Last week, Chelsea added six new professional contracts to their books. Understandably with all the latest shiny transfer rumors floating about, this passed without much fanfare. The fact that they were already Chelsea players didn't help either.
The six I'm talking about are, of course, the youth players who signed their very first professional contracts. They are, in alphabetical order: Nathan Ake, Lewis Baker, Alex Davey, Adam Nditi, Anjur Osmanovic, John Swift. Ake, Baker, and Swift signed three-year deals, while the others signed for two years. Nditi called it "massive yo". Couldn't have put it better myself. Tremendous achievement for all involved; congratulations!
Around the same time, Chelsea also announced the intake of 17 new first-year scholars into the Academy. Graham posted a video last week that ran through all the "new" faces - if you haven't watched it, do so now! Calling many of them "new" is a bit erroneous, of course, especially as the likes of Islam Feruz have already made a big impact.
With only four players graduating from the Academy (Jamal Blackman, Todd Kane, Amin Affane, Lucas Piazon), both the U-18s and the U-21s of Chelsea will be operating with larger squads. Motivated by EPPP, the revised U-21 national structure, and the NextGen Series (U-19), the larger squads have all the youth coaches excited. Dermot Drummy even claims that it might keep a few more players at home, rather than out on loan:
We have a lot of players in our squad at the moment and all will be competing for their places so it is a really exciting season. Hopefully it will keep here the boys we deem our best talent. One or two will go on loan but predominantly we will keep our group together.
But back to the six from the top. If you followed the Youth team during the exciting and highly successful Cup run last season, most will already be familiar to you. If not, hit the jump, and we shall take a closer look.
NATHAN AKE (HOL, D/DM)
He of the Ruud Gullit hair-do (NOT the David Luiz, people, let's get this straight - although their play-styles can be eerily similar), marshaling both the Chelsea Youth defense and his country's back-to-back U-17 European Championship winning side. Probably the brightest defensive prospect in the system not named Chalobah. Feyenoord was none too happy when we whisked young Nathan away and we saw this season exactly why. Strong, technical, comfortable with the ball, both as a defender and as a holding midfielder. Has 4 Reserve team appearances to his name as well.
LEWIS BAKER (ENG, MC)
One of the biggest surprises, best developments of the 2011-12 Youth season was Lewis Baker. His partnership with John Swift in the double pivot played a key role in the Youth team's success. His supreme confidence, on display for all to see in the FA Youth Cup penalty shootouts, was just the cherry on top of his versatility and eye for goal from midfield. Vision of a younger Lampard; may his parabolic rise continue.
ALEX DAVEY (ENG, DC)
A no-nonsense central defender in that classic, English mold. That makes him a wee bit unspectacular and not too quick, but he's been mostly solid when I've seen him. Has battled a few injuries.
ADAM NDITI (ENG/TAN, DL)
Hailing from Zanzibar, Nditi has been a fixture in the youth team for two seasons now (50+ appearances already). Yet he can be maddeningly inconsistent - at times the clear weak link in the team, at other times positively Ashley Cole-esque with his marauding, incisive runs up the left touchline. Twitter superstar. With the A.Cole succession wars brewing on the horizon, Nditi could certainly carve out a future for himself...but he's a bit of a long shot currently.
ANJUR OSMANOVIC (SWE/BOS, AM/F)
Bosnian by birth, Swedish by choice, not too impressive by nature. Has had an unfortunate time with injuries, which have limited his opportunities. We have a ton of talent in attacking positions at all levels of the club; Osmanovic certainly has his work cut out for him. A true #10, creator, even second striker, next season will be a make-or-break for Anjur, I feel.
JOHN SWIFT (ENG, MC)
Swifty is amazing. That is all. Youngest of the six. (I firmly believe he's a budding superstar, a modern, strong, box-to-box midfield force.)