Chelsea’s academy is perhaps the most talked about entity of the football club outside of the first XI. The news of Marc Guehi’s shock departure to Crystal Palace sent Chelsea Twitter in meltdown.
The highly rated defender was tipped by many, myself included, to be the next from the Cobham conveyer belt of talent in the first team.
However, Guehi was unconvinced about his pathway to the first team and did not want to get stuck in the loan cycle as so many of those before him have found themselves, so as a result, had not signed a new deal with the club.
This left the club no choice but to get a transfer fee for him (rumoured £18m) and include a buy-back clause.
Some called this mis-management but for me, this shows the club being extremely pro-active and making the best business decisions in the interest of the club.
Many have spoken about pathways, such as this great read by fellow Fancaster Adam Newson for Football.London. The next generation coming through, such as Tino Livramento, Lewis Bate and Myles Part-Harris, will all be looking at their chances of making it before deciding whether to go it alone or trust the club to pick the right loan deals.
In the days since that article, it seems all three will be making their break into senior top level football elsewhere with Bate close to joining Leeds United, Part-Harris rumoured to be joining newly promoted Brentford and Livramento tipped to follow in the footsteps of another former academy graduate Tariq Lamptey and join Brighton.
And yesterday we learned that 19-year-old defender Dynel Simeu will join Southampton on a free transfer.
For many, this is a kick in the teeth, but it should also be a sense of pride, that our club is capable of creating so many elite level footballers, because there’s no club in the country who has anywhere near the talent we have coming through.
And as much as we would like them to, not all of them will make it at Chelsea.
Why does it matter? Well it just means more having players from your academy play for your club, because as a life long supporter you are able to live your dreams through them. It’s great watching the likes of Mason Mount and Reece James becoming regular starters for club and country.
But make no mistake about it, having players make it from the academy at a club like Chelsea, operating in the upper echelons of the game, is extremely rare and extremely difficult, as the club are able to bring in the very best ready made talent.
Tammy Abraham is the clubs top goal-scorer over the past two seasons, a change in manager has changed his future, Armando Broja, who spent last season out on loan at Vitesse has signed a new five-year deal, but this summer the club is expected to spend around £150 million to bring in Erling Haaland.
Adding him to a forward line which already includes a £50 million Timo Werner and £72 million Kai Havertz, probably means neither of these strikers will ever be Chelsea’s first choice, but that’s kind of the point of the academy.
Bring through great players, who impress whilst on loan and bring in essential transfer funds to help fund the clubs pursuit of the very best players and if you’re lucky, you’ll have a rare super talent who comes straight into your team.
Abraham is likely to bring in up to £40 million and is now linked with north London rivals Arsenal, he’ll score goals, just not for Chelsea. He just doesn’t fit into the mould of striker desired by Thomas Tuchel, that’s not really his fault or Tuchel’s fault either, that’s just Chelsea.
That’s part of the problem with Chelsea’s constant hire/fire policy, chaos and trophies, as Joe Tweeds calls it. First team managers can’t follow three year plans with potential first team players from the academy because they’re not around for three years, a new manager comes in and the plan is reset.
In my opinion a great academy player, such as Livramento, who won the academy POTY, should be looking at 10-15 appearances, then the second season 15-20 and then the third 20-30 followed by becoming the first team regular.
Young players now are looking at the likes of Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham, who’ve gone over to Germany very young and become established first team players for a club competing in the Champions League.
Then both were selected by England manager Gareth Southgate to represent their country at this summers’ European Championships. Three year plans are no longer enough to keep the best talent on our books, because others have shown it can happen instantly.
And if there’s no pathway at that current moment, then more and more young players will refuse new contract offers and look to make it elsewhere. Modern football is like that, just people’s outlooks are either skewed by how football used to be when they grew up or by the class of ’92.
Having that many players come through at the same time should be viewed as the anomaly, not the norm.
Under Frank Lampard, having Fikayo Tomori, Reece James, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham in the same starting XI was another anomaly. As it happens, only two remain in the first team, which is still quite rare.
Mount, right now is ahead of James, starting almost every game for Chelsea and England at this summers European Championships, but make no mistake, at next years World Cup, both will play every minute of every game.
These are rare super talents, like Phil Foden at Manchester City, they are rare talents that if they were playing anywhere else, their respective clubs would be spending a lot of money to sign them, but they really are once in a blue moon (if you pardon the City pun) players that don’t come around very often.
Another area where the academy should be used is to fill the squad, we should not be spending money on players like Davide Zappacosta, Danny Drinkwater or Emerson as just three examples.
We’ve been linked with Adama Troare, who would feature in rotation with James as a right wing back, but if the signing isn’t good enough to be first choice immediately we shouldn’t be signing them at all.
In this instance you’d be sitting down with Livramento, detailing your plans for the squad, that he’d be part of the first team squad, getting 15-20 appearances, and then depending on form/performances it increases year on year.
Otherwise you lose a player with huge potential because of a blocked pathway by a player on high wages. Like what happened with Nathaniel Chalobah back in 2017 when Drinkwater signed. He ended up out on loan and then ultimately sold, but he could have potentially been a part of this club and the first team.
Maybe he wouldn’t of been good enough, but maybe he would’ve been, who knows? Chalobah has carved out a very good career for himself, and will captain Watford in the Premier League this season. But that £35 million spent on Drinkwater could’ve gone to improve the squad elsewhere and give Eden Hazard the world class talent he needed to win the biggest prize.
Obviously this is not the case for every position, take Guehi for example, can you promise him 15-20 games ahead of Cesar Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva, Andreas Christensen or Antonio Rudiger?
I would’ve sold Kurt Zouma, a player whom could receive a fee of ahead £30-40 million, and replace him with Guehi as cover. But it wasn’t that simple.
Guehi wants to play and didn’t want to commit his future to Chelsea, so what else do you expect the club to do?
Same goes for Lewis Bate, you’ve already got N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic plus Billy Gilmour on loan, a rumoured transfer of Declan Rice, chances are limited because of the quality ahead of them, the only argument you could make is not to sign Rice and put faith in Bate, but are you really going to go with untested talent ahead of a tried and tested Premier League regular?
The academy is doing exactly the thing it was created for, to produce Premier League standard players with whom the club can use to raise funds to keep us at the top table. If we develop a player good enough for the top table that’s a bonus.
Chelsea will never become a club with eleven academy players starting the same game, that’s just how it is.
Not everyone will make it.