Kurt Zouma signed for Chelsea from St-Etienne on the final day of the January 2014 transfer window but remained on loan at the French club for the rest of the season.
While the centre of defence is where he has most frequently appeared, Zouma can also play right-back or as a deep midfielder.
He enjoyed a memorable debut for the Blues when he opened the scoring in a 2-1 Capital One Cup win over Bolton Wanderers and ended that quest for silverware playing as a holding midfielder, tasked with man-marking Christian Eriksen (below), in the win over Tottenham in the final.
A first Premier League title soon followed at the end of a very promising first campaign in English football for the young defender.
The Frenchman grew in stature following those two trophy successes and was a more regular member of the team in his second full season at Stamford Bridge, gradually becoming the preferred option as centre-back duties were rotated between Zouma, John Terry and Gary Cahill.
However, his progress was halted suddenly in February just as he was becoming an established member of the starting line-up, when he suffered a serious knee injury after landing awkwardly from a header in a 1-1 draw with Manchester United. He would be out of action for nearly a year.
He made his first team return from injury in December 2016, as an unused substitute, but had to wait until our FA Cup third-round win over Peterborough United to get back on the pitch competitively.
As he attempted to regain full fitness after such a long period on the sidelines, and with Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta and David Luiz well established as Antonio Conte’s back three, Zouma mostly appeared as a substitute during the second half of the season, outside of our matches in the early rounds of the FA Cup.
However, his nine Premier League appearances were comfortably enough for him to earn his second winner’s medal from that competition as we were crowned champions at the end of the season (above).
After two years on loan in the Premier League, where he received the regular football he needed to return to the levels he had been showing before the long spell out of action due to his knee injury, Zouma returned to Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2019 to join new head coach Frank Lampard’s squad for pre-season.
He grabbed the second chance with both hands, impressing Lampard enough that he started the season in the team next to Andreas Christensen. Zouma put a difficult opening day away to Man Utd behind him with a pair of imposing performances against Liverpool and Leicester, and was particularly impressive in the UEFA Super Cup in Istanbul.
After the early rotation as Lampard searched for his best combination, by October it was Fikayo Tomori that Zouma was regularly partnering at the back, with another stand-out European performance, this time in the 1-0 win over Ajax in the Champions League (below), underlining his importance in the team.
Despite a brief spell out of the line-up at the start of 2020, he was a regular again before and after the suspension of football due to the Covid-19 pandemic, whether in a back four or back three, and his 43 appearances in all competitions in 2019/20 were 15 more than any other Chelsea centre-back.
Frank Lampard relied on Zouma at the centre of his back four right from the start of 2020/21, and there was a sign of the threat the Frenchman would provide from set-pieces when he turned in Reece James’ corner to complete the scoring in our 3-1 win at Brighton on the opening day. In fact, it only took him three games to match his previous highest-scoring season in a Chelsea shirt, and he surpassed his personal best by getting his third of the campaign when we won 3-0 away at Burnley at the end of October. His next goal was a big one, the winner against Leeds United in a game that took us within two points of the top of the table in early December.
His defensive partnership with Thiago Silva, 10 years his senior, played an even bigger role in that impressive opening to the season, with Zouma’s enthusiastic and physical approach complementing the more experienced Brazilian. Zouma started 15 of our first 17 Premier League games, playing every minute of them, as well as our first four Champions League games before being rested in that competition once our progress was secured.
The combination of a change of head coach and switch to a back three, with Cesar Azpilicueta moving into the centre and Antonio Rudiger back in the fold, meant Zouma found himself out of the side after the turn of the year, making just two league appearances between early January and the start of April. He was an ever-present at the beginning of our FA Cup campaign, though, starting every match up to the semi-finals and earning the trust of Thomas Tuchel with his performances.
Zouma was involved in four of our last five league games as we secured a top-four finish, and showed in a back three that he could match the physical style of defending he is known for with the composure on the ball required of centre-backs in Tuchel’s system.
In July 2017, Zouma signed a new six-year contract at Stamford Bridge and joined fellow Premier League side Stoke City on loan for the season. He stood out despite the Potters' struggles, playing 35 of their Premier League games and earning man-of-the-match awards for his performances against Arsenal at home and Liverpool away.
Zouma spent 2018/19 on loan at Everton where he again impressed, playing 36 times and scoring twice.
A native of Lyon, Zouma joined nearby St-Etienne in 2009 and was promoted to their senior squad two years later. He made his debut in a League Cup win over Bordeaux in August 2011, playing the full 90 minutes aged just 16, and his first league appearance arrived the following month.
He made 21 league appearances in his first season in senior football and became a key member of the St-Etienne side by the start of 2012/13, helping them win the League Cup with a 1-0 win over Rennes in the final.
Zouma was handed his debut for France by former Chelsea midfielder Didier Deschamps in a 2-0 friendly win over Denmark in March 2015, at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard ground he had previously called home during his time with St-Etienne. However, injury forced him to miss Euro 2016 on home soil and he had to wait until August 2017 to return to the squad. He was on their provisional longlist for the following year’s World Cup but missed out on the final selection.
He didn’t get back on the pitch at international level until he came on as a substitute against Iceland after that tournament. His first international start came in June 2019, when he marked the occasion with his first goal for France (above) as they defeated Andorra 4-0 in Euro 2020 qualifying. He followed that up with more appearances in the Nations League and World Cup qualifying, before being named in their final squad for Euro 2020, although he did not make any appearances as France went out in the last 16.
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