Is that headline a touch hyperbolic? Maybe, maybe not. The fact that the answer is not a resounding no is already amazing. Ethan Ampadu, after all, is barely a month past his 17th birthday. Earlier this season, he just missed becoming the seventh 16-year-old player in Chelsea history*, making his debut six days after his birthday. On Wednesday, he became one of the youngest starters ever, playing the full 90 in midfield alongside seasoned internationals Danny Drinkwater and Cesc Fàbregas, and not looking out of place one bit — or at least not more than his massive hair made him stand out from the rest.
Looks like David Luiz, plays like Mikel was a common refrain echoed in the halls of WAGNH Towers, with the youngster exhibiting plenty of confidence, skill, fearlessness, and most impressively, tactical sense at such a ridiculously young age.
It’s easy to get carried away of course. Ten years ago, a 16-year-old Michael Woods made his Chelsea debut, playing twice in the FA Cup before injuries, circumstance, and just the lottery of youth development consigned him to a career in the lower leagues (he’s been at League Two Hartlepool United the last 3+ seasons). Three years ago, a then barely 17-year-old Dominic Solanke became Chelsea’s youngest ever player in the Champions League, before that whole situation turned radically sour, resulting in his transfer to Liverpool last summer without ever making another appearance for Chelsea.
The point is, nothing is guaranteed at 17. But a good start is a good start and Ampadu’s Chelsea career is off to a tremendously good one. What the future may hold, no one knows. For now, this is pretty cool.
"I think this type of game the young players are improving. To see Ampadu tonight is important. If we have patience we have young players we can work to improve them and the team to give them more opportunities. We must have a lot of patience and work everyday. The players want to improve. I am very happy with them in the training session."
-Antonio Conte; source: Football.London
The youngest ever Chelsea player is Ian Hamilton (16yrs, 138dys), who made his (scoring!) debut against Spurs in March 1967. He would go on to make just 5 appearances (3 starts), all in that season, before leaving for Southend, then Aston Villa, where he’d make over 200 appearances.
The five other 16-year-old Chelsea debutants are: Michael Harrison (April 1957 debut), Kingsley Whiffen (May 1967), John Sparrow (March 1974), Tommy Langley (November 1974), Michael Woods (January 2007).
The youngster Chelsea player to ever play Champions League football is Dominic Solanke (Josh McEachran is the youngest starter), both 17. The youngest Chelsea player in the Premier League proper (i.e since 1992) is current U18 head coach Jody Morris who made his debut in 1996 aged just 17 years and 43 days.
(Most of this information comes from the essential Chelsea: The Complete Record, which you should probably own a copy of.)