The official site has an interesting article on how the Academy did last season. It's worth reading on its own, but I wanted to direct everyone to a passage tucked away at the end. The investment that Chelsea's have made into the youth program has been met with equal parts joy and derision -- joy that the youngsters are playing at the highest level the club has ever seen, derision that all of the talent and investment in the world has failed to create a first-team player -- so perhaps it's worth understanding what Neil Bath, our head of Youth Development, is trying to achieve:
The ultimate is getting players ready for senior football. We know that a high percentage of players experience loans before playing in the Premier League, with a few perhaps jumping straight into the first team squad.
It’s so important that those who are now starting to break into senior football realise they are still very much on the first step of the ladder in their careers. My personal view is that you can’t think you’ve made it as a professional until you’re reaching 100 starts in senior football at a decent level, so we all know there’s still much work to do.
Some of our Academy players may have been at the club for 10 years now but what we’re learning is that realistically it’s a 15-year project from them signing as eight-year-olds to senior football. We’re putting in all the processes and planning required to take us forward so that we don’t stand still. In terms of our current success, we realise there’s still a lot to do and we have to plan to go again.
It's been somewhat amusing watching the story move from a 10-year project five years ago to a 15-year one now. While nobody doubts that Chelsea have a superb youth setup, we're still missing that bridge between the academy and the first team. If the goal is to get the kids playing for the seniors, there's not a whole lot of evidence that we're genuinely moving towards it.
That doesn't invalidate all of the hard work Bath and co. are doing with the academy, of course. But it's a good reminder of just how difficult this business is. I think Chelsea are on the right path with the academy. That said, we still have a long, long way to go to the dream of developing genuine stars.