In 2007, Guy Hillion, one of the most respected scouts in France described a 16-year-old Gael Kakuta as the “most gifted player of his generation”. It seemed like his outrageous ability and a talent surely destined for greatness and was quickly signed by Chelsea, a move which caused a series of controversy. It was widely reported that Lens general manager Francis Collado was told to “take the money and shut up” as English club made their play for the Frenchman. Eventually, Kakuta moved to London without an agreement in place, this stirred a long legal battle between the clubs, and the end result was FIFA banning Chelsea from making any signings for two transfer windows. However, things got sort out as it usually does for financial heavyweights.
This whole incident certainly added more exposure to an already hyped teenager, who became a youth team player. Kakuta impressed at his after first reserve game for the club alongside teammate Michael Ballack. The German international told journalists, “Go see the French lad, he is the star”. The teenager soon began to flourish earning the Academy Scholar of the Year award after his first season with Chelsea. He was also voted Academy Player of the Year after finishing as the top scorer in the youth side with 12 goals in 24 appearances. This included a hat trick against Port Vale in the FA Youth Cup.
For the 2008–09 season, Kakuta was given the opportunity to train with the first team, though he was still limited to playing with the club’s reserve team. In February 2009, Kakuta saw his progress come to a shuddering halt when he suffered a double ankle fracture in a friendly against the Glenn Hoddle Academy. Kakuta missed six months returning to the team in August for a youth game against local side Queens Park Rangers and rejoined training with first team. Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti was quite impressed by the young midfielder and added him to the Champions League squad.
Kakuta made his Premier League debut during a home match against Wolverhampton Wanderers on 21 November 2009 as a substitute replacing Nicolas Anelka at Stamford Bridge. He quickly impressed the home faithfuls largely with his tricks, skills, pace and enthusiasm. On 2 December 2009, he came on as a half-time substitute for Joe Cole during the League Cup quarter-final match against Blackburn Rovers. Chelsea lost the match on penalties when Kakuta missed the decisive penalty in the shoot-out.
On 8 December 2009, he made his Champions League debut against APOEL. He became the youngest Chelsea player to ever represent the club in the history of the tournament. Kakuta was the only positive for Chelsea in the match which ended in a 2–2 draw.
At the 2010 UEFA European Under-19 Football Championship, which France hosted, Kakuta was France’s talisman, he terrorized opposition defences with ease. In the final, France came from behind against Spain to win the title 2–1 with Kakuta providing the assist for the winner scored by Alexandre Lacazette. On 2 August 2010, Kakuta was awarded the Golden Player award for his performances at the tournament. His performance in the tournament earned him a new four-and-a-half-year contract with Chelsea.
The following season, Kakuta expressed his desire to leave on loan as he wanted to further his development. He was loaned out to struggling Premier League side Fulham rest of the season, but didn’t get much game time their. He appeared only 7 times for the Craven Cottage outfit, he might have got more opportunities if chosen to stay at Stamford Bridge. For the rest of his Chelsea contract, Kakuta was loaned out to five more clubs, but failed to live to to his early promise. His best spell during this period came in 2014-2015 season, when he was loaned to La Liga side Rayo Vallecano. He made 35 appearances for the Spanish side and scored 5 goals.
The end of the season, following his release by Chelsea, Kakuta signed a four-year deal with Sevilla but failed to impress which resulted in just 2 appearances. His miserable spell at Seville came to end on 6 February 2016, when he signed for Chinese Super League side Hebei China Fortune. However, the change of continent didn’t bought any changes in his fortune. 2 goals in 24 appearances in Chinese Super League isn’t an ideal return for a player who was once touted as the future of Chelsea. Kakuta then spent time at Deportivo La Coruna and Amiens on loan before securing a permanent move to Rayo Vallecano in the summer of 2018, at the age of 26.
Whatever the reasons, behind his slide to obscurity, the story of Gael Kakuta remains a cautionary tale about the development of young players, and the brightest of stars who never truly shine.