Thefootysite.com take a look at Chelsea’s youth team and ask if we will ever see them in the first team.
English football over the last few years has been desperately searching for star quality young players. With the likes of Germany and Spain thriving from their respective youth systems, the English FA have been scrambling to push through, any and every young English talent. I have recently written about the problem with English football. The FA can only do so much nowadays; the responsibility must rest heavily on the clubs and the top clubs in particular. Southampton have long been hailed as the one of the best youth set ups in England. Southampton constantly supplements its squad with youth products-Chambers, Shaw, Reed, Ward-Prowse, Lallana and Walcott to name a few. Although Chelsea haven’t produced many youth players, their youth squad has been arguably the best in the last four years.
Last week Chelsea beat Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Youth League final; to once again prove their wealth of excellent youth products. This should indicate that there are many good young players to come through. However, typical of English football, Chelsea win the UEFA Youth League and then are linked with signing another young foreign player- the Brazilian Nathan from Atletico Paranaense. We often talk about Chelsea’s use of the loan system. We all know Chelsea buy players cheap, then send them out on loan to eventually sell them for huge profit (De Bruyn, Lukaku, Thorgen Hazard). We also talk about Chelsea’s lack of any home grown youth products. Since John Terry, the only true home grown player is Josh McEachran- currently on loan at Vitesse Arnhem. This could soon change however, as Mourinho told reporters last Summer if Baker, Solanke and Brown don’t make the England squad, he should be to blame. Let’s put this into perspective though.
Chelsea have never been ones to push through youth products, it seems unlikely that Abramovich will sacrifice success for development. Take for example Nathaniel Chalobah, once the next big thing coming out of Chelsea. In 2013 he signed a new contract and was regarded by Mourinho as having a bright future, “for sure he is a Chelsea player”. Since then, Chalobah has spent consecutive seasons on loan at, Middlesbrough, Reading, Watford, Nottingham Forest and Burnley- whilst still having not made a senior appearance for Chelsea. Of the aforementioned 3, Baker, once Chelsea’s ‘Young player of the year’ in 2013/14 and captain of the U21 squad which won the U21 league- has managed 4 minutes for the first team and has spent this year on loan at MK Dons and Sheffield Wednesday. Brown and Solanke, on the hand both were a part of the UEFA Youth cup winning team and also the involved in the FA Youth cup semi-final- both scoring in the UEFA Youth cup and Solanke in the FA Youth cup too. Whether they make into the first team squad is debatable. Brown seems more likely to be promoted to the first team squad as a back up to Hazard. Solanke on the other hand has Costa and Remy to contend with. Moreover, Patrick Bamford could be added to Chelsea’s strike force- if he isn’t sent on loan again. Chelsea have loaned out 30 players this year (although some have been made permanent transfers), it is going to be hard to juggle promoting youth players, adding new signings and bringing back loanees all into one squad.
It seems Chelsea can be split into types: a business for selling players and a business of winning trophies. Whilst Southampton produce youngsters for their first XI, Chelsea produce players for profit. Yes, Southampton did sell multiple players and probably always will. What you can say though is that, you produce young players first for the team and then yes, to make money- depending on your status in your league. With Financial Fair Play (FFP) in full swing, it probably means clubs like Southampton will continue to run through this method and Chelsea will be able to continually buy and sell for a profit. As Sam Tighe in his article points out (https://www.umaxit.com/index.php/columns/chelseas-kids-dazzled-in-the-uefa-youth-league-but-how-many-will-grace-the-premier-league) not all of Chelsea’s youth team will play for the first team. However, many will be “plying their trade at top teams”; in my view this goes against the idea of the youth academy. For me a youth academy is to develop players within the club who will one day play for the first team. A club can’t develop a youth academy to just eventually ship the players out to different clubs. The youth players need to be embedded in the club and become the successors of the first team players. I do understand that for a smaller club (Southampton) a profitable academy is essential. For a club of Chelsea’s stature though, that is not good enough.
I’m not writing off Chelsea’s youth team, if anything I think we need top clubs producing good young English players- like Brown, Loftus-Cheek, Solanke, Baker and Colkett. Looking at history it’s not unreasonable to say that these players won’t come through. Realistically Chelsea have an exceptional youth team, but also many good young players out on loan. It seems to me that the youth setup is not used to supplement the first team, but more to gain profit. There is a dearth of young players who will probably either be sent out across Europe’s top leagues on loan or sold for a good profit- like De Bruyne, Thorgen Hazard and Lukaku. Chelsea need to stop using their youth academy as a forum to showcase talent and use it more to develop players for the club.
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