Chelsea are finally delivering on the promise and supposed purpose of their youth academy: developing players for the first team, not loanees and disaffected transfers
Chelsea’s infamous academy, which turned into high gear with the arrival of Roman Abramovich in 2003, has come in for some heavy criticism during the subsequent 16 years or so. The collateral damage inflicted upon it by Chelsea’s win-at-all-costs policy has resulted in solely a financial gain to the club from the youth football machine at Cobham, rather than any in the form of actual senior club professionals.
The academy at Cobham developed players to a high degree, but were never to where they were quite good enough to step up for their parent club. We now know they probably were, however, they simply were never given the chance to shine. The old adage that John Terry was the only product of the academy system to make it at Chelsea was used time and again to force home the pointlessness of Cobham.
That has never stopped kids from joining, though. The coaching and facilities provided is amongst the best in world football, and supporters and fans have always hoped – no, expected – it to bear fruit.
That the club’s policy was more focused on trophies rather than organic development was to its detriment. The persistent arrival of sub-par journeyman players in the first team has stunted the growth of those who expected more.
The arrival of Frank Lampard, Jody Morris and Joe Edwards has not only seen “the yoof” trusted more than they ever have, but put them at the very top of the pecking order. All of Chelsea’s Premier League goals have come from Academy kids. Tammy Abraham – Tambraham, to those in the know – Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori have all hit the back of the net.
Players whose patience simply ran out following loan after loan must now look back with some regret. Dominic Solanke and Nathanial Chalobah, in particular, both felt they had to move on to fulfill their dream of making it to the top. Both players left the club in the summer of 2017 and, of course, they had to do what they felt was right for themselves at the time.
Solanke, in particular, is of similar age to Abraham and Co., and must regret moving to Liverpool. Despite not making it up in the northwest, the youngster is getting good game time with AFC Bournemouth, again proving Chelsea’s academy system does work. Had he stayed for another two years, well, who knows?
As it stands, this season is going to be difficult for the media and those that love to push their anti-Chelsea bile. Not only are Frank Lampard’s Chelsea an attacking joy to behold, but he’s achieving it using the kids, products of the academy who for years have simply been destined for loan spells with Vitesse Arnhem.
Of course, the transfer ban issued by FIFA has, with some irony, promoted the youth. Chelsea were sanctioned for breaching rules regarding their dealing with overseas players under the age of 18. The fact that Chelsea never actually appealed that decision may have forced Maurizio Sarri to consider his position as manager.
Sarri left for Juventus, Frank Lampard arrived and the rest, as they say, is history.
Or at least it will be once we have some.