The biggest and most persistent myth following Roman Abramovich-era Chelsea is that we are in some way wasteful with our youth prospects, and prefer to buy in players rather than promote from within. This myth, a rather dangerous and insidious one, is simply not based in reality.
Even the oft-repeated fact that the club haven't produced a player since John Terry established himself a dozen years ago isn't true. A certain young man who made his Champions League debut in Munich would certainly disagree with you.
Lazarus Sam Hutchinson would as well.
Even though the common knowledge that Chelsea don't give youth a chance is certainly not true, we don't have the greatest record either. There are several reasons why that is, which I will explore after the jump.
The first and most obvious reason for our poor return on academy investment to date is, in fact, the takeover by Roman Abramovich. Before the Russian billionaire decided to bring his
talents cash to Southwest London, Chelsea, despite a period of increased success in the late '90s, were essentially a mid-table team. The way a mid-table team deals with youth is very different to the way a team expecting to challenge for league wins does.
In the old days, we could afford to give a youngster a chance because buying in every player simply wasn't an option for us. For a club on budget, and not under pressure to challenge, giving an academy prospect a chance before splashing out is prudent business. A club for whom results are the most important thing, however, can't put those results at risk in the process of determining whether a youth player is good enough.
Along with our ability to trial youth players, the quality required in our players has drastically changed. To maintain success, a club needs the best players it can get. As I said, Chelsea were essentially a mid-table team, and, as such, were unlikely to attract the kind of youth who were likely to become players of the standard required to be stars at the new-look Chelsea.
The second big reason, which is somewhat related to the first, was that our youth facilities weren't up to the standard needed to polish the top youths, were we to get them, into gems anyway. The first team has been training at Cobham since 2005, and, as such, it's easy to forget that the reserves and academy didn't make that move until 2008, just four years ago.
Of course, Abramovich had somewhat improved the youth facilities and staff before that, but until they were brought into to Cobham, it was unlikely to have the desired effect of producing future Chelsea stars. The fact that, in the four years since Chelsea moved all its teams to Cobham, we've moved from a position of having two or three hopefuls for the first team, to a host of players expected to make the transition shows the power of having a world-class academy.
The third factor, which I touched on earlier, is that our past youth products haven't been good enough to be kept on at Chelsea. The biggest names among our past academy products, and the ones most commonly used to bash our youth system, like Fabio Borini, Scott Sinclair, Michael Mancienne, Miroslav Stoch, and Gökhan Töre, aren't Chelsea quality. The best, newly-signed Liverpool striker, Borini, might be a squad player here, but we didn't let him go. We offered him a new deal, and he refused it in favour of a move back to Italy.
The best way to judge the wastefulness of an academy is to see how many of their products are playing at top clubs across Europe. Can you think of a Chelsea product currently starring, or even playing, for a top side that isn't Chelsea? Again, Borini, is the closest, at Liverpool, but, as I said, he left us. In any case, Liverpool are clearly not the club they once were, having slipped firmly into mid-table in recent seasons.
All in all, I don't think you can say Chelsea have been particularly wasteful with their Academy, or have failed to give deserving youths a chance. While it's easy to change the fortunes of a first team by throwing money at it, an academy takes a long time to do properly. We've been through all the stages of a nouveau-riche club, first by ignoring the academy altogether, building a beautiful facility, and filling it with expensive foreign youth before finally having an established academy producing youth of our own.
We're just beginning to enter that final stage now, as players like Bertrand, Hutchinson, and McEachran break into the first team. Even at this stage, none of them are guaranteed to make it here, but they look pretty close. Behind them is a host of great prospects, many of whom are expected to play a part at Chelsea in the future. It's probable that many won't but at least a few will. It's also not as if we've discovered a golden generation which will fizzle out, either. Every year, we bring in a new crop of prospects, and every year there are a few special ones.
To me, it seems like we've achieved a level where the academy can have sustained success and provide players for the first team. Partly due to FFP regulations, and partly due to a wish for self-sustainability, we've seemingly changed our priorities, and have given every indication that we're willing to give youth a chance. We have great youth, and if they're good enough, they'll get their chance. It's time to shut up about our academy being wasteful.