The Failings And Success Of Chelsea’s Youth Policy

A year after their spectacular triumph in the UEFA Champions league, Chelsea Football Club had finally achieved one of their most elusive goals since Roman Abramovich bought over the club in 2003. However, the winning of the Champions League also heralded a significant change, the exit of Didier Drogba, one of the most prolific strikers the club has ever had.

While Drogba was just one player, he represented the change of guard for Chelsea. After all, he was one of the last few players who played through Chelsea’s glory days under Jose Mourinho. Like Gianfranco Zola’s exit before him, his exit signalled a fresh start and the building of a new Chelsea Team.

The Good

Before Drogba’s exit, new pillars of the Chelsea side had already been added in. Ramires, the combative midfielder from Benifica, who endured a mediocre first season under then manager Carlo Ancellotti, has transformed in to an indispensable pivot in the middle of the park. This was followed by an inspired purchase of David Luiz, who has since grown leaps and bounds as not only a solid defender, but also a brilliant attacker. New arrivals Oscar, Eden Hazard and Victor Moses, all in their early 20s, have also given life to a Chelsea side once known for their “uncreative” style of play.

Eden Hazard and Oscar in particular, have formed a dangerous Triumverate with club talisman Juan Mata. Commonly referred to as the “The Three Amigos”, each Amigo brings his own unique quality to the Chelsea attack. Eden Hazard pace, trickery and directness continues to turn defenders inside out on the flanks. On the other hand, Oscar’s wide range of passing and silky dribbling complements that of Mata as the duo look constantly to find gaps in the opponents defence. Together, they form a unique blend of pace, trickery and incisive passing which has been the bane of numerous defences this season.

It is undeniable that finest signing of the lot would have to be Juan Mata. The twinkle toed Spaniard from Valencia FC. Juan Mata was Andre Villas Boas’s buy, and he has been the leading light in this Chelsea side ever since. Blessed with trickery and vision, there are no words that can describe what Mata means to this Chelsea team. This season, his haul of nearly 30 assists in all competitions speaks volumes of the man who has become the leader in this young side, a side whose average age has decreased significantly from 28 to 26 years old (Results may be a little high because of veterans Terry, Lampard and Ashley Cole). At only 25 years old, Mata has yet to reach his prime and has many good years left to contribute to Chelsea.

Another revelation this season would have to be Cesar Azipilicueta, the young Spanish right back from Marseille. Cesar impresses with his industry and defensive strengths. With him at right back, Chelsea have been able to rein in the likes of premier league danger men Gareth Bale and Ashley Young. Strong performances have cemented him as the side’s predominant right back, displacing Branislav Ivanovic from a role which he has made his own in previous years.

With such a strong core of young players, Chelsea has their future secured for the next season. However, many fans and neutrals alike worry that their success may undermine the prospects of long standing youth players within the club.

The Bad

Barcelona monitoring Courtois
Courtois deserves more respect from the Blues 

Like it or not, Roman Abramovich is no idiot when it comes to continuity. Despite his managerial merry go round, Abramovich has kept his back room staff constant in his desire to build a sustainable youth team. Ever since his entrance, Chelsea has benefitted from a surge in talented youth team members.

While some players like Jack Cork, Michael Manciene and Jacopo Sala have left the club for pastures anew. Such moves seem justified with the fact that many of them have shown that they were unable to contribute significantly at the highest level of competition. However, the youth policy has also missed several stars. One in particular, would be the Serbian midfielder Nemanja Matic, who currently plays for Benifica.

Used as a make weight to bring David Luiz to Stamford Bridge, Chelsea let go of a player who could have been a potential partner to Ramires in midfield. This season, the Serbian showed Chelsea exactly what they were missing with his industry, passing and defensive acumen, a way better alternative to under-performers such as Jon Obi Mikel.

On the other hand, Chelsea’s reluctance to entrust stars such as Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne and Josh Mceachran deserved places within the side continues to confound fans and pundits alike. Regression in the development of talented stars Nathan Ake, Ryan Betrand and Nathaniel Chalobah compounds further misery in fans who continue to pray for the arrival of the next youth player to break in to the first team.

Among these players, Romelu Lukaku showed that he is the most deserving of a place in the current Chelsea the side. The Belgium star has proven himself this season in the Premier League for West Brom. In striking positions, Lukaku has shown Chelsea that he is the right man to lead the line and frightening prospect of a player. A towering physical specimen, Lukaku is not only strong but also very fast. That deceptive turn of pace and strength have bullied defenders this season. Furthermore, the Belgian possesses neat finishing and is solid at hold up play.  It is a pity that his chances to play in the team next season might be further nullified with the impending arrival of Radamel Falcao.

In Goal Keeping, Thibalt Courtois is arguably the best young goal keeper in the world. As an established first teamer for Atlético Madrid, he has impresses scouts with his goal keeping prowess. With many clubs circling around the Belgium, it will be a huge loss if Chelsea forces one of their best ever young goal keepers out because of a lack of game time.

Meanwhile, a long standing crowd favourite Josh Mceachran continues to wait patiently for his chance to play. Josh Mceachran comes highly recommended by many coaches who believe in the potential of the English man. Villas-Boas once commented on McEachran saying:

“This is a youngster with so much talent, Physique-wise, there is nothing to him at the moment. In the changing room you see him getting ready to go and train and he looks nothing like a footballer. His power and pace is in his head. But you could say the same about Luka Modric, Jack Wilshere or Samir Nasri. All are built with slight physiques but they are all among the finest midfield players in the world. Josh is going that way. His brain is always five yards ahead of the rest. I see in him very much as part of the future of this club.”

It is a pity that despite glowing recommendations, Josh continues to be ignored in favour of other players. Josh has been in the youth team since 7 years old, and thrived through the years while others left. This season, he has impressed at Middlesbrough, and earned the Middlesbrough young player of the season award. Furthermore, Josh is just a year younger than Jack Wilshere. However, it is surprising how Wilshere has successfully cemented his place in the Arsenal first team so quickly while Josh continues to languish on the side lines. This is even more surprising when both players were once considered the brightest young English midfielders of their generation.

The Future

Chelsea may have bought themselves a young and talented core that will help them challenge for future trophies and silverware. However, they have undermined years of effort spent on developing talented youth who could make a difference for the club at a significantly cheaper price.

Thibalt Courtois can be the next Peter Cech, Lukaku the next Drogba and Mceachran the next Lampard but all that will not matter if the coach does not give them the opportunity to step up to the plate. While it is more likely that Romelu Lukaku will be recalled back to the first team for the next season, it remains to be seen whether he can displace the next big and expensive striker that signs for Chelsea. For other players, one should expect them to go out on loans yet again. While loans are good to develop experience, it remains to be seen whether such rejection from a parent club that courted them initially will have adverse effects on their loyalties.

As a football enthusiast, my wish is undoubtedly for these players to live up to their full potential and bring the game to new heights, no matter where they play. I can only hope that they do not come back to bite Chelsea for the club’s decision to let them go.

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