26 November 2016

Nigeria: Victor Moses - Return of the Rejected Stone

Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix
Chelsea's Victor Moses

After a superlative performance for Wigan Athletic during the 2011/12 season, the coaching crew of Chelsea signed Victor Moses. But as a result of not having enough playing time, he went on a season-long loan to rivals, Liverpool, in September 2013. He was shipped to Stoke City and later West Ham the following season. With a new man at the helm of affairs at Stamford after the sack of Jose Mourinho, Moses found a new lease of life. Kunle Adewalewrites

"Coaches come with different styles and formation and that a player could not fit into a particular formation does not mean he's not good. The fact that Victor Moses did not fit into Mourinho's style does not mean he's not a good player. Now that a coach whose formation Moses fits into is in charge, he is getting enough playing time," Mutiu Adepoju told THISDAY in an interview.

Moses was named man-of-the-match in Chelsea's away win at Middlesbrough last Sunday, as he continued his exceptional run of form.

"The Premier League is harder every season, so we just want to make sure we stay on top now. We showed a lot of character today. In the second half, they came at us but we were really strong at the back. I'm delighted to be in the first 11. I just want to keep on enjoying my form.

"I've been on loan three times, but we've got a good manager here who wants to give the young players a chance, so I just want to stay in the starting 11 now," he told Sky Sports.

After his loan spell with Stoke City, Moses was in 2014 handed the number 20 jersey of Chelsea, which was last won by Brazilian born Portuguese star, Deco, and many observers were of the opinion then that Mourinho was at last satisfied with the Nigerian international and he would be part of his plan for the 2014/15 season, but it was not to be.

With the arrival of Conte at the Bridge, Moses has gone from being outcast to playing a key role for Chelsea.

In a telephone chat with THISDAY, former Nigeria international, Paul Okoku, said "Moses is reaping the hard work and effort" at improving his game while on loan.

"It was not that Conte just woke up and decided to be playing Moses. He had definitely seen him play during his loan spell and knew he suits his style of play. Moreover, Moses too had put in so much effort to improve his game and that is what he is enjoying today," Okoku said.

Conte however insistsed he spotted the former Crystal Palace winger's ability almost immediately.

"I could see his potential from the first days of the summer training camp. Moses has important qualities: technique, physical strength, the ability to cover 70 metres of the pitch," Conte said.

Before the start of this season, Moses had not played a league game for Chelsea for more than three years, but now he has a key role in the 3-4-3 system that has taken them top of the Premier League. His current situation is a huge turnaround for a player who, partly because of injury, started only 38 league games in the past three seasons, completing 90 minutes just 12 times.

He has a new lease of life because Blues manager Antonio Conte has given him a chance at right wing-back. It is a new position for the Nigeria international, but it suits his strengths and, as he showed in Chelsea's win over Middlesbrough on Sunday.

"I played as a wing-back a lot during my career, particularly when I was younger in the mid-to-late 1990s when that system was least popular in the Premier League. I used to enjoy it because, like Moses, it suited my game. Like him, I was more of an attacker than a defender and wing-backs have the freedom to get forward when they want.

"You have to be disciplined defensively and decide when to join the attack or hold back, but you have the freedom of the touchline and the ability to impose yourself on the game far more than you can as a normal winger. By timing your runs, you can come from deep with a head of steam and burst into great positions - the sort of thing that Moses was doing against Boro when he used his power and pace to great effect," Conte said.

It helps Moses that he has got a really stable set-up behind him thanks to N'Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic. Moses knows at least one of them will drop in too, so Chelsea's three-man defence is rarely left without cover even if he does not get back. So, he can really bomb forward as much as he likes, especially in games like Sunday where his side were on top for long spells.

Moses is fast and fit and another reason he is good at getting back is that he has got his manager on the sidelines screaming at him. He will not mind getting instructions like that because he is learning the position as he goes.

Moses is doing a very good job already, but he will definitely get better the longer he plays in that role.

However, it might be a bit trickier for Moses when he is playing against a team like Liverpool with three up front because, if he still pushes up, there is far more of a risk of leaving his defence exposed.

But he will learn about that when the time comes and the next two weeks should provide a decent enough test when Chelsea plays Tottenham and Manchester City.

His emergence as Chelsea's unlikely hero after switching from striker to wing-back is one of the stories of the season.

Pates, a sports teacher who helped mould Moses' raw talent at Whitgift School in Croydon, says it is wonderful to see his former protégé playing so superbly as Chelsea top the Premier League.

Pates said: "He's having a fantastic season, he is playing really well and it really suits him. I would never in a million years have said he would be a wing-back. You just didn't think that was the role he would have taken up and enjoyed. But he has developed, he's proved a lot of people wrong and it looks like he absolutely loves it to me."

Moses was born in Lagos to a pastor. When he was 11, his parents were among thousands killed by rioters. A week later with his travel being paid for by relatives, he came to Britain as an asylum seeker.

He attended Stanley Technical High School, now known as the Harris Academy, in South Norwood. Scouted playing football in the local Tandridge League for Cosmos 90 FC Crystal Palace approached him, with the club's Selhurst Park stadium just streets away from his school.

Moses first came to prominence at 14 after scoring 50 goals for Palace's under-14 side. Playing for three years at both Whitgift and Palace, Moses scored over 100 goals as well as helping Whitgift win many School Cups, including a National Cup where he scored all five goals in the final against Healing School of Grimsby o at the Walkers Stadium, Leicester.

Moses joined Chelsea from Wigan for £9m in 2012 and scored 10 goals in his first 12 months with Chelsea's first team, five of which helped the club claim the Europa League.

He was an exciting prospect at Wigan, but he has failed to fulfill his potential at Chelsea, as he has been used only sparingly.

Pates, who made 346 appearances for Chelsea between 1979 and 1988, said he could never have imagined that the Nigeria international would adapt so well to the role.

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