The life of a Chelsea loan army soldier isn’t for everyone. The pay may be decent, Cobham is always there as a safe refuge when trouble strikes, but it’s a nomadic existence filled with uncertainty and constant change.
Some players still manage to seize the day, like Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Mason Mount. Some even manage to make the ultimate leap and establish themselves back at Chelsea eventually, such as Thibaut Courtois, Andreas Christensen, and Victor Moses.
Others decide they want no part of it. One of those was Dominic Solanke. Now there’s another, 19-year-old attacking midfielder/left wing Harvey St Clair. He’s a long-time Blue, having joined Chelsea’s U8 squad and playing all the way up the system. He’s won an FA Youth Cup and the U18 Premier League. Last season he played 17 times for the U23s, scoring three goals, with three assists.
But like so many other soldiers, he can’t see a path to Stamford Bridge. Unlike many of them, he’s cutting the umbilical cord early and taking his chances with second-division Italian side Venezia.
St Clair signed a four-year deal. We don’t know if there’s a buyback clause in it, but after getting burned by selling De Bruyne and Lukaku outright, one hopes that Chelsea have learned their lesson.
St Clair is clear-eyed about his situation.
“I’ll go out to Italy on July 7 to start pre-season preparations and I’m looking forward to it already, but it was a really difficult decision to leave Chelsea and one I didn’t take lightly.
“It’s been a very hard decision for me and my family. I first trained with Chelsea when I was six years old so I’ve been associated with the club for a long time now. They’ve done so much to help me over that period of time. They’re a great club with an unbelievable academy. I just feel like it’s the right decision for me at this point in my career.
“I really want to be playing regular first-team football if I can and with the depth of talent Chelsea have available to them then I just didn’t see that happening in the short term.
“That’s absolutely not a criticism of them – just a fact of life. It’s the level that they’re at.
“Venezia are really ambitious and looking to go places and, like I said, my focus is to be playing first-team football. It’s something I feel I need at this age.”
-Harvey St Clair; source: Goal.com
St Clair played for Scotland U21s in this summer’s Toulon tournament, losing 3-1 to eventual champions England in the semi-finals. His contract with Chelsea expires at the end of June and while the team were interested in extending it, the young man decided to seize the opportunity to set out on his own abroad. Zenit St. Petersburg and Watford were reportedly interested in him. If that interest was real, then presumably he opted for a second division club in Italy because he feels more assured of immediate playing time.
There’s no way to know whether St. Clair is setting a precedent for other academy players who face enlistment in the loan army. It takes courage and self-belief to make this kind of move. But at a minimum, it’s interesting to watch the evolution of Chelsea’s approach to growing its own players.