As the Premier League season resumes following the final international break of the calendar year, now with 100 per cent more José Mourinho once again, Chelsea also get back to the business of winning with kids.
And business, contrary to most expectations, has been quite good. The Blues sit third, one point ahead of pre-season title favorites Manchester City, and more importantly, with clear separation (nine points!) above fifth place. We will likely face downturns in what is still a very long season ahead, but so far so ... not too shabby at all!
But while the youth have taken most of the headlines, the veteran core of the team have been just as important, leading not only on the pitch but in the dressing room as well. The likes of Jorginho, Willian, and César Azpilicueta — to name the vice-captain, vice-vice-captain, and the captain himself — have stepped up every aspect of their game, increasing their commitment to and investment in the team, and taking just as much joy from the success of the kids as from the wins themselves.
Captain Dave has lead this charge from day one of the Lampard Era in the summer, immediately embracing his now official role as Captain, Leader, Teacher, and reveling in the palpable excitement around him.
“As club captain, you have more responsibilities, but it’s a joy to watch a lot of the kids. It has been a long path for all the kids to be in the first team and now I think they are getting the rewards that they deserve. I think we are creating something very good and I am very pleased. Hopefully we can keep going because we are a young squad and we can keep improving.”
“We never had this moment where we could have [so many] young players from the academy playing in the first team or breaking into the first team, so I think this is very exciting...”
Azpilicueta obviously credits the coaching staff for their faith, trust, belief in the young players, but no amount of opportunities can make up for a lack of talent — just as no amount of talent can make up for a lack of opportunities.
And while the season got off to a somewhat rocky start, Azpi kept the faith alongside everyone else.
“[Lampard’s] way of playing, I think, is very clear and the way that he believes in and trusts the young players is something that also is [a] credit to all of the kids, their quality, their mentality.”
“I know the quality we have in the squad, even if for some of them it could be their debut in the Premier League, in the Champions League, with their quality and what they have shown until now I was obviously very excited and I knew that the results would come.”
-César Azpilicueta; source: GQ
Azpi, nearly ever-present for the past four seasons, has seen even his playing time affected by the emergence of the next generation, but his own demise has surely been rather exaggerated.
With massive back-to-back away tests looming against Manchester City on Saturday and Valencia on Wednesday, we will need all the kids, all the olds, and all the rest to perform to their absolute best.