With the end of the 2016/17 Premier League season marking a sad farewell to Chelsea veteran John Terry, the title of longest-serving professional Chelsea player fell on new shoulders – meet Matej Delač.
Bosnian-born keeper Matej Delač was a product of the youth academy at Croatian first division side Inter Zaprešić and signed for Chelsea in 2010 after impressing scouts. After earning caps at under-17 and under-18 level for Croatia he was called up to the Croatian national side under current West Ham manager Slaven Bilic for games against Belarus and England – he became the youngest ever player to be called up for Croatian international duty.
As a young 17-year-old Delač may have been gullible enough to think that he might walk out of the tunnel at Stamford Bridge in a Chelsea shirt at some point in the next seven years. Oh, Matej.
What came instead for youngster was an immediate loan spell at Chelsea’s sister club Vitesse Arnhem in August 2010. At the Dutch club, however, he was playing second fiddle to Eloy Room and appeared on the bench for most of their campaign and returned to London without making a single appearance. Poor, Delač.
Things didn’t get much better as he was shipped off to Czech top flight side Dynamo České Budejovice (the Czech side everyone knows and can definitely pronounce) for the rest of the season. His time there was also short lived as he was recalled having only made five appearances.
The Portuguese Primeira Liga has bred great players over the years – Cristiano Ronaldo, Eusebio, …Matej Delač? Sadly, not. His six-month stint with Vitória de Guimarães resulted in no first-team league appearances and a return to Chelsea in January 2013 – it’s safe to say that Delač stopped getting his hopes up at this point.
Fast forward three years and five teams later (Vitoria de Guimarães II, Inter Zaprešić, Vojvodina, Sarajevo, Arles Avignon and current team Excel Mouscron) and Matej is still a soldier in Chelsea’s army of loan players.
In July 2016 Delač registered his first clean sheet (the first of five) for Belgian side Royal Excel Mouscron in a goalless draw away to Waasland-Beveren. He made 28 appearances for the top-flight side last season, a career high for any of his loan adventures.
Where next for Delač? A long-term future at the Premier League champions is looking unlikely but a move back to London may still be on the cards. West Ham boss Slaven Bilic is looking for reinforcements between the sticks and Delač is a player he knows well from his days managing Croatia.
Having secured his spot as No.1 shot stopper at Mouscron, Delač has experience. He is also cheap with Transfermarkt putting his market value at a measly £765k. It looks to be a viable option for the Hammers and one with relatively low financial risk so we may yet see Matej Delač make his long-awaited debut in the Premier League.