The Player Development Blues by Steve Schmidt @SchmidtXC

Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

I don’t know if you all have heard, but Chelsea have a few players out on loan again this season. The Blues have been aggressively using/abusing the system over the past several years, signing talented kids from all around the globe, and often sending them out on loan before they spend any time at Chelsea. This strategy has applied to the academy, as well, as the Blues continue to produce some of the most talented youngsters in England, most of whom head directly out on loan without even making an appearance on the bench for Chelsea.

Clubs in England have always used the loan system, but with the advent of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations, Chelsea took things to an unprecedented level. Over the past few seasons, the Blues have sent enough players to fill out an entire squad to clubs throughout Europe, including an incredible 19 to Eredivisie club Vitesse Arnhem alone since the start of the 2010/11 season.

Until a year ago, none of those loanees had become first XI material at Chelsea, though some have flirted with the first team. Daniel Sturridge showed real promise after his return from a loan at Bolton, but the promise of more regular minutes at Liverpool was enough to turn his head despite Chelsea’s offer of more money. Ryan Bertrand and Kevin de Bruyne also seemed destined to become long term pieces for the Blues, but like Sturridge, decided to leave for smaller clubs who could offer guaranteed minutes.

The Blues finally look to have broken that trend, as Thibaut Courtois has claimed the starting keeper spot at Chelsea as his own, signing a new five-year contract that will see him stay at Chelsea for the foreseeable future. While the loan system has been extremely successful as far as Chelsea’s accountants are concerned, Courtois finally gives the Blues a legitimate, world class star who’s developed using the system. It’s not difficult to argue that said system has been a success based on that one development alone, and given the contributions that the club have gotten from some of the other fringe players they’ve uncovered, it’s not hard to understand why the Blues continue to look for young talents to and sell on while cherry-picking the best and incorporating them into the first team.

Jose Mourinho isn’t known for trusting youngsters, but his preference for a smaller squad has led to chances for quite a few young players to work with the first team. This season, a pair of loanees have returned to become part of Mourinho’s first team squad, with Bertrand Traore and Victor Moses both providing depth to the attacking unit.  For Moses, who can barely be counted as a youngster, it will be his second stint with the Blues (sandwiching two seasons on loan), while Traore would probably have jumped straight to the Chelsea first team had it not been for work permit issues.

When Chelsea first began heavily using the loan system, they seemed to have a clear strategy based on the nationality of the player in question. English youth would remain in either England, Wales, or Scotland, working their way up the tiers of the English game, hopefully leading to a spell in the Premier League, before being given a chance with the Blues. Players born outside England would typically head to continental Europe, working their way through the various leagues, often stopping in either Spain or Germany as the final step of their development.

Over the past two seasons, this thinking seems to have changed, with Chelsea seeming far more willing to send their English youngsters abroad, and arranging several moves to Championship sides for foreign youth that qualified to play there. Three of Chelsea’s most promising English youth internationals (Dom Solanke, Lewis Baker and Izzy Brown) will be spending the season in the Netherlands, a trend the Blues began several years ago when they sent defender Sam Hutchinson to the Eredivisie.

Over the next several weeks we’ll see many more announcements from Chelsea about players heading out on loan, as there are just too many talented youngsters around for the Blues to use them all. As some of these kids are finally starting to make the breakthrough into Mourinho’s squad, however, it’s an exciting time to be watching the talent that Chelsea have been assembling.


We Ain't Got No History's 2015/16 season preview was edited by Joe Tweeds and designed by Graham MacAree. If you've enjoyed the work of the authors who generously donated their time to this project, please share with your friends and consider supporting The Chelsea Foundation as a way of saying thank you.