Over the last three years, something fairly unthinkable has happened at Chelsea. We’ve finally not only given youth a proper chance, we’ve incorporated an impressive number of them into key roles in the squad. Just recently, for example, Ruben Loftus-Cheek became the fifth Academy player in those years to reach their 100th senior appearance for the club.
It’s been a paradigm shift some 15 years in the making.
When Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003, he not only invested untold millions in the transfer market, he also set out ambitious plans to revamp our youth and training setup. That long-term plan finally bore proverbial fruit in part by necessity due to our transfer ban in 2019, and in part by having the right people and players in the right places at the right times. But as Chelsea Head of Development Neil Bath says in a rare interview, it wasn’t all just down to serendipitous timing.
“I will always give credit and be grateful to Frank Lampard for showing tremendous bravery in trusting some of our young players at such a difficult time. The likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi, Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Reece James and Fikayo Tomori were all given opportunities, which they had earned and then took.
“Thomas Tuchel then came in and continued the progression of these young lads, allowing them to become established squad members and regulars in the team. He has talked a lot about the importance of the Academy at the club and has backed up those words with actions.
“During the transition from Frank to Thomas, it was purely merit that kept a number of the Academy players in the squad. Thomas picks the strongest line-up in his eyes, and we still have five Academy players on the pitch or in the squad at any given time, which is a tremendous achievement.
“Of course, some players will move on and that’s just football but this generates income for the club to then invest back into the club. We can only be proud that we are continually developing players deemed good enough to play for our men’s first team and elsewhere around Europe.”
Neither Lampard nor Tuchel can claim a “spotless” record, as it were, in this regard — despite handing out eight and five* (and counting) debuts, respectively — with the likes Tariq Lamptey, Fikayo Tomori, Marc Guehi, Valentino Livramento, and Tammy Abraham all leaving and finding immediate and notable success elsewhere. So that’s perhaps one area of improvement we can target, even if, like Bath says, sometimes that’s just football. Everyone has their own ideas, ambitions, expectations.
Speaking of ambitions, the Academy are not sitting on our laurels whether that be developing players for first-team excellence and life in general (at Chelsea or not) or continuing our trophy-winning habits even at youth level.
“If there are three words or phrases I can use to describe this [‘Vision 2030’] initiative, they would be progressive, innovative and go again. Within this initiative, there will be exciting projects and programmes going forward at the club which will focus on delivering elite development, revolutionising the way in which prospects are identified.
“In the next five to 10 years, a clear set of unique objectives will be set per year from a football and education perspective; essentially a performance plan which seeks to ensure we do not rest on our laurels and propels us ahead of the field once again.”
-Neil Bath; source: Chelsea FC
Lampard’s 8: Mount, James, Gilmour, Anjorin, Maatsen, Lamptey, Guehi, Broja
Tuchel’s 5: Chalobah, Vale, Simons, Soonsup-Bell, Hall