba might well be what we run). Having just turned 22, he'd seem to be the type of player that would slot into our first team right away in some capacity, much like Ramires this past summer. He's been a regular starter for the club since he stepped in to replace Luca Modric in 2008. He's also recently made his debut for the Croatian national team, so we may get to see him play against better competition in the very near future. Here's a quick video look at Badelj just to give you a look at our potential target.
Ante Vukusic is the other target we were reportedly looking at. Vukusic is slightly younger, having just turned 19. He stands about 5'9" tall, and has played as a striker and right winger. He's noted as a real speedster, and has a pretty good nose for goal. He's currently a member of the Croatian U21 squad, and is likely to be on the bench for a senior game very soon. In total he's made 53 appearances for his club this year, finding the back of the net 23 times. If he were to sign with the club I'd fully expect him to start out on loan while his working papers get sorted out. Here's a quick video of him, the second one today I've found with some 80's music in the background:
Both would appear to be interesting players to remember, although at this early stage both will likely be linked to plenty of other teams. They are undoubtedly both on our radar though, as Emenalo doesn't get sent out of the country often for preliminary work. Odds are you won't get too many looks at either before summer, but I'll be taking note of the Croatian national team a little more now.