Chelsea’s famed “Loan Army” lost one of its most seasoned and distinguished generals this week as Lucas Piazon finally departed the club without any contractual obligation to return.
Piazon, who turns 27 next week, had been on the books at Stamford Bridge for almost a decade, but made just three senior appearances in that time.
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The winger, who came through the youth ranks at Sao Paulo in his native Brazil, turned down interest from Juventus to sign a pre-contract agreement with the Blues in March 2011. He arrived in England that summer, and played for the reserves until he turned 18 in January 2012, at which point he might have expected to embark on a long, successful career with the first team.
Instead, he spent majority of his tenure out on loan in Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as England’s second tier.
In fact, of the 359 Premier League games Chelsea contested during the duration of Piazon’s employment, the Brazilian played in just one — an 8-0 win over Aston Villa in December 2012, in which he came off the bench in the 74th minute and still found time to rack up an assist for compatriot Ramires AND have a penalty saved by Villa keeper Brad Guzan.
His two other first-team appearances came in the League Cup. Making his debut under coach Roberto Di Matteo, Piazon played 90 minutes in a 6-0 win against Wolves in the third round, providing an assist for Ryan Bertrand’s goal. His second and final cup appearance came in the very next round as the Blues beat Manchester United 5-4 after extra time to reach the quarterfinals. He was subbed off after 55 minutes to be replaced by Eden Hazard.
After those three appearances so early in his career in England, Piazon would never again make a competitive appearance for the Blues. Instead, he amassed a total of seven loan spells away from the club as he found himself farmed out at Malaga, Vitesse, Eintracht Frankfurt, Reading, Fulham, Chievo and Rio Ave from 2013 until this year.
However, the Blues’ longest-serving player has now found a new permanent home, joining Portuguese side Braga on a four-year contract — thus bringing to an end one of the most nomadic loan careers in football.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of his transfer is the knowledge that, if he’d have just hung on a few more months, he’d have qualified for his Chelsea testimonial. But at least his departure was marked with the emotional farewell message that Chelsea posted on social media.
Good luck, Lucas! 👊
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 14, 2021
Piazon’s exit presents us with an opportunity to cast the spotlight on other notable members of Chelsea’s formidable Loan Army, both past and present. These are the hardy souls who dedicated large swathes of their professional careers to the Blues while being little more than a cameo in the first-team picture.
According to the club, Chelsea currently have out 28 players out on loan with old-timers like Marco van Ginkel, Kenedy, Lewis Baker, and Matt Miazga all plying their trade elsewhere while wondering if they will get the call from Frank Lampard one day. And there have been plenty more over the years. Allow us to jog your memory.
While Cesar Azpilicueta now officially inherits the title of being Chelsea’s longest-serving player, Van Ginkel assumes leadership of the Loan Army having originally signed in July 2013. After kicking off his apprenticeship with two season-long stints with Stoke City and AC Milan, the Dutch midfielder has been on loan at PSV Eindhoven since January 2016 over three separate spells. The 28-year-old actually signed a new contract at Chelsea in June 2020 despite making just four appearances for the first team in seven years.
At one point, Marin was being heralded as the “German Messi” after coming to the fore in a breakthrough season at Werder Bremen and winning several international caps, including at the 2010 World Cup. Unfortunately, the tricky winger then made the mistake of signing for Chelsea in 2012, for whom he made just 16 appearances over the duration of his five-year contract — four of which he spent out on loan at Sevilla, Fiorentina (where he failed to make a single appearance), Anderlecht and Trabzonspor. Aged 26, Marin eventually departed the Bridge in 2016 to sign for Olympiakos. He’s now playing for Al-Ahli in the Saudi Pro League.
Another diminutive winger tipped for big things, Chelsea came very close to serving a FIFA transfer ban over the manner in which they went about procuring 18-year-old Kakuta from French club Lens in 2007, although they later won their appeal against it. In hindsight, it really wasn’t worth the hassle as Kakuta went on to make just five starts in six years for the Blues, kicking off a run of seven loan moves in five years with a cross-the-road jaunt to neighbours Fulham in 2011. The Frenchman found himself a new permanent home in 2016, when he joined Sevilla in a £2.5 million deal after having spent the previous season on loan at the Spanish side. Now aged 29, Kakuta is back where it all began, at Lens… on loan.
One of the Chelsea Loan Army’s great nomads, Dejac played for eight clubs in eight countries in the space of eight years after signing for the Blues as a 17-year-old in 2010. The Bosnian goalkeeper made precisely zero appearances for the Chelsea first-team between 2010 and 2018, when he left to join AC Horsens in the Danish Superliga. In the intervening period, he enjoyed peripatetic trips to the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, France, and Belgium.
For a while, it looked like Bamford would never be able to escape the Loan Army after inadvertently becoming a leading member. Earmarked as a potential wonderkid, the striker initially joined Chelsea as an 18-year-old from Nottingham Forest in 2012 before getting sucked into a seemingly endless vortex of loans to various goal-shy Football League and Premier League clubs. First came MK Dons, then Derby County, then Middlesbrough, then Crystal Palace, then Norwich City, then Burnley, before Boro returned in January 2017 to break the cycle with a £5.5m permanent transfer. A year and-a-half later Bamford signed for Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds and the rest, as they say, is a historic promotion to the top flight and 10 goals in 17 games so far this season.
Kalas made (some) headlines in the summer of 2019 when, as Chelsea’s longest-serving player, he finally upped sticks and left the club he had joined as a 17-year-old to join Bristol City on a permanent deal. The Czech defender signed for the Blues in 2010 and was immediately loaned back to Sigma Olomouc, a move which pretty much set the template for the next nine years of his career which he spent with Vitesse, Cologne, Middlesbrough, and Fulham. By the time his itinerant years came to an end, he’d mustered just four appearances for Chelsea, although one of those was a 2-0 win at Anfield in 2014 that will forever be remembered for Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip.
Much was made of the 20-year-old Miazga’s arrival at Chelsea in January 2016, when the United States international defender made the switch from New York Red Bulls to the Premier League. However, expectations were dampened somewhat when, after playing just 135 minutes of football (split over two appearances) for Chelsea in the 2015-16 season, the centre-back was sent out on loan to Vitesse Arnhem, the Blues’ unofficial Dutch outpost, for the next two years. Miazga then went to Nantes for the 2018-19 season, making just eight appearances, before being lent to Reading for the 2019-20 campaign. He’s currently at Anderlecht in Belgium, where he’s to remain on loan until the end of the 2020-21 season, which leaves him with one further year to make his mark before his Chelsea contract expires.