Kurt Zouma’s Chelsea story started in the League Cup, with a debut goal five years ago this week, and continued apace when, from an unusual midfield position, he helped us lift the trophy at Wembley.
Tonight it continues as Grimsby Town visit Stamford Bridge in the third round of a competition close to Zouma’s heart. After the final training session before the game, we sat down with the French defender at Cobham to take him down memory lane, and remind him of the fifth year anniversary of a significant milestone in his career.
‘It’s five years?! Yes, it is!’
Zouma smiles, a big grin spreading across his face as he remembers his debut against Bolton, in which he opened the scoring in a 2-1 win.
‘I have very good memories from it. Your first game is always a strange feeling. I was 19, very young. I came to England, I couldn’t speak English very well, and when you’re young you just want to play.
‘I just wanted to be on the pitch. I gave my all and I was lucky to score. It was a good way to introduce myself to the Chelsea fans.’
It would be remiss of us to bring up the name of Bolton without asking Kurt about his little brother, Yoan, who plays in central defence for the League One side. He joined Bolton in August 2018 and was made to feel at home by his elder sibling, who was on loan in the North-West at Everton last season.
‘We lived 20 minutes away from each other so he used to be at my house every day, always having dinner together,’ Kurt says.
‘He played in the Under-23s last season and now he’s played a few games for the first team. He has done well. He’s the same kind of player as me: big, strong and quick. He deserves what happens to him.
‘He has been working hard in France, where he went through a lot. Now he is here, not far from me in England. We are always on the phone; I try to give him some advice. Hopefully he gets through into bigger leagues. He’s my little brother, I love him so much and I’m very happy for him. I hope he keeps going, keeps working hard and keeps pushing in the first team.’
Switching the discussion back to Zouma senior’s first League Cup campaign, the Frenchman does not hesitant in describing the final victory against Tottenham - when he started in central midfield because of injuries and suspension - as 'one of the best memories I have as a Chelsea player’. His reasoning? The fact it was a derby, he impressed in a position he was not accustomed to, and that we won at Wembley in a ‘big atmosphere’.
‘Hopefully this season we win it again,’ he adds.
To do that we will need to start by getting the better of League Two opposition in the form of Grimsby. Zouma played when we were shocked by Bradford in the FA Cup a month prior to our League Cup triumph in 2015, and he has also been on the wrong end of upsets during his time at Stoke and Everton.
‘What I learned when I first came to England was that every game you have to play at 100 per cent,’ he assesses.
‘If you play at 50, 60 per cent, you lose the game for sure. You have to give your all because people are ready to fight for every ball. There are a lot of physical teams here who play with good intensity.
‘We need to be ready and focused. We know they will come to Stamford Bridge, and playing against one of the biggest clubs in the world they will be hungry. We need to show on the pitch we are also hungry to win and play the game like we have to play every day.
‘Let’s take each game one by one. There aren’t as many games as in the Champions League, for example. We are a big club, and we need to show that on the pitch and in the end get that trophy if we can.’