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Cesare Casadei and Chelsea: Why a debut for club and country on track this season

COMMENT: It's never been a matter of if with Cesare Casadei, but when... just when will Graham Potter introduce their Italian powerhouse to Chelsea's fans...?

Of course for those paying attention, Casadei offered a pre-introduction in midweek. A goal in the EFL Trophy win against Peterborough United that said much about what the summer signing from Inter Milan offers.

Pace. Power. Goalscoring ability. It was all wrapped up in one moment as Casadei collected the ball on the halfway line, slalomed past a couple of challenges before thumping a screamer past on-loan Blues goalkeeper Lucas Bergstrom from well outside Posh's penalty area. One action doesn't make a career. But the manner of this wonder goal did reinforce what they've been saying in Italy about Casadei since his time with Cesena.

That was in 2018, when a 16 year-old Casadei carried his team to the final round of the Torneo Nazionale. It was a run of performances which first brought the midfielder to the nation's attention. Cesena had a gem. A potential worldbeater. One who'd never missed a training session - even walking 22km from hometown Cervia to Cesena to avoid an angry mum insisting he attend his studies. "A savage", was how coaching staff described a young Casadei, who rejected thermals in training - even at below zero temperature.

But then - at least for Cesena - it all collapsed. The club went bust. Contracts were null and void. And suddenly the talk of Italy's youth sector was a free agent.

Inter were the quickest to react and in a matter of days, Casadei was signed to their academy. It was a coup. Inter's staff knew it. Then Primavera coach Armando Madonna brought through Casadei at 16. A year later and Cristian Chivu was succeeding Madonna and a new partnership between player and coach was struck.

Under the Romanian, Casadei thrived in midfield. His frame and mobility making him a standout at that level. Eight goals from midfield in a first season was followed by last term's 15 in 32 games - including one in the triumphant Championship final against Roma. Chivu built his system around Casadei, whether it was as a pure central midfielder, as a No10 to take advantage of his goalscoring knack or in a line of a midfield three, Inter's game was played through the then 18 year-old. In the process, Casadei's development skyrocketed. A national title was won. And Chivu's coaching reputation also grew.

But it was soon to all come to an end. Casadei had flitted between Chivu's squad and Simone Inzaghi's first team, "I learn from everyone, I envy (Marcelo) Brozovic's tranquility and (Nicolo) Barella's spirit". But that senior debut never arrived last season. A matchday call against Sassuolo the nearest he came.

The prospects this term looked just as remote. Indeed, before Chelsea's intervention, plans were in place to send Casadei away on-loan for the campaign. Like Cesena before them, Inter's management saw Casadei as more than a simple prospect. He was a pre-destined. A guarantee. And a career map was drawn up involving a Serie B loan before gradually being introduced to Inter's first team.

But before the likes of Empoli and Genoa could put their proposals forward, in stepped Chelsea. A first demand for Casadei to be included in the loan arrangement for Romelu Lukaku was quickly rebuffed. But rather than be put off, the Londoners returned with a second offer of €15m cash - rising to €20m in bonuses. Having turned down €10m bids from Sassuolo and Torino, management left the final decision to the player.

"I had some time to think about," Casadei recalled, "I wasn't going to dive straight into it.

"When the proposal came, I welcomed it with open arms, even if it was not an easy decision. But I felt like choosing England and getting out of my comfort zone."

Despite a contract to 2024, Inter didn't stand in Casadei's way. €20m for a player yet to get close to the first team (through no fault of his own) too good to refuse. Like Nicolo Zaniolo and Roma. Willy Gnonto and Zurich. Inter's higher ups chose cash over potential. And it's now a potential which is well on it's way to being realised at Chelsea.

"There are different types of training and work," says Casadei, comparing training methods between Inter and Cobham. "The ball is almost always used.

"Technically I've grown. Here there's greater intensity, the speed of play is greater.

"It's been a nice change, to which I add the fact that I am learning the language and I've had to learn many new things in a short time. I had to do it alone, but I must say that I am having a good experience."

Which will soon culminate in a senior debut. Indeed, there could be a race on between Potter and Italy coach Roberto Mancini as to who gets in there first. Sources close to Mancini tell this column that Casadei was on Mancini's radar over the summer before his move. After testing the likes of Fabio Miretti, Simone Pafundi and Gnonto so far this season, it's a good bet to wage that Casadei will get his call before June.

A boost to the cause would be a first Chelsea appearance. And word from Cobham is that Casadei is close. Perhaps even closer than the player, himself, has been told. Both on matchday and in training he's ticking all the right boxes. And his efforts to "muck-in" has been appreciated by staff and senior teammates alike, "I really admire (Ruben) Loftus-Cheek for his physicality".

So it's not a matter of if... it will happen. Cesare Casadeiwill become a senior Chelsea player. He will be capped by Italy. And like many before him, he'll be another one lost to the Nerazzurri academy.



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