<
>

Juan Cuadrado faces a crossroads at Chelsea after a disappointing start

As Premier League title holders Chelsea get in the groove for the forthcoming season with a series of high-profile friendlies dressed up as the International Champions Cup, manager Jose Mourinho will be using the games against New York Red Bulls, Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona and Fiorentina to assess the capabilities of his squad.

Despite being linked with a whole host of stars (and notwithstanding the departure of Petr Cech), the arrival of Asmir Begovic and Radamel Falcao and a cheeky £20 million bid for John Stones, the Blues have been comparatively quiet in the summer transfer market. But with 43 days still to go until the window closes, this could simply be the lull before the storm -- particularly for the latest crop of Chelsea players who have failed so far to nail down a first team place at Stamford Bridge and could be heading for the exit door.

At the top of that lengthy list in terms of value is winger Juan Cuadrado.

The Colombian international was signed less than six months ago from Fiorentina for an initial fee of £23.3 million in a deal that saw Egypt wide man Mohamed Salah move to the Stadio Artemio Franchi on loan. To say Cuadrado, now 27, has made little impression since his move to London is an understatement.

Having played an important role in Los Cafeteros' exciting run to the quarterfinals of last year's World Cup and starring for La Viola in Serie A, big things were expected at the Bridge from Cuadrado. Best deployed as a wide-right midfielder, could the Colombian succeed where the likes of Salah and Andre Schurrle had failed? Yet to complete a full 90 minutes for Chelsea, a paltry tally of four Premier League appearances suggest the answer to that question is an emphatic no.

Cuadrado's lack of game time inevitably led to the usual suppositions that he had failed to adapt to the English game and was struggling to settle in London. Yet the reality of his situation might be more to do with Mourinho's hesitancy regarding squad rotation and a general lack of patience for players who are unable to hit the Stamford Bridge turf running.

Mourinho's successful teams are founded on stability and a nucleus of untouchables. In the space of 12 months, the Portuguese fashioned a Premier League title winning side by melding established stars with new signings. The key components of Chelsea's formidable first XI --Thibaut Courtois, Branislav Ivanovic, Cesar Azpilicueta, John Terry, Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard, Willian, Oscar and Diego Costa -- take some shifting and when it comes to the wide midfield positions, with Hazard irreplaceable and Willian indefatigable, it's a big ask for any new signing to stake a claim for a regular starting berth.

Schurrle, Salah and Cuadrado were all big money signings, and with that comes pressure; the payback needs to be immediate. Schurrle and Salah often had the appearance of rabbits caught in headlights, while Cuadrado's inability to stay on his feet led to jibes about him resembling Bambi on roller skates. It's not an impossible task to join Chelsea and fit straight in. Fabregas, Matic and Costa looked like they had been Blues players for years within minutes of making their debuts.

Since Mourinho returned to SW6 two years ago, he has brought in 20 players and moved on 27 (excluding loans). Schurrle is on both lists and speaking about his wide men at Chelsea's preseason training camp in Montreal, Mourinho indicated that Salah is likely to join him.

"I see Salah's future elsewhere, either as a loan or an offer that we are happy to accept," he said. "At the moment, with Hazard and Willian, [Bertrand] Traoré, [Victor] Moses and Cuadrado, we have five players for these positions. It is better not to have so many." It's a fair point, but then Mourinho can only blame himself for this predicament.

While Cuadrado's future as a Chelsea player seems shrouded in doubt, the fact that the Colombian has recently been handed the No. 11 shirt vacated by departed club legend Didier Drogba suggests Mourinho may be willing to persevere a while yet with the player. The Blues have shown themselves to be both shrewd and prudent in their transfer dealings; as such, they will want to recoup as much as possible from the significant outlay on Cuadrado.

It is unlikely that any suitors among the host of Italian clubs headed by Juventus wanting to bring him back to Serie A would meet Chelsea's valuation, and so a complex player exchange deal might be one outcome. Such transactions take time.

Of course it's possible that in wearing his favoured 11 shirt, Cuadrado could rediscover the form that persuaded Mourinho to sign him, but the likelihood is he could find himself back on the Stamford Bridge bench. It's cold comfort for Cuadrado, but at least this time around he will have his countryman Radamel Falcao to keep him company.