Denis Zakaria interview: I’ll prove that I deserve to be at Chelsea

New start: Denis Zakaria  (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
New start: Denis Zakaria (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

‘The Octopus’ is laying in wait at Chelsea, desperate to pounce when his opportunity comes.

Denis Zakaria, the club’s deadline-day loan signing from Juventus, with long legs and a playing style modelled on the powerhouse that was Patrick Vieira, has yet to get on the pitch for the Blues.

When he does, he tells Standard Sport, he will not let the chance pass by him. But, first, he explains his nickname.

“It’s because I have very long legs!” he says. “I win a lot of balls in midfield, so that is why they said octopus. It was funny and it was positive, I hope!”

The rangy defensive midfielder, who is speaking for the first time since his summer move, has yet to appear since arriving in west London. It was a move — on an initial loan with an option to buy for £30million — not many saw coming.

Some have compared his situation to that of Saul Niguez, who tried and failed to impress at Chelsea in similar circumstances, but Mateo Kovacic showed it can be done by managing to turn his loan move from Real Madrid into a permanent one.

Swiss international Zakaria, 25, is funny and confident — but quickly turns serious when talking about football matters.

“I believe in myself 100 per cent,” he says. “I am waiting for my moment and I want to prove I can play in this team. I want to help this team to win and win trophies.

“If you don’t do good, you don’t have the chance to stay. Chelsea is a big club and if you’re not good enough, you can’t stay. I am here to prove that I deserve to be here, that I am a good player and I can help the team.

“That is the most important thing. I want to win trophies and help the team win — and if I have the chance to play, I will give 100 per cent to help. That is the biggest point and after we will see what happens at the end.”

It’s a move that nearly did not come off, announced just after 1am the morning after deadline day.

“It was crazy because I finished training with Juventus and my agent called me and he said, ‘We have Chelsea [making an offer], is that interesting for you?’ I was like, ‘Oh, yes’. It’s Chelsea, you can’t say no,” he continues.

 (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
(Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

“It was really close [to collapsing]. I stayed in the office in Turin until, I don’t know, maybe one hour after midnight, so yes it was really close. But in the end, everything was perfect.”

Although born in Geneva, Zakaria’s connection to his African roots meant he grew up idolising Chelsea legend Didier Drogba - “When you are young you want to have a career like him - but it is another Blues legend, in Claude Makelele, who is inspiring Zakaria now.

“I’ve spoken with him,” Zakaria says. “He is very funny, a very good guy. He is also a big legend and I will take any advice from him. He was in my position and knows how to play it, so I will always take this advice.”

Unfortunately for Zakaria, he got just two days of training with Thomas Tuchel before he was sacked. “[Tuchel] wanted this deal,” he says. “When you can have a trainer like him, it is a big opportunity for a player. He is a big, big trainer and I was really happy to have the chance to train with him.”

He was surprised, though, to hear that the German thought he could play a wing-back role. “No, no, no! I didn’t know that,” he says, with genuine astonishment. “Okay, I can run fast, but I didn’t know I can play in that position. In the past, I played also as a central defender in a three, in the middle.”

Of course, Zakaria is determined to prove himself to Chelsea’s new boss, Graham Potter.

“I spoke with the new coach, but it was the first meeting to see where my position was and to get to know each other,” he says.

“We spoke a little bit and said he likes the style of player I am. In training, he is pushing every player, which is good. At the moment, I need to train hard and be ready for when I have my chance.”