It’s obvious that much of the talk for the past few years has been about Chelsea and our youth development program. With our Academy products not been able to graduate to the first team for countless different reasons, we have been described as hell of a place for the talented young players.
Even when you consider that, we are one of the top teams on the planet, fighting for every competition there is (unlike few of our neighbour clubs, who are just content to qualify for the CL), which requires elite, world-class, proven players, there are still people out there who criticize us for the lack of the academy graduates in our line-up. And to some extent, all the criticizing is justified.
Yes, we never had a great academy, producing exciting world-class talents like Barcelona neither did we have any managerial stability since Abramovich took over the reigns. All true! But, a change in the wind has been observed in the past few years. Our academy, never known for producing quality talents, has been turned into one of the best in England, even Europe if I dare say!
Winning the UEFA Youth League rather convincingly and possibly en route to winning the U-18 FA Youth Cup is a prime example of such transformation.
Players like Ruben Loftus Cheek, Dominic Solanke, Izzy Brown, Charly Musonda, Nathan Ake etc. have led our youth team to many glories in these past few years.
Managerial stability, which was the other reason touted for the lack of graduates in the first team doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore, with “the special one” promising many more years to this club. So, what’s the wait then?
Is this the time we are going to see the youth’s get integrated into the first team set-up? Will we finally see the likes of RLC, Solanke in the Blue shirts? Apparently, Mourinho was asked the same question too, and here’s what he had to say:
“From that team that won the UEFA Youth League, four belong to my squad. Four are my players, first-team players who train with the first-team every day and develop with the first-team. When they’re not selected with the first-team – and normally they’re not selected – they go back and play there.”
“Their development is easier when they’re training every day with the first-team, doing pre-season, playing some matches, playing 20 minutes or half an hour in an FA Cup match, Capital One Cup match, even a Champions League match or in the league now and again.”
“They belong to a process. I can’t have 10 of these young players in my squad but I can have three or four and we did that with Loftus-Cheek, Brown, (Andreas) Christensen and (Nathan) Ake – and Solanke a few times.”
Sure, we are definitely not Arsenal now are we? As Jose said we can’t have too many youth players in the first team at the same time. This must be understood that although these players might be doing wonders at the youth level; the real deal is a completely different kettle of fish. Not everyone can repeat their success at the highest level. And with a team like Chelsea, who actually challenges on all front, the road to first-team is surely going to be a difficult one for most of these graduates.
But surely there’s some ray of hope! Right Jose?
“Next season, Ruben will not be a kid in the development process. He will be a first-team player, absolutely ready to play and compete. And we will do the same with two or three or four players.”
“Some of the older ones will go on loan to play every game in the Championship or the Premier League, even abroad. And we will bring some of the younger ones into the process. But to have them all at the same time in the first-team squad is hard.”
“I cannot have a squad of 10 men and 10 kids. I must have a squad like we have now of 16 or 17 seniors and three or four kids.”
So, there you have it! As Jose has been saying all season, RLC will be the one who will complete his transformation from the Youth Ranks to the first team next season. Christensen, Solanke and Brown will also possibly challenge for minutes in the cup games and will eventually get integrated slowly into the first team.
As a fan, we are used to seeing all these promises being proven false at the end of the day, so it’s fine to be a bit of a pessimist. But, with Jose clearly taking a genuine interest in the youth set-up, maybe have a bit of a patience as a fan? For the next few seasons will surely determine as to where we stand with these Youth talks!
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Edited By: Ankur Bhatt