COMMENT: Don't brand Josh McEachran a 'could-have-been' just yet. April has been a good month for the Chelsea midfielder. There's a spring in his step and a snap in his pass. The former wonderkid isn't just getting a start for Vitesse Arnhem, he's bossing games. McEachran's senior career is finally on the brink of taking off.
It all began against Excelsior. With Marko Vejnovic suspended, Vitesse coach Peter Bosz (some in Cobham would say reluctantly) handed McEachran a rare start at the base of his midfield. The 22 year-old looked a natural, helping his loan club to a crucial 3-1 away win.
Last week against FC Dordrecht, suspension again came to McEachran's aid. This time it was Davy Propper who was banned. McEachran kept his place and produced his best performance in the Eredivisie - perhaps the best of his senior career. Again, as the anchor in midfield, McEachran dominated possession, producing Vitesse's best moments with that wand of a left foot of his. Vitesse finished comfortable 3-0 winners, with fans going away singing the Englishman's name.
"He needed time to adjust, so we gave it to him," argued Bosz. "He was not fit when he arrived, but before the winter (break) we saw progression. For the last three months he's been doing great."
However, on Saturday, Bosz, with Propper and Vejnovic available, dropped McEachran to the bench. The move didn't work, with ADO Den Haag defeating Vitesse 1-0. Bosz relented in the second-half, hauling off Vejnovic for McEachran. But it wasn't enough to change the game's course.
Next week it's Feyenoord and there's pressure on the stubborn Bosz to recall McEachran to his starting XI. It's fifth versus third, with Vitesse trailing Feyenoord by just five points. It could be the biggest game of McEachran's career - if Bosz goes with form over reputation.
"He needs to improve his defensive play, he must be stronger in the duels," insists the coach.
Whatever happens, McEachran's sudden impact has convinced Vitesse to seek a loan extension for next season. Propper and Vejnovic are expected to leave, with PSV Eindhoven and Ajax circling, and technical chief Mohammed Allach is eager for McEachran to stay. It was Allach who personally drove the McEachran deal, having made regular trips to England last season to watch him in action for Watford and Wigan Athletic.
Fans of McEachran will be hoping this is no false dawn. Five years ago it was McEachran, not Ross Barkley, who had England coaching staff excited as he inspired an U17 European Championship triumph. Just weeks later, McEachran was making his Chelsea debut in the Champions League against MSK Zilina.
Under Carlo Ancelotti, the teenager would make five more Champions League appearances, including two starts, and feature in 11 Premier League games, before the Italian was sacked in 2011.
Since then, McEachran's career has meandered along, bouncing from one loan move to another without ever settling down.
This season in Arnhem encapsulates that. Arriving to much fanfare, injury and a reluctant manager has limited McEachran to a bit-part role. Only the recent suspensions to Propper and Vejnovic have forced Bosz's hand. The coach is yet to be convinced.
"Can he reach the top? That's hard to say. He will certainly be a player at a good level. The summit? That's something else."
Speaking just last month, Ray Wilkins, who worked with McEachran at Chelsea, says his left foot was the best he's seen in a young player, likening the Blues prospect to Arsenal legend Liam Brady. But he also questioned whether McEachran had the ruthless streak needed to make the most of his talent.
This time next season, McEachran will be 23 and entering the final weeks of his Chelsea contract. In the games he's played, he's proved he's comfortable at Eredivisie level. But if Vitesse ask him back, can he be confident of the support of Bosz? Indeed, does he have it in him to demand it?
As Bosz has stated, McEachran has the talent to make a very good living out of the game. Whether he proves his Vitesse coach wrong and reaches the game's "summit", will be entirely up to him.
SEASON 2015/16 - FIVE OPTIONS FOR JOSH McEACHRAN:
Could Roberto Martinez reprise the winning U17 Euros midfield of McEachran and Ross Barkley? Josh is a Martinez-type player and would be the sort of challenge he'd like to take on. In the Everton dressing room, McEachran wouldn't look out of place alongside Barkley, Stones, Lundstram and Garbutt.
The pressure to stay up could be immense. But Eddie Howe has a great record of identifying young talent and giving them a chance to shine. His style of football would suit McEachran's game and if Chelsea come to the party and grant the midfielder a free transfer such a deal would suit both parties.
It's a long shot, but could we put McEachran and Brendan Rodgers together? Rodgers will know all about McEachran from his time at Chelsea. After the work he's done with Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, Rodgers is just the type of manager McEachran needs to bring out his best. And like Martinez, he's a Rodger-type player.
Vitesse, with Davy Propper and Marko Vejnovic due to leave, want to bring McEachran back to Arnhem next season. He should get a regular game. But Chelsea's partnership with the Dutch is in doubt, with claims a tie up with Excelsior Mouscron emerging. The option of returning to Holland could be taken out of McEachran's hands.
Difficult to see McEachran playing out his final year next season as a Chelsea player. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, John Swift and Izzy Brown have all moved ahead of him. Its unlikely Jose Mourinho will give McEachran a squad number at their expense.