This is the fourth entry in the new series dedicated to the individuals involved in Chelsea lifting the 2009-10 FA Youth Cup trophy.
EPISODE 4: Jacopo Sala
In what has become a common theme in this series, Jacopo Sala is another case of promise and potential never quite materializing for the club. Like others, he has found success elsewhere however. Life has a funny way of providing challenges and obstacles unforeseen.
The Chelsea Academy’s main goal is to cultivate top talent with the hopes of a pathway into the first-team. But what of the players who are good enough to continue through the ranks all the way to “graduation”? It’s hoped that the elite level of footballing education provided is enough to help them still make a career of it in football.
“I was young and it was difficult initially. I didn’t speak the language, I was 15 years old, without my family, without my friends. It was my first time away from home. So initially it was hard. Then, once I started speaking the language, everything became a lot easier.
“In this situation you have to grow up quickly, there’s other lads who are a couple years older, who are physically stronger. The mentality is very different to the Italian one, so you must grow up quickly and reach that level. I personally enjoyed the culture and lifestyle there, so everything became easier.”
-Jacopo Sala, April 2019
Sala arrived from Atalanta at the age of 15 in 2007 thanks to Frank Arnesen, who served as the chief scout and director of youth and development for six years. Sala was one of the scouting network’s most promising youngsters.
”Mr Abramovich is fed up that he has to keep paying millions and millions for big star players. There comes a stage where you think it is pointless to spend so much, especially when it concerns players that Chelsea could develop within their own system or within their own youth academy.
“He had to pay an absolute fortune to get players like Didier Drogba and Michael Essien. This is why he has asked me as a private scout to look out for top-class young players who will be the Chelsea stars in three years’ time.”
- Frank Arnesen, July 2006
In the 2010 FA Youth Cup final, Sala went the full 90 minutes, playing his usual key role in supporting the attack. However, his transition from the academy to the first team would not result in any appearances. He made the bench eight times in 2010-11 under Carlo Ancelotti, but his number was never called. Seeing his options for professional football limited at Chelsea, he would seek first-team minutes away from the club.
As for where it went wrong for Sala and Chelsea, most footballers a decade ago would find it hard to break into a team stacked with the likes of Ramires, Salomon Kalou, and Nicolas Anelka vying for minutes on the right midfield/wing. Chelsea’s first team were perennial title contenders, and even the academy’s most promising prospect, Josh McEachran, found minutes very hard to come by.
“I consider myself lucky to have just trained with some real legends like the Chelsea players. Then, I had other requests in order to get more playing time, as it was very difficult to find space at Chelsea, as we have seen with other players in recent years. Only now some youngsters are managing to play in the senior team. Chelsea are a great club with top level players, so it’s extremely difficult to break through. So even just training with them is, for me, an honour. I wanted to play, to show my qualities, and that’s why I left in the end. If I could choose I would have stayed at Chelsea.”
-Jacopo Sala, April 2019
Luckily for Sala, the man responsible for bringing him from Bergamo to London back in 2007 was now at Hamburg SV — and Arnesen was very interested in bringing him to Germany. In fact, Arnesen would go on to poach three others from the Academy for his new project, Jeffrey Bruma, Gökhan Töre, Slobodan Rajković, and Michael Mancienne, doubling down on his initial bets on them.
”Jacopo is a player for the future [and] has progressed through the Italian [youth] national team ranks. [Sala] possesses superb skills and has excellent physical attributes.”
- Frank Arnesen, June 2011
Unfortunately for Arnesen and Sala, their tenures in Hamburg would be short lived, with both departing in 2013. The future and potential Arnesen had seen in Sala had failed to come to light once again. While Sala had the pleasure of having a familiar faces like Töre in his new team, the two ended up competing for minutes on the right wing. Sala fell out of favor and was eventually relegated to Hamburg II, the reserve team.
Fortunately for Sala, he would experience a renaissance of sorts moving back to Italy, finding himself earning more minutes thanks to his versatility. At Hellas Verona, he deputized for Juan Iturbe on the wing and for our very own Jorginho in the center of the pitch. After three years in fair Verona, he moved on to Sampdoria in 2016, finding similar success as a squad player. This past season, at the age of 28, Sala joined SPAL, featuring regularly at full back and midfield until suffering an injury in December.
Even though Sala never progressed beyond the academy at Chelsea, he still holds the club, the Academy, and the development he received there in high regard.
“I have been following Chelsea ever since I left, it’s [a club] in my heart. I grew up there, I was young and I spent my teenage years there. So I always follow Chelsea.”
-Jacopo Sala, April 2019