In his latest column for the Chelsea Fancast, Dean Mears discusses the integration of young players at the club.
It’s a fact that nobody seems to allow us to forget, and with academy graduates Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen nearing the exit door, it will remain that John Terry was the last academy player to go on and become a Chelsea regular.
Since the takeover by Roman Abramovich and the purchase of our Cobham training facility, improving the fortunes of our academy has been high on the agenda for Chelsea Football Club.
Overseen by Neil Bath, the club has seen unprecedented success at youth level, winning 7 of the past 8 FA Youth Cups, the UEFA Youth League as well as domestic youth titles.
However, despite the apparent abundance of talent at youth level, there still hasn’t been anyone ready to debunk the curse of Chelsea’s academy. The likes of Josh McEachran, Nathan Ake and Nathanial Chalobah, have come close, but have eventually left the club to pursue regular first-team football.
While supporters wait with bated breath to see if the highly regarded Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mason Mount will be the ones to make it finally. But the two homegrown players currently in the squad, look to have fallen just short of the mark needed to play regular first-team football.
Despite a fantastic season last year which resulted in his England call-up for the World Cup last season, Loftus-Cheek seems to have fallen behind Matteo Kovacic and Ross Barkley. Crystal Palace fans are desperate to see him back, and it seems to be the best for all parties if Loftus-Cheek leaves the club he has called home since he was 8-years-old.
The other player, Andreas Christensen, seems to be leaning towards leaving after recent quotes from his agent/father. Christensen seemed to have broken into the first team under Antonio Conte, but a string of high-profile mistakes has resulted in him losing his place in the team. Sarri has also favoured Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz, with neither giving Sarri much reason to drop them. The big question really is why? Why can’t any of these youngsters make it?
The answer comes in many parts; the lack of time given to managers from the board. They can’t afford to give players like Christensen time/mistakes because if they don’t reach the top four as a minimum, they’ll be shown the door. There’s also the current squad. Chelsea are one of the top teams in Europe and have a squad which illustrates that status. In every position are international level footballers, so it’s not easy for a kid of 18/19 years old to come in and take their place.
It’s well documented that the club doesn’t see youth players as fully developed until they are 23. This means several loan deals to give them the football they need to develop. And it also allows players to increase their potential transfer value. Should we be concerned?
Although it would be great to have some players from the academy, I’d much rather have the best available players. If Kovacic and Barkley are better than Loftus-Cheek, then so be it. I agree it was unfortunate for Ruben that he was sent on loan and Chelsea spent £75m on Bakayoko and Drinkwater.
That was his time to make his break, but successive Chelsea managers haven’t seen him as an option. That should tell you everything. Loftus-cheek and Christensen might not be ready yet, so if they can get a move and develop, in a few years, they could get up to that level. Add in a buy-back clause, and everyone is a winner.
If Mount and Hudson-Odoi make it then fantastic, but only if they’re good enough. We’re not a mid-table team; we’re a team that should be consistently challenging for domestic and European honours. So, it’s going to be bloody difficult for a youngster to make it at not just Chelsea, but any top team.
It takes a special talent to make it before the age of 21; it rarely happens, look at European football today, there’s only M’bappe at that age group playing at the top level.
Academy players are great, but it’s not the be all and end all. We’ve had several players who we’ve brought, and they’ve gone on and had a strong affiliation with the club. You don’t have to be John Terry to have that love and bond with the club. Remember we signed Frank Lampard?
People need to stop pushing this youth agenda. Sarri and his coaches are professionals, who oversee training every single day. If the players are good enough, they’ll play. We’ve been pretty successful over the last 15 years without using academy players. And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.
Written by Dean Mears – @DeanMears
What are your thoughts?