ON AUGUST 16, 2010, Georgian businessman Merab Jordania bought Vitesse Arnhem, becoming the first foreign owner in the Netherlands, with the sole ambition of dominating Dutch football. Vitesse hadn’t finished higher than second in the league since the 1914-15 season, although they finished runners-up in the KNVB Cup in 1990, and had flirted with bankruptcy on several occasions.
Over the club’s 123-year history the likes of Phillip Cocu, Roy Makaay and Pierre van Hooijdonk had all represented Vitesse, while Ronald Koeman, Leo Beenhakker and Henk ten Cate had spells as manager.
For Vitesse’s supporters, the arrival of Jordania heralded a new era in the club’s history, one where they would challenge the likes of Ajax and PSV Eindhoven for honours on a regular basis. Jordania had friends in high places and could call upon a strong relationship with Roman Abramovich, who had set about turning Chelsea into one of Europe’s elite clubs since taking over in June 2003.
Jordania and Abramovich agreed a mutually beneficial partnership shortly after the Georgian’s takeover, by which Chelsea would loan Vitesse promising young footballers in the hope that regular football in the Eredivisie would speed up progression into the Blues’ first team.
Relaxed work permit rules in the Netherlands would also allow Chelsea to park non-EU players at the club until they were eligible for a work permit in the United Kingdom.
The first wave of Chelsea loanees to head over to Vitesse ahead of the 2010-11 season were Nemanja Matić, 22, Slobodan Rajković, 21, and Matej Delač, 17.
Midfielder Matić, who signed from Košice in 2009, was the most experienced of the trio, having already represented the Serbian national team and played for Chelsea’s first team. Matić’s compatriot Rajković became the most expensive 16-year-old in world football when Chelsea bought the defender from OFK Beograd in 2005. The centre-back, who had also played for Serbia, had spells with PSV and Twente before linking up with Vitesse.
Goalkeeper Delač joined Chelsea from Inter Zaprešić in 2010 after impressing in the Croatian first division as a 16-year-old before immediately being loaned out to Vitesse.
The season was to be a major disappointment for Vitesse and Jordania, despite the arrival of the Chelsea trio, and the likes of Wilfried Bony and Marcus Pedersen. Vitesse changed manager three times, with Raymond van der Gouw and Han van Arum taking over as interim managers from Theo Boss before being replaced by former Spain international Albert Ferrer, who only last until June.
The club avoided relegation on goal difference, although both Matić and Rajković had reasonably successful campaigns, featuring 26 and 24 times respectively. Delač failed to make a first team appearance, playing backup to Eloy Room and Piet Velthuizen.
The 2011-12 season saw another three Chelsea players join John van den Brom’s squad on loan in the shape of Ulises Dávila, 20, Tomáš Kalas, 18 and Patrick van Aanholt, 21.
Midfielder Dávila was a highly rated Mexico under-20 international who joined Chelsea from Guadalajara in 2011 before immediately being loaned out due to work permit restrictions. Centre-back Kalas was another relatively new arrival to Stamford Bridge, joining from Sigma Olomouc in his native Czech Republic in 2010. Van Aanholt had been at Chelsea since 2007 and the move to Vitesse represented the fifth loan move of the left-back’s fledgling career.
The season was a vast improvement on the previous campaign with Vitesse finishing in 7th place and qualifying for the Europa League. Van Aanholt and Kalas were first team regulars, although Dávila only featured twice, spending the majority of his time with the reserves.
Vitesse changed managers again in the close season, with former Twente, PSV and Schalke boss Fred Rutten taking over the reigns at the GelreDome ahead of the 2012-13 campaign.
Kalas and Van Aanholt both had their loan moves extended, while French winger Gaël Kakuta joined the pair in the Netherlands. Kakuta’s move to Stamford Bridge from Lens in 2007 had been an acrimonious one, initially costing the club a two-year transfer ban. However the 21-year-old had shown few glimpses of his talent during loans with Fulham, Bolton Wanderers and Dijon before heading to Vitesse.
In October Jordania sold the club to Russian billionaire Aleksandr Chigirinsky, another close associate of Abramovich.
Bony was the undoubted star of the campaign, scoring 31 goals in 30 games as Vitesse finished in fourth place, again qualifying for the Europa League. For the Chelsea contingent there were mixed results. Kalas played in every league game, while Van Aanholt only missed three games as part of the third best defence in the Eredivisie. Kakuta played 22 times but only scored one goal over the course of the season.
Under Chigirinsky’s ownership the relationship between Vitesse and Chelsea stepped up a level, with no fewer than five players joining the club in Lucas Piazon, Bertrand Traoré (pictured), Sam Hutchinson, Christian Atsu and Cristián Cuevas, while both Van Aanholt and Kakuta’s loans were extended for a further season.
The relationship also proved beneficial for Chelsea, who signed Marco van Ginkel from Vitesse in a £7 million move. Van Ginkel was a standout player in the previous season, winning the Dutch Football Talent of the Year award once held by the likes of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie.
With the loss of van Ginkel and Bony – who joined Swansea – and under new management once again in Peter Bosz, Vitesse slipped to sixth place despite topping the table from week 13 to week 18.
Piazon impressed, scoring 11 goals in 29 appearances, as did Atsu, while Traoré, still only 18, showed glimpses of his talent in brief cameos. Van Aanholt was a reliable presence at left-back again, but neither Kakuta, Cuevas or Hutchinson started a league game.
The season left a bitter taste in the mouth of former chairman Jordania, who claimed that Chelsea didn’t want the Vitesse to qualify for the Champions League and were exerting an influence over the club; claims Chelsea dismissed and Chigirinsky vehemently denied.
Ajax sporting director Marc Overmars also spoke out about Chelsea’s influence over Vitesse, claiming his club were denied the right to speak to van Ginkel ahead of a potential transfer, leaving the path clear for the Blues to make a move.
Last season, Traoré, a Burkina Faso international, stayed on at the GelreDome in order to strengthen his claims for an UK work permit, where he was joined by once-promising midfielder Josh McEachran and Brazilian right-back Wallace.
McEachran had briefly threatened to be the first player since John Terry to progress from Chelsea’s youth team into a regular senior player, but had found his progress stunted since debuting in 2010. Loan spells at Swansea, Middlesbrough, Watford and Wigan Athletic offered varied success, and a move to the Eredivisie seemed a shrewd one for the technically gifted 21-year-old.
Wallace was a Brazil under-20 international signed from Fluminense in 2013, although a lack of work permit saw him immediately join Inter Milan on loan before moving to Vitesse.
Vitesse finished the 2014-15 season in fifth place, qualifying for the Europa League, with Traoré scoring 13 goals in 29 games. McEachran and Wallace weren’t first team regulars, amassing only 20 starts between them.
Over the course of the now-five-year partnership, it is fair to say that neither Chelsea nor Vitesse has properly benefitted from the relationship between the two sides over the past five years. Vitesse have yet to finish higher than fourth place despite intermittently threatening to break into the Champions League, although the Dutch FA never found evidence of wrongdoing to back up Jordania’s claims.
From Chelsea’s perspective only Matić has returned to the club as a senior starter, although this was at the cost of £21 million after three seasons with Benfica. Traoré, who looks a genuine talent, was granted a work permit in June and his attacking versatility could force José Mourinho to keep the 19-year-old around the first team setup rather than loaning him out again.
None of the other players who made the move look likely to break into the Chelsea first team, with some facing the prospect of further seasons away from Stamford Bridge in search of regular football. Many have already left the club on permanent deals following their stint at Vitas.
However the relationship shows no signs of slowing down, with four players already joining Vitesse ahead of next season. England youth internationals, Izzy Brown and Lewis Baker, will be joined by Nathan, a new signing from Atlético Paranaense, and Danilo Pantić, a recent arrival from Partizan Belgrade.
All four will be hoping to buck the trend and prove that a loan move to Vitesse can provide a platform to kick-start a senior career at Chelsea, rather than a holding ground before a move away from Stamford Bridge.
By James Robinson. Follow @JvmesJournalist