Chelsea's Kurt Zouma keen to emulate Raphael Varane under Jose Mourinho
Chelsea's Kurt Zouma has told French media he hopes to follow in the footsteps of Raphael Varane and flourish into a world-class international defender under Jose Mourinho.
Varane, 21, was promising but little-known when he arrived at Madrid from Lens on the recommendation of Zinedine Zidane in 2011. He quickly established himself in the first team at the Bernabeu under the tutelage of Mourinho, becoming first-choice for both club and eventually country.
After being immediately loaned back to Saint-Etienne after joining Chelsea in January, Zouma, 19, is now at Stamford Bridge on a permanent basis. He has yet to taste Premier League action on the pitch after sitting on the bench for the Blues' first three matches of the campaign.
However, Mourinho has warned Zouma that, after throwing Varane in at the deep end of a Champions League tie with Manchester City at the start of the youngster's second campaign in Madrid, he should not merely expect to spend the season as a spectator.
Zouma, currently on France under-21 duty, said: "He told me, 'Varane, I made him start straightaway against City. You have to be ready at any time.' I take Varane and Eliaquim Mangala as models. Today, they're in the senior team.
"I hope to join them. Euro 2016 is an objective I have set myself. Even if places will be hard-earned, I'm aware of that. The door is not far.
"When I was at Saint-Etienne and I didn't play, I immediately got annoyed. But I've learned. Now, there are experienced players, stars in my position, and they do very good work. I take my time. I learn alongside these defenders. I know my time will come."
The Lyon-born defender's potential was clear to many of Europe's most powerful clubs despite him playing just 52 Ligue 1 game for Saint-Etienne. City and Manchester United were among the suitors for Zouma, but he opted for Stamford Bridge having been a Chelsea fan since childhood.
Zouma possesses an imposing frame but acknowledged walking into a dressing room containing club legends Terry, Petr Cech, and Didier Drogba left him overwhelmed.
"They're great players that you see on TV, that you choose on PlayStation. At the start, you almost say to yourself that you can't even approach them," Zouma stated.
"Diego Costa, he's very, very crazy. Sometimes, he gives me a little tap on the back of the head, and says: 'Let me past'. Ivanovic also makes jokes. In the squad, they have a bit of laugh at me, about my age. Because I'm a big, solid guy of 19.
"Even the coach once, he made fun of me. There was a blood test, and he told me jokingly: 'Now we'll see if you've lied about your age.' But honestly, they're cool, they are open."