The first article I wrote for the Chelsea Fancast website followed our youth cup victory against Fulham in 2014. The article my thoughts on how great it was to win the cup but if no one is progressing into the first team what is the point? Three years on and here we are again.
Since that article we have won the league again, won a league cup and hopefully there is a good chance of winning some more this year. We have also “failed” to make any of that Youth Cup winning team part of the first team. Yes there has been real progress this year in integrating some of the players into the squad. We know that part of that period we had Jose as manager and as much as I love him, introducing youth is not his strong point. He vowed to give RLC a chance and then hooked him after 45 minutes and slaughtered him. He gave Solanke paltry time in a dead rubber and that was about it. We then had Guus wasting a half a season of opportunity.
This season there have been some minutes for RLC and Nathan Challobah. We have also seen Ola Aina and Nathan Ake making a rare appearances but not a lot else. There is also the army of loanees a lot of whom we hear great things about. The most notable of which is Tammy Abraham who has scored an amazing amount of goals particularly when you consider where his team are in the league and he had a spell out with injury. Both Casey Palmer and Izzy Brown are doing well at Huddersfield although the former is now injured. This not even mentioning the mercurial Lewis Baker who linking up with RLC and Nate at England under 21 level is something to behold. These three have played together for years and are all at different stages of development and should be the future midfield but do any of us think there is any chance of this happening?
Watching the youth play last night just emphasised how well we as a club are doing. In the semi-final of the premier youth tournament in English football our two closest rivals were destroyed a 7-1 second leg semi final victory followed by a 5-1 win in the second leg of the final proving how far ahead we are but ultimately so what? There is also the point that these players are behind the guys mentioned above and in some ways even further away from the first team.
No one expected us to do as well as we have done in the league this year. At the beginning of the season and into the midpoint we saw Nate come on in games. There was also the introduction of RLC and both guys getting game time in the FA Cup up to the quarter final. Those minutes have diminished as the games have become more important and it is abundantly clear that experience is what matters to the manager. When Victor Moses was out we didn’t cope. We disrupted our back three to accommodate Azpi at right back and struggled. Conversely when Alonso was injured Azpi was shoved to left back. There was no sign of Ola Aina. He has not had a look in and I surmise he is not ready and the importance of the games means the manager will not trust him. How will he ever get ready though if he is not tested, Kurt has been tried and found wanting, could Aina have not been given a chance?
One of the main reasons we beat Them at Wembley was experience. Knowing how to get over the line, to win games that matter. You can only achieve that with players who have been there and done it. They have the mental ability to tell themselves that notwithstanding the state of the game, they will win. Could we have achieved that with a youth? Ultimately they have to experience this to gain that mentality but look at Nathan Ake. He, as he always does, looks like he’s been playing on the highest stage for years he could have been a weak link but wasn’t and therefore is it the environment he has been in or do some players just have it?
So the question has to be when do the youngsters get a look in? Do they ever or is winning the be all and end all for club fans and players. The premier league title is going down to the last couple of games and so unless that lot have a meltdown there will be no opportunities again this season and to be fair you wouldn’t want it any other way. When Liverpool lost at home to Palace, their bench was full of kids, the manager had injuries and no options. With the exception of Marcus Rashford there are no youth players in any of the “top” clubs. It just doesn’t happen anymore, the “price” is too high and managers can not afford to fail if they want to stay employed.
You would have thought that the introduction of one youth player per season to the first team should not be too difficult with the amount of talent we have. So let’s look at those options and the likelihood of it happening next year. Everyone is making it a given that Andreas Christensen will be coming back to the club and the first team squad. He has played at least two full seasons in both the Bundesliga and the Champions league. He is ready made and together with the excellent Nathan Ake should mean we do not need to buy another centre half but I suspect we will. Will either of those start the first game of next season I do not think so.
In midfield does anyone think we will not buy someone. I suspect a tank of a player will be brought in and so where does that leads the three mentioned above? We have the wonderful Kante and the much maligned Matic. Both have had good seasons, the former a unique player in what he does. In terms of creativity we have Cesc who has been brilliantly managed by AC this season in terms of saving him for the business end and so we have seen little of both RLC and Challobah. We do need another option and Cesc may well depart but could anyone currently at the club or on loan step in. I know that Lewis Baker appears to have the talent but this is a massive step up. So I believe we will bring in at least one and possibly two and whilst we need more depth how would we do if we just let the home-growns fill those gaps.
In attack with the likely departure of Costa and Batshuayi (albeit probably on loan) we need four forwards. I suspect Tammy will come back but he will be an option from the bench. At this stage it is just not fair to ask him to lead the line on his own. We apparently are losing Solanke and so will Izzy Casey or even Traore or Charlie Musonda be given a chance to get into the squad. Surely one of those guys will make it?
So ultimately the question is would the club sacrifice years without a trophy to get some of this wonderful talent on the pitch? You know the answer.
Author of “Palpable Discord. A Year of drama and dissent at Chelsea” Published by Gate 17