In a summer when Chelsea may end up making no major signings, be that at striker, midfield, or right back, perhaps we can once again dip into the seemingly endless pool of talent from the Academy to help reinforce the squad, avoid the traditional post-trophy complacency dip, and compete for titles on multiple fronts, including in the league.
And while most headlines have been concerned with departures and the constant threat of a supposed crisis in our youth development, there are several who are hovering right on the fringes of the first team, with perhaps an actual chance of earning a first-team spot in preseason.
One of those is Dujon Sterling — or at least I’d like to believe that he is one of them — who’s battled his way back from a major injury to remind us all that not so long ago, he was rated ahead of and higher than Reece James, even. Still just 21, Sterling (no relation to Manchester City’s Raheem) burst onto the scene back in 2017, making two senior appearances for Antonio Conte’s Chelsea as a 17-year-old, and being seen as a potential successor to Victor Moses, combining superior technical and physical attributes in a dynamic right wing-back position. With Thomas Tuchel utilizing a similar 3-4-3 structure, Sterling could prove useful indeed.
Sterling himself sees Tuchel’s tactics as a great fit as well.
“It’s good to be back. I’m really happy. [...] I’m still working on getting back to the fitness levels I had before, but I feel like I’m physically stronger than I was before I got injured. More powerful, stronger, quicker, so in that aspect it’s been good [...] I’ve been working on those things with the coaches at Chelsea and even in the gym by myself when I’m away from the club. I’ve been putting in the work to get stronger, because I know where I need to be at to be able to compete at first-team level.
“I’ve learned a lot, especially about how the gaffer works and what his footballing philosophies are. It’s good to get that into my brain and try to implement it into my game as well. Obviously it’s something new for me that I’ve never experienced before, because every manager is different. I think the way that he plays suits me a lot and I like his style of play.”
-Dujon Sterling; source: Chelsea FC
Pathways from the youth team to the first-team have become a bit more overgrown once again since the summer of the transfer ban, perhaps unsurprisingly. The paradigm shift we saw during that time of good-vibes-only may not have been as strong as we might have imagined. Still, Chelsea have a fantastic chance to keep to the welcome m.o. of only spending money on the best of the best, and utilizing the Academy to fill out the rest of the squad.
Keeping the likes of Sterling (who has just one year left on his current contract), Loftus-Cheek, or Gallagher could be some of the best business we do all summer (and future summers as well, giving realistic hope to those coming through next).