After a bit of a throwback summer, with the owner loosening the purse strings and Chelsea taking advantage of a weak, pandemic-affected market to turn heads and raise pulses by splashing out over £200m on new signings, many had expected the club to also revert to old ways in terms of shunning the youth as well (especially our own youth). It would’ve indeed been classic Chels to kneecap Lampard’s Youth Revolution™ by overspending on middling foreign talent.
As it’s turned out — at least so far — not only has the talent (young or old) brought been anything but middling, but they’ve meshed superbly with the homegrown stars of last season. Fikayo Tomori has been the only one of last year’s all-important Academy quartet to suffer significantly, though that’s really just continuing a trend from the second half of last season. The other three, Mason Mount, Reece James, and Tammy Abraham have remained just as important as twelve months ago, when we were forced to rely on them almost by default. (And Callum Hudson-Odoi is still recovering from his Achilles tear in many ways).
Of course, just as he’s maintained all along, Lampard wasn’t picking the youth just for feels and good vibes. And that is why they have remained an important part of the squad, even as the likes of Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, and Timo Werner have come in to stake their claims as well.
“I’m happy with all the new signings because every player has come into the team and made an impact in their own way. The balance of the new players and the players that were here trying to improve our standards has been great.
“I read some articles and heard some people saying “that’ll be the end of it and you won’t see these young boys again” but I always had a strong belief that the young players who have come through the Academy would compete again this year.
“Look at the performances of Tammy Abraham, Reece James and Mason Mount. Fikayo Tomori is staying patient at the minute, Billy Gilmour is back fit – I have absolutely no problem in throwing these young boys in. They’re a great part of the make-up of our squad so I’m really pleased their levels are rising.
“My job is just to pick the best team to win a game. Nobody is going to give me medals for debuts or Academy appearances. I have to try to pick the best so it’s up to the players themselves.”
-Frank Lampard; source: Chelsea FC
While true, one feels that the real test of whether Chelsea do indeed have improved the pathways from the Academy to the first team is only just beginning. It’s one thing to bring through a handful of players the one time. It’s an entirely different challenge to bring through handfuls of players multiple times (and still keep the high standards and trophy-habits of the first-team).
We can already consider the Mounts, the Abrahams, the Reece Jameses as successes. But their success, in a way, could make the task even harder for the likes of Billy Gilmour, Connor Gallagher, Armando Broja, Marc Guehi, and so on. We only have to look at the Tariq Lamptey situation to see that just because we have “no problem” throwing “these” young boys in, the production line of future talent is working at the same amazing rate as before. Will these new talents have the same opportunities as the lucky ones of last season, who arrived at the right time, at the right place, at the right age, with the right manager, in the right circumstances?
Hopefully the answer is indeed a resounding yet (there’s plenty of deadwood and disposable parts in the first-team still), but the proof will be in the pudding.