When Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea Football Club, he set out to create not only the best team in the world, but also a world class football academy, which, in theory could one day ensure sustainable success at first-team level, or at the very worst, provide a steady source of additional income in this increasingly FFP-ified world — even if the ridiculous amounts of TV and sponsorship moneys, which have made a global power out of every Premier League team, were to disappear one day.
Back then, in 2003, Chelsea called a (relatively speaking) run-down little shack and pitch complex named Harlington home. Actually owned by Imperial College, Chelsea had been training there since the 1970s and while it provided much better and more immediate access for local fans to feel connected to the club, it did not suit Roman’s ambitions. The club moved to Cobham in 2005, with the state of the art facility we know today opening fully in 2007.
While much has been made of the club’s perceived failures in player development in the 14 years since Abramovich kick-started this grand plan, the first full generation of Cobham youth is only now starting to come of age. Youngsters who joined before age 10 are just now getting into their early 20s. They are the best talent the youth system has ever produced, so when the likes of Dominic Solanke, John Swift, or, possibly, Nathaniel Chalobah leave, it feels like a much bigger deal than when the likes of Jon Harley (now a coach with the U16s), James Simmonds (now a coach with the U15s) or Joe Edwards (now the head coach of the U21s) didn’t pan out.
But behind this generation is a generation of even better players. And we’re not talking Lewis Baker or Tammy Abraham or Ruben Loftus-Cheek or Charlie Colkett; they are still the current generation (or somewhere between current and next). We’re talking about the likes of Mason Mount, Dujon Sterling, Iké Ugbo, Reece James, Trevoh Chalobah, Martell Taylor-Crossdale, Callum Hudson-Odoi ... the list goes on.
It's easy to forget players out on loan are getting older. Here are the #CFC prospects' ages at the end of this summer's transfer window. pic.twitter.com/884Q3GDAXX— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) June 2, 2017
It’s this latest generation who are starting to impress outside of the confines of youth games, with Mount, Sterling, T.Chalobah, James, (and Jay Dasilva) currently starring for England at the UEFA European U19 Championships.
On Sunday, England U19 beat Germany 4-1 to complete a perfect group stage (3 wins from 3, 7 goals scored, 1 conceded) and set up a semifinal date against the Czech Republic on Wednesday. None of the Chelsea kids who started got on the scoresheet (and Chalobah suffered an unfortunate ankle injury), but Mason Mount was the best player on the pitch and the provider of no less than three assists. Just watch this ball for England’s third goal, scored by Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon.
GOAL! @England restore their advantage as @RyanSessegnon scores.— Eurosport UK (@Eurosport_UK) July 9, 2017
What a ball from Mason Mount! pic.twitter.com/yewzED2uk3
Remind you of anyone?
Who cares about Fàbregas we've got Mason Mount— Sébastien Chapuis (@SebC__) July 9, 2017
Mount, who joined Chelsea at age six (6!), is widely expected to go out on loan already at just 18, with
Chelsea B Vitesse and the Eredivisie beckoning. While there’s always a chance the move is too much too soon, big things are expected from the teenager.
Mount will spend next season at Vitesse and his progress is certainly something to pay attention to. All the traditional no.10 attributes.— Seb Stafford-Bloor (@SebSB) July 9, 2017
By now we should know all too well that success at youth level or even success out on loan is no guarantee of a Chelsea spot, and while that’s often brought up as a failure of the system, there’s little doubt that all these players are set up for a great career in professional football — even those whose legacy at Chelsea will just be measured in the millions added to the bottom line (and that, if we’re being realistic, will be the majority’s fate). This is why they join the academy, even as they realize the magnitude of the task ahead of them. And behind them is probably an even better generation of talent, with, theoretically, an even better chance of success at Chelsea or elsewhere. (And that’s before we even touch on players who’ve joined at a slightly older age, like the pair of 16-year-olds Gilmour and Ampadu whom Chelsea signed just this summer.)
Where Mount, who signed a four-year contract in April, will fall on this spectrum of potential career outcomes is anyone’s guess, but he’s got a great chance of becoming the next great academy hopeful. For many, he already is. Now, we watch and hope.