The narrative on Chelsea’s Academy typically hinges on the success (or lack thereof) of its graduates and standouts making the transition to the first team. That well-worn message rings very different to this season however, as Frank Lampard has helped impart a monumental shift to public perception.
When Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea, it was clear that his intention was to bring success at the professional level. Back in the early- to mid-aughts, Chelsea made all the headlines for splashing money in the transfer windows. But the second priority was always to invest in the academy to foster long-term success, starting with the facilities themselves at Cobham, with the hope of producing stellar homegrown products for the first team.
Despite those intentions, Chelsea youth players had long been mired in the process of making the jump from youth level to the first-team. Outperforming your peers is one thing, but moving up a level and competing with professional adults is a challenge for most. We’re all familiar with the #banter about John Terry being the only real academy success story for the Blues for the past quarter century. Many have graduated from the academy and seen varying levels of success elsewhere, but only a select few have made a lasting impact at Chelsea.
Even with that gauge of success, it would be unfair to consider Chelsea’s academy as poor. It is widely considered one of England’s best, if not worldwide, and has certainly a force in youth competitions, especially the FA Youth Cup. Since 2010, Chelsea have made it to the finals of the competition eight times, losing just once, back in 2012-13.
It was the 2009-10 FA Youth Cup ten years ago that kicked off Chelsea’s decade of dominance. Led by manager Dermot Drummy, the young Blues produced a thrilling 2-1 comeback victory against Aston Villa in the second leg at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea had last won the FA Youth Cup twice back in 1960 and 1961.
Chelsea U18’s visit to the final in 2010 was actually their second in three years. They faced heartbreak in 2008, losing to Manchester City in a crushing defeat. New players had been cycled in, and the only player who had featured in the defeat to Manchester City was Jeffrey Bruma.
The success of the FA Youth Cup, brought a lot of hope that the kids were destined for great things with the first team. With every good intention, we wanted to speak it to be true, but life, as you know, has different ideas.
This is the first in a new series dedicated to the individuals involved in Chelsea lifting the 2009-10 FA Youth Cup trophy.
Jeffrey Bruma was at the time one of the club’s brightest prospects. He had joined at the age of 15 from Feyenoord. A standout player at the youth level, he was crucial to the team’s success, earning him a debut in the Premier League before the FA Youth Cup final. The following summer, he earned his first call up to the Netherlands squad as well.
Carlo Ancelotti earmarked him for success in the first team, which resulted in a few starts and appearances the following season across multiple competitions. Inexperience, however, was the theme that dominated those few appearances. Bruma was just 17 after all.
In early January 2011, Bruma came under fire for his performance in a 3-3 draw against Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge. Filling in for a suspended Branislav Ivanović to get the starting nod next to John Terry, Bruma appeared at fault for Ciaran Clark’s equalizer.
”At the end, we were dominating them again and then you saw that we scored a goal. After, I think we should’ve kept the ball and been strong in the marking because the guy from Villa had a free header. I was marking my man. I think everyone else was, or maybe someone forgot to mark his one.”
- Jeffrey Bruma, Source: Guardian
By the end of the month, Bruma was loaned out to Leicester City. Ancelotti, as we were reminded recently, was sacked at the end of the 2010-11 season, and Bruma’s Chelsea career got stuck in the ranks of the infamous loan army.
He would spend the next two years on loan to Hamburger SV in the Bundesliga until finally transferring to PSV in 2013. He would then spend the next three years back in his home country, winning back-to-back titles, before returning to the Bundesliga. Now 28, Bruma once again finds himself on loan, spending time at Mainz 05 from VfL Wolfsburg. He has not gotten the opportunity to add to his 25 caps fro the Netherlands since 2016.
Where it went wrong with Bruma at Chelsea isn’t immediately clear, though his versatility, a jack of all trades but a master of none, seemed to work against him. At Chelsea, Ancelotti eyed him as the next John Terry, a central defender from the academy to anchor the backline for years to come. However, his loan spell at Leicester saw him moved to the midfield. With HSV, he deputized as a right back. Combined with a lack of interest in being a part of the loan army and his insistence on first team football, Bruma sought a career away from Chelsea — a trend that has also been amplified in the decade since, but much rarer at the time.
Bruma had collected 20 starts for Mainz this season before the recent stoppage of play. He will have one more year left on his contract at Wolfsburg, though his future seems far from assured.