Rhian Brewster, 18, is one of the most highly touted prospects coming through the ranks at Liverpool. After Trent Alexander-Arnold’s recently-concluded breakthrough season, which ended with him going to the World Cup with England, Brewster is among those tipped to make a similar step sooner rather than later.
However, like a fair few other youngsters you may have seen or heard of at the Premier League level, such as Declan Rice of West Ham and Eddie Nketiah of Arsenal, Brewster actually started out at Chelsea, only to part ways with the club at the age of 14. In an exclusive interview with JOE, part of a much bigger feature on the youth star, Brewster briefly discusses the process of his disillusionment with Chelsea.
>“There was nothing special or different about that day [whenhe decided to leave Chelsea]. It was after football, and as usual, my dad and I spoke about how it went and the areas I wanted to do extra work on. We then got talking about players who were doing well at the academy and ones that had done so in the past. I realised all the names we were mentioning hadn’t played for Chelsea’s first-team and there didn’t seem to be a chance for those still at the club to get promoted to the seniors.
“I spent lot of time thinking about that and I kept asking myself why that was. There were some unbelievable youngsters at the academy. It became clear that the problem was opportunities and that they weren’t being made available, even to guys we thought would 100 per cent move up.
“I thought ‘Okay I think I’m good enough, but do they actually believe I am good enough to eventually make it in the first team?’
“At the time, I didn’t see any signs that it was possible to push for that with any player there, so the question sort of answered itself.
“I didn’t want to leave because I’d been there for so long, I did love Chelsea and they played a big part in my early development. I was enjoying my time there and I made so many friends for life. I knew that it wasn’t about what was comfortable and the easy option though, but what was best for me.
-Rhian Brewster; source: JOE.co.uk
The time that Brewster speaks of was arguably the beginning of the maturing period of some of Chelsea’s best crop of academy players. Lewis Baker, John Swift, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Nathan Ake and Dominic Solanke had seen brief first-team involvement, although it’s certainly true that none had seemed close to breaking through to the first team. In the past, of course, there had been the likes of Patrick van Aanholt, Ryan Bertrand and Josh McEachran (two of whom are now Premier League regulars).
It underlines how some youngsters may view their pathway, or lack thereof, into senior football in England. While it’s important to remember that the amount of pressure on practically every club in the Premier League allows precious little room for testing youngsters in the first-team, clubs with clearer philosophies do fare better on a relative scale. Arsenal have Alex Iwobi and Hector Bellerin, Manchester United have Marcus Rashford and Liverpool, while having a few hit-and-miss youngsters over the years like Jon Flanagan, showed faith in Trent Alexander-Arnold as their primary back-up at right-back. Meanwhile, Chelsea can speak of Andreas Christensen, although there’s one huge difference between him and those mentioned above: none of them impressed while on loan, with Bellerin the only one to even go on a loan spell. Christensen, on the other hand, played two whole seasons in the Bundesliga and Champions League before even being considered as an option at Chelsea.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that the pathway for youngsters from the academy to the first-team is lacking. Another example close to home to demonstrate just that is Dominic Solanke, who left Chelsea for Liverpool in belief of better opportunities, like Brewster, but many years later in his development. He was made a part of Jurgen Klopp’s first-team squad and used primarily as a bench option, scoring just one goal all season. It was, and will be difficult for Solanke to carve a place for himself in a formidable attacking line-up at Liverpool and by all accounts, he’ll end up doing the very same thing Chelsea wanted him to do, go on loan.
There’s a highly talented generation of youngsters winning laurels and plaudits with the England youth teams and an ever-growing number of them are choosing to go abroad, where the pathways are arguably more favourable. Even Brewster was linked with a move to Borussia Monchengladbach before signing a new five-year-deal at Liverpool recently.
Young Rhian is not incorrect in thinking that youngsters do not get enough chances at Chelsea but it’s a far more deeply-rooted issue that spreads across all top-tier clubs in England, and threatens to do so in the Championship as well.