Young, talented and English. These words have been used to describe a plethora of players around different tiers of English football. Very little of these so called prospects have born the fruits they promised.
Prolific and English. These are the words that have caught on with the Premier League this season, with a young 21-year-old homegrown talent taking his chances and then setting the scoring charts on fire. That man is Harry Kane, now a full England international and an undoubted starter for cross town rivals at the White Hart Lane.
Chelsea fans have had their fair share of Young, talented and English. There was once a lad called Daniel Sturridge, who called Stamford Bridge his home. Since then, not so many. But this season, watching the Championship has given some hope. Again. Will it be a story we’d talk about for years to come? Too soon to tell. Let’s get on with what we do know, starting with the curious case of Villas-Boas.
Andre Villas-Boas was no ordinary manager during his time at Chelsea, treading between utter genius and pretty crappy managerial performances. Touted as the next Jose Mourinho after following a route similar to that of his compatriot by achieving the league and continental success with FC Porto. He was the youngest manager in history to win a continental trophy, Villas-Boas was the Messiah, to deliver Chelsea from their un footballing ways. He made his intentions clear with the signing of Juan Mata for 23.5 million pounds from Valencia. A diminutive creative midfielder with an eye for that final defense splitting pass, Chelsea were about to become the new sexy in football.
While most positions in his preferred 4-3-3 formation seemed easily allocable, Ramires as the tireless midfield engine, Romeu the defensive midfielder before he eventually capitulated to a long-term injury. Terry and Luiz as center backs with Alex relegated to the bench, Mata on the right of the attacking trident and Torres more often than not leading the line.
The main problem though was one young English striker in the name of Daniel Sturridge. The then 22-year-old had just come fresh from a successful loan spell at Bolton where he had proved to be good enough to make it in the big league. He had only received chances at Chelsea during the African Cup of Nations when Drogba and Kalou had both left for the tournament. Perhaps also when their main strikers: Torres, Anelka, and the two Africans were unavailable or in FA and the league cup games.
There were rumors of his discontent, and he was expected to depart most likely on loan but in the end, he stayed. Villas-Boas was quick to say that the only reason Sturridge was not in the team for the opening match of the league was because he had received a red card and would be unavailable for the starting three games. True to his word, as soon as the suspension was over, Sturridge came into the team although in an unfamiliar role as a right forward.
Blessed with the searing pace that could not be used in the center, Villas-Boas unleashed Sturridge in the same way as he had done with Hulk at FC Porto. While Mata worked his nimble feet on the left, Sturridge galloped past left backs to (more often than not selfishly) shoot or pull the ball back to a teammate. Sturridge proved to be one of the few success stories of the Portuguese’s time in West London.
Back to the future, the year is 2015, Chelsea finds themselves in a similar predicament, a young gifted free scoring left-footed English striker in the name of Patrick James Bamford. Bamford has gone from strength to strength over the past few seasons firmly establishing himself in the Middlesbrough starting team with 19 goals this season.
While the tally is amazing, it would be illogical to expect Diego Costa to be benched for Bamford. The Second choice place is firmly held by Loic Remy with the Frenchman having impressed despite having limited playing time. The third choice seems to be unavailable too with Drogba announcing earlier this month that he will keep playing for one more season. That is more or less up to Mourinho, who didn’t seem as confident about the Ivorian as about Terry’s future at the club. The safe choice seems to tie Bamford down to a long term contract and give him at least one more year of loan experience in the Premier League. However, Mourinho is quite the master of the unexpected, he might, like Villas-Boas, convert his striker to a wide forward having done the same with Samuel Eto’o and Goran Pandev at Inter. The evidence is certainly there.
Willian has beaten off competition from Schurrle, Salah and now Juan Cuadrado to make that starting spot on the right of the attacking trio his own. Despite his industry on and off the ball, Willian was acquired as an attacking midfielder but his stats are displeasing. His assists have come far apart while his goals have been almost non-existent. While he contributes a lot in counter attacking, moving the ball from our half and pressuring opponents, it would be better to have someone who will help Hazard and Diego Costa with the goal scoring burden.
Bamford has proven capable of beating a defender with pace, dribbling past them. Arguably as well as Willian does, and with his natural striker’s instinct, he will have more attempts on goal compared to the Brazilian. That right flank-left foot combination added to his affinity for finding the back of the net might prove to be a temptation too hard to resist. The question, however, is: is it time yet? What about Cuadrado? With 11 of his 19 league goals having been scored with his left foot, it seems to be the perfect position for Bamford at Chelsea. Besides, he has a knack for scoring goals early on in games. Having scored double figure opening goals this season. If that is not being decisive, I don’t know what is. It is a sure that the Championship and the Premier League are two different things, perhaps widely separated in terms of quality. One needs to be intelligent as well as fast. If anyone saw him taking on the goalkeeper against his old team Derby, they’d know he’s the real deal in terms of footballing intelligence. It is his next season that decides what the future holds for this English U-21.
Likely to feature for England U-21 at the European stage this summer, he has the chance to make a statement and force Mourinho into thinking of his place in the team. Perhaps cash-in on Remy? He is quite the nomad throughout his career and would be open to a switch for first team football. His push for a place can be aided by his ability to play comfortable one-twos with teammates. The flanks can suit him, given the pace he possesses. His calmness and composure as a finisher are tried and tested in the Championship, he just needs to keep doing what he does well at the big stage and sky is the limit. However, even if he isn’t in Mourinho’s plans for next term, he is certainly going to be playing in the Premier League. You don’t just beat full internationals and league top scorers to the Championship Player of the year.
With Mourinho having clearly stated that the only reason the youth weren’t given a chance this season was because of the pressure to win the title. Promising further that next season would be a better one for the academy players, Bamford might be one of the players who will benefit. The lure of first team football at a mid-table Premier League club like Everton or the Saints, maybe another proposition that might tempt both Mourinho and Bamford himself. On many occasions this season, the young lad has shown he’s a lot more mature and composed than many of his age. Do it well, and he’ll be certain of a squad position the season after. If this season was about Harry Kane in English football, the next might as well be about Patrick James Bamford.
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Edited By: Ojas Tripathi