The usual complaint from most fans, and a justified one at that, has been why we don’t see enough youth players in the Chelsea squad, despite the academy being one of the best in the world. Ever since John Terry, not one academy player has been in the squad for the long haul.
You will not be at fault if you think that the academy is actually the best at the moment. Apart from winning the Youth FA Cup 5 times in the last 7 years, the Chelsea youth products have won the UEFA Youth League back to back in the last two years. So yes, Chelsea do have an amazing academy with fantastic coaches and players.
A year back, it was Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who was being seen as the new youth star to take the club and the fans by storm. Jose Mourinho was happy to give him a place in the squad, but it was not easy for him to find a permanent place among the stars. Even after Jose got the sack, Guus Hiddink was kind enough to hand RLC his first Premier League start.
Although he scored two goals last season in further appearances, his performances were not very eye catching in all honesty. This season too, manager Antonio Conte has handed him 3 appearances but the 20 year old has not impressed enough. On the other hand, another player who has been fantastic whenever given the opportunity, is Nathaniel Chalobah.
Chalobah did not have it very easy when it comes to getting an opportunity in the team. In fact, the 21 year old had to go out on loan to 6 different clubs over 4 years to be even considered for the Chelsea squad. He had to make over 90 senior appearances on loan before making his debut in the Chelsea blue.
But all that looks worth it now, since he seriously looks like a future star. It did not take him long to prove that. His first appearance for Chelsea was in the pre-season against Wolfsberger, when he scored a fantastic goal. He also provided Eden Hazard with a lovely assist in Chelsea’s 3-2 loss to Real Madrid in a friendly.
That was enough for Antonio Conte to understand the potential the U21 England international possesses. And the Italian promptly handed him his first professional debut for the Blues, when he replaced Michy Batshuayi on the 79th minute in Chelsea’s 4-2 victory in the EFL Cup, where he played for the extra 30 minutes after the 90 minutes ended in a 2-2 draw.
His Premier League debut came from the bench too a week later, against Leicester City again, and this time it was special. He provided the assist for the third goal to Victor Moses, with an outrageous back heel one-two, just outside the box. That was Chelsea’s third goal, and Chalobah probably made the assist of the season.
He made further appearances this season, as he came on late in the 4-0 thrashing of Manchester United, and absolutely enjoyed himself, as was evident from his double nutmeg of Anthony Martial and Ander Herrera. The way he played, he looked like a pro, who has been playing in the Premier League for years.
Loftus-Cheek on the other hand, is having a hard time even making appearances in domestic cup competitions. With Chelsea now out of the EFL after a defeat to West Ham, it will be more difficult for him to get a match. Loan move looks like the best option for him right now. Nathaniel will tell him how beneficial that can be.
For now, it seems, Nathaniel Chalobah is the shining light among all the academy grads vying for a position in the Chelsea squad. And all youngsters must learn to be patient. Nathaniel waited for a chance even after 4 years on loan, instead of demanding a move away from the club. And today he is doing better than even Mikel or Oscar.