Chelsea FC: 5 Youngsters Who Will One Day Be Stars at Stamford Bridge
Every great forest was once just a bunch of budding saplings.
Chelsea has more than enough young saplings in its organization right now. So many that it has to perennially loan out two or three or four of them.
Some possible future Blues talents who have already gone out on loan heading into this coming English Premier League season include Kevin De Bruyne, who will sharpen his teeth with Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga, and Romelu Lukaku, who will play in the EPL with West Bromwich Albion on a season-long loan.
Another guy who may soon be loaned out again is Josh McEachran, who has reportedly received interest from Bolton and Blackburn as well as Middlesbrough. With so many new midfielders joining the roster this summer, finding time for the talented 19-year-old may be difficult for Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo.
So who are the best of the really young players who may have a chance to shine in west London in the next five years and when Petr Čech, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard are gone?
Not counting David Luiz (age 25), Ramires (25) and Juan Mata (24)—who pretty much established themselves last year and may be entering that infinite stage of stardom for the European champions—here are five young guys who I think really have a chance to make a name for themselves at Stamford Bridge in the next decade.
Gotta love the current Brazilian revolution in west London.
Oscar, whose full name is Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Júnior, is the latest summer signing and has been strutting his stuff for the Brazilian national team that faces Mexico in the gold-medal match in the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games today (NBCSOC, 10 a.m. ET/7 a.m. PT).
The advanced midfielder, who scored a hat trick for his side in the Under-20 World Cup in 2011, has evolved into a key cog for Brazil in these Olympics and may be a big reason the South American nation captures its first soccer gold medal at Wembley Stadium today.
Oscar has so much swag he is trying to claim the renowned No. 10 shirt for the Seleção—a number made famous by one of the sport’s greatest ever, Pelé.
Whereas the 20-year-old’s potential stardom for Chelsea is certainly not a foregone conclusion, his intelligence and versatility certainly make him one to watch.
With Mata showing his prowess at the central advanced midfield position last season for the Blues—Oscar’s preferred spot—finding the ideal role, position and playing time for him will be a challenge for Di Matteo.
But Oscar can also play on either wing. With Mata, Ramires, Marko Marin and Eden Hazard, Chelsea now possess incredible depth in the advanced midfield.
Besides wanting to secure the famous No. 10 uniform for his Brazilian national team, Oscar will be wearing another pretty historic number for Chelsea—the No. 11 jersey worn last by Didier Drogba.
If all goes well, Oscar could be a fan favorite before you know it at Stamford Bridge and a rising star in the Premiership. He has that much raw potential.
At 18, Piazón is still emerging from being a star on Chelsea’s much-vaunted youth academy into a regular on the first team. With Lukaku being loaned out on Friday, he probably slides up into the third spot at forward/striker in the club’s pecking order behind Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge.
Although he can also play as a winger or attacking midfielder, the young Brazilian may evolve into a goal-scorer up top or in the hole behind the striker and may see more time there with the new-found glut of talent in the offensive midfield.
Time will tell if Piazón can live up to all the hype, but this member of Chelsea’s next generation certainly has the skills and demeanor to be a future star and dependable goal-scorer, something desperately needed now with the departure of Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Salomon Kalou.
Some see the 23-year-old Marin, the first big summer signing, as a bit of a gamble. But if this German winger and attacking midfielder can progress at Stamford Bridge, management should get big credit for signing him from Werder Bremen.
Detractors will point out Marin did not make the German national squad for Euro 2012 after being on the nation’s World Cup side in 2010, largely because he missed a big portion of the second half of the season with a hamstring injury.
The jury is still out whether he can evolve into the “German Messi” at Chelsea. But Marin’s dribbling and passing skills and confidence are superb and playing with such a deep and talented roster should help him develop.
Marin, who was also pursued by Tottenham Hotspur, looked pretty darn good when he played in Chelsea’s tour of America last month. As this video reveals, his footwork and versatility should drive defenders in the EPL crazy.
A name maybe some blue-blooded Chelsea fans may be unfamiliar with, Thibaut Courtois may be Chelsea’s choice at goalkeeper when Čech retires in the future.
With Čech (30 years old), Henrique Hilário (36) and Ross Turnbull (27) fairly long in the tooth, finding a guy to fill Čech’s shoes will be quite an undertaking and a huge priority for a club that prides itself on defense. But this 20-year-old may just be the ticket.
Jamal Blackman (18) is also a decent alternative in goal but, for me, the Belgium international Courtois could emerge into a star in west London.
Chelsea has loaned Courtois to La Liga’s Atlético Madrid for a second straight season. Honing your skills against the likes of Barcelona’s Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo is probably a pretty good way to get better at your craft. Just saying.
Last year, Courtois was named Los Colchoneros (The Mattress Makers) starting goalkeeper and he was absolutely brilliant leading Atlético Madrid to the Europa League championship, posting a brilliant 15-1-0 (W-D-L) record in the tournament. Not too shabby.
So with Čech signing a four-year deal in May to stay with Chelsea, we may not hear much of Courtois in the immediate future. But his name is one to remember and may make losing one of the best goalkeepers on the planet a little less painful for both fans and management.
Another guy who has drawn comparisons to Messi, 21-year-old Belgian Eden Hazard is another one of Chelsea’s super summer signings and has also played extremely well in the preseason.
If Chelsea’s metamorphosis into a tiki-taka short-passing club has begun with Drogba’s departure and these summer transfer-window midfielder signings, Hazard is the essential heart of that evolution.
Spending £32 million on any player is quite a leap of faith. But with 20 goals and 17 assists for Lille OSC in France’s Ligue 1 last season and a gaudy 14 Man-of-the-Match awards for Les Dogues, I see Hazard as a guy Chelsea fans will fall in love with by Christmas.
If Di Matteo and management can find the perfect role for Hazard, with Mata, Ramires and Marin also in the mix, among others, he could possibly become the club’s leading scorer and take pressure off other guys like Torres, Sturridge, Frank Lampard and Mata.
If there’s anyone who is extremely entertaining to watch with the ball for the Blues, it is Hazard, whose potential as a great passer and dependable scorer is unlimited.
Despite the ''old guard'' label many pundits put on Chelsea last season, the future is indeed very bright now at Stamford Bridge.
With owner Roman Abramovich spending almost £60 million on players this season and names like Victor Moses, Cesar Azpilicueta and Edinson Cavani still being rumored about, it’s no wonder Blues fans are excited about all the soccer that lies ahead.
With players like Yossi Benayoun, Ryan Bertrand and Jeffrey Bruma still solid potential contributors and young guys like Ulises Davila, Nathan Ake and Adam Nditi in the fold, it’s a really good time to be a Chelsea fan.
So it has been an extremely good summer transfer window for the Blues, who face EPL champions Manchester City in the FA Community Shield at Villa Park on Sunday (FSC, 8:30 a.m. ET/5:30 a.m. PT).
We may someday look back at this as the time those little Chelsea saplings finally started to grow.
Follow me on Twitter: @KevinStott11