When Chelsea signed Kennedy in the summer of 2015, fans might have been encouraged by the club’s insistence on securing him a UK work permit, rather than shipping him out on loan to Dutch feeder club Vitesse Arnhem like many others before him.
The then-teenage forward was a raw talent but, given his six goals in eight games for Brazil’s Under-17s in the 2013 South American Championship, there was clearly potential there.
He would rarely start matches for Brazilian club Fluminense but built up some experience appearing from the bench, as a succession of coaches saw his explosive pace as a means of exploiting stretched games.
Limited chances at Chelsea
Kenedy’s first appearance for Chelsea came as a substitute as they pushed to equalise against Crystal Palace in the early weeks of the 2015/16 season. They did, but lost 2-1.
On the surface, the concept of a young and largely unknown signee playing for Chelsea was for once not just a fanciful notion. But his professional debut came during a time of turmoil at the West London club. Just weeks after, the scandal with departing club doctor Eva Carneiro caused tension in the Chelsea dressing room, and days before the close of the summer transfer window.
That day, Kenedy was a pawn used by his manager, Jose Mourinho, who was making a point to the Chelsea chairman that he needed more expensive additions. The less than ideal circumstances of his debut exemplified a difficult start for him.
As the teenager was settling into life in a new continent, his manager – football’s Machiavelli – was facing the biggest personal crisis of his career and Chelsea were – unthinkably – down near the foot of the table.
Such turmoil eventually led to a more settled spell for the player. After his brief appearances under Jose Mourinho came as the club was desperately firefighting, Gus Hiddink arrived as interim coach and instilled a sense of calm, the club going largely unbeaten in the latter half of the season.
In fact, during those months Kenedy was given low-pressure opportunities as the club had nothing to lose. Such a bedding-in period is a luxury at a top club that few are afforded.
After the arrival of Antonio Conte, his opportunities became severely limited due to a mixture of injuries, misfortune and the manager establishing a settled first team. Marcos Alonso was brought in to play as a left wingback, which limited his opportunities.
Over a season and a half, he made just one league start for Chelsea with the title already wrapped up, and his truncated loan at Watford amounted to a fifteen minute cameo in a 2-0 loss to Burnley.
Comments deemed to be racist made on social media during the club’s Chinese summer tour didn’t help matters, and after an earlier loan to Newcastle fell through in the summer transfer window, he was stuck in limbo yet again.
His role in Newcastle’s survival
Come January 2018, Kenedy’s two-and-a-half years in England amounted to five Premier League starts at Chelsea and one failed loan move. He needed the move to Newcastle as much as Newcastle needed him.
His impact on the Tyneside club has been immediate. In his first game against Burnley, he swung in a corner that was headed in by Jamaal Lascelles. He looked dangerous throughout, adding an attacking impetus that had been lacking before and he skilfully earned his team a penalty, although it was missed by Joselu. In the following game against Crystal Palace, it was again his corner that opened the scoring for Newcastle, this time falling to Mohamed Diame.
Against Southampton this weekend, he went one level further. His two first-half goals made a vital relegation decider look comfortable – his first a brilliant piece of skill as he took a floated ball down and the second an easy finish after a clever run drew in the opposition defenders and created the space.
Kenedy has started all six games for Newcastle so far in what has been their best spell of the season. It took time for him to get up to speed and full match fitness, often substituting early by Rafa Benitez. It’s often been in those absences that Newcastle where his importance to Newcastle becomes clear.
Without him on the pitch, they regress to the unconvincing side he was before he arrived. They offered little offensively when he was replaced by Christian Atsu against a Crystal Palace who began to dominate the game. Against Bournemouth, Newcastle ceded territory and squandered a 2-0 lead after he was taken off.
After a month at the club, he is getting back up to speed and looks able to play a full 90 minutes. He’s now made more league starts for Newcastle than at Chelsea or Fluminense.
Come the end of the season, he could be in a position where he’s clocked up more minutes there than any other club, which is remarkable for a half-season loan of a player who made his senior debut in 2013.
Playing regular football for the first time in his career is working wonders for him. Celebrating by grabbing the badge is often a hollow gesture, especially for a player on loan but, when he did so after scoring against Southampton this weekend, it looked genuine. It makes sense for someone who is more than a bit-part player for the first time in his career.
At a club like Newcastle, with 50,000 people regularly packing out St. James’ Park, to feel like he belongs and is appreciated will be special for a player whose previous opportunities had been inconsequential.
Who will be in charge at Chelsea next season is unknown. Kenedy has shown he has the quality to contribute more, but he needs to assess how many opportunities his parent club will afford him.
As for Newcastle, if they are in a position to extend a loan or even sign the player, it’s imperative they do so. He’s become a vital part of this campaign and could be an exciting stalwart of what Benitez is building, going forward.
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