Chelsea fans have long carried around the "home-grown talent" chip on the shoulder. It's frustrating when fans of others clubs flaunt their youth products and ask - along with the adoring media - why all our talent seems to be out on loan. What's more frustrating is that the stock reply of "John Terry" is expiring. We have one, maybe two, more years left but then it really does become: hang on, when are we going to see our home-grown talent making it into the first team again?
Importantly then, Chelsea's youth policy is at the forefront of discussion at the moment and, crucially as I will argue below, it is not just born out of blind desperation but instead actually stems from the horse's mouth. Jose Mourinho has fuelled the flames over the course of the season and that leaves us with some interesting points to consider. This is not about whether we believe what he is saying but rather about the implications of his words.
In short, you cannot help but feel next season could be the most significant in terms of establishing whether Chelsea's academy is genuinely there to promote youngsters into the first team and whether we have a manager, board and owner committed to that journey or whether it serves solely as a talent factory but for the benefit of other clubs. The reason I say this is because Mourinho has been very bold in his words on the state of the Chelsea academy and his promises for next season.
Back in December, in typically brash fashion, he declared:
If you don't bring kids through the academy, the best thing is to close the academy. If the kids are not good enough or the work not good enough and you don't bring kids up, then close the door and use the money to buy players.
During pre-season, on the subject of Izzy Brown, Dom Solanke and Lewis Baker, three of our brightest English stars, Mourinho said he would blame himself if they weren't playing for club and country in a few years' time:
They will be Chelsea players. And when they become Chelsea players, they will become England players, almost for sure.
More recently, on a very public stage in front of millions of viewers, Mourinho went to great lengths to show everyone that Chelsea's best young players are part of the wider group now through encouraging Andreas Christensen and Izzy Brown to lift the Capital One Cup before even he did.
More recently still, with regards Ruben Loftus-Cheek whom we saw making his Champions League bow during the Group Stages, Mourinho had this to say:
Loftus-Cheek is to stay and I think to stay and to play ... I think next year to play, not just to stay. Stay and play...you don't have this kind of talent every couple of years.
It is completely understandable that many Chelsea fans read this, think back to the similarly high-praising comments Mourinho made about Nathaniel Chalobah (currently undergoing his 5th loan spell since August 2012) and dismiss all of it, everything, as just more hot air. That is fine because for me the key point here is not whether Chelsea fans feel they can take his word as red or not. The key is that for the first time in a long time, we have something to measure our youth policy against. Mourinho has very clearly stuck the markers in the ground and he - and the academy - must now live and die by those.
From this point, it is not unreasonable to demand one of two outcomes: One, Mourinho stays true to his word and the club's supposed renewed youth strategy and we see Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and others, getting some meaningful game time. Or two, the club admits that the pressure for instant and continual success is simply too high to experiment with inexperienced players and we close what is a very costly academy set-up.
Of course the latter would be a great shame for every Chelsea fan desperate to see the next youth product grace the first team pitch and have a chance to become a great. In reality, though, life without the academy would be much like life over the past 10 years anyway. There is no point it continuing if we don't see any end product and it is not as if the club is awash with profits from selling academy players on. If anything, we have had far more success in that department buying young players from Europe or further afield and moving them on after a year or two at an inflated rate.
Anyway, if anything, perhaps the greatest shame has been drifting along for 10 years in the vague world of Chelsea's youth policy, chip firmly on shoulder but with no end in sight. Now, at least, we have markers in the ground and two very definitive paths to go down. We're at the crossroads now so it's over to you, Jose. You have been brave enough to say it, now we're watching ... and waiting for you to deliver, one way or the other.
-- Alfie Jones, a Freelance Assistant Producer presently working for BT Sports. Follow him on @everydaypundit