Chelsea Academy's unprecedented levels of success over the past decade are slowly making an impact at more senior levels of football, both in terms of the playing talent produced (though none yet for the Chelsea first-team itself as we know all too well) and the coaches who have grown up and developed right alongside them. Academy Director Neil Bath gave a recent interview that highlighted this process; Chelsea U18 head coach Joe Edwards' success is yet another fine example.
Like many of our homegrown talent in the Academy, former Chelsea schoolboy Edwards, just 29, is a True Blue, through and through.
"From a professional point of view, I want to achieve a lot in coaching, but anything I achieve at Chelsea is extra special for me"
"It's home for me. I came here when I was eight years old and tonight is even more special for me because a large group of those players I have been working with for a number of years. My first group I was in charge of as a coach, I took the Under-8s. Tammy Abraham, Ruben Sammut and Fikayo Tomori were part of that group. Josh Grant, Mason Mount and Nathan Baxter followed the year after, so for some of us it's been a nine- or 10-year journey working together."
-Joe Edwards; source: FourFourTwo
Edwards' path will now diverge from many of his players with whom he's worked for almost a decade. Most of them will graduate up to the U19 and U21 levels, some perhaps even heading out on loan in search of an extra challenge and the next big step in their development. Incidentally, that's exactly what Edwards himself will be doing, in moving to a loan player liaison role for next season while he completes his UEFA coaching certifications. The Chelsea loan system now being actively used in not just player, but coaching development, too!
"It's something I'm looking forward to. I'll be heavily involved with the loan players, so that relationship I've spoken about with some of these players, hopefully I'll be able to maintain it on the next step of the journey with them."
-Joe Edwards; source: FourFourTwo
One of Joe's very first tasks in his new role could be to deal with the whole Dominic Solanke situation. Having worked with the striker alongside many of the current stars of the Chelsea U18s and U19s when they were all quite little, Edwards retains hope of finding an amicable solution.
"The relevant people working as part of Dom's development programme will sit down and discuss what is best for him once he has finished up at Vitesse Arnhem. But he's definitely one of the boys we've got high hopes for and, hopefully, whether it's this coming season or further down the line, he'll be one [who makes his mark at Chelsea]. I think there are several who can. And we saw with Marcus Rashford at Manchester United that you won't see properly what they can do until you put him in."
-Joe Edwards; source: Guardian
For the kids, life as a professional football player (with all of its wonderful complications like contract negotiations) is only just beginning. Their strong roots in Chelsea will hopefully serve them well.
Ages tonight's #CFCU18 squad joined the club (1-16 shirt order): U8, U9, U8, U9, U13, U8, U8, U11, U8, U8, U11, U8, U13, U10, U14, U12. #CFC— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) April 27, 2016
This was a team with its roots in local development centres, locally sourced from ages five and six to joining as Under-8s.— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) April 27, 2016
For Edwards, whose ultimate aim is first-team management, the last twelve years have laid the foundation of what's sure to be a successful career. Just as with other Academy graduates, that future may or may not be with Chelsea of course, but after back-to-back FA Youth Cup wins (and back-to-back U18 Premier League "regular season" titles), Edwards has already written himself into the Chelsea history books.
"You can't give [head of youth development] Neil Bath enough credit for the way the Academy is run. We have been massive on culture for a number of years and the importance of strong, good people, as well as just football players."
"A lot of people will say that, and you can put all the quotes you want on your training ground walls, but the proof is in the pudding and our players represent what goes on every day and the work the staff do with them. The players have gone out and done us proud again and that is all credit to the staff."
-Joe Edwards; Source: Chelsea FC