Why Chelsea Must Put Faith in Their Next Generation

John BainesCorrespondent IApril 11, 2013

Can these boys be Chelsea's next generation?
Can these boys be Chelsea's next generation?Getty Images/Getty Images

You may or may not remember that a couple of weeks ago I delivered my thoughts on how Chelsea should build a a title winning squad for next season.

Somewhat surprisingly for a side currently trailing Manchester United by 19 points, I didn't advocate a massive spending spree on a whole host of world-class stars.

Instead, there were suggestions to only purchase the right quality players in a couple of areas, with the rest of the pool consisting of the nucleus of the squad now and beefed up with the promotion of a few of Chelsea's talented academy players.

Since Roman Abramovich arrived 10 years ago the lavish expenditure on first-team players has had varying degrees of success, but over the same time a reciprocal amount has been pumped into developing future stars from within.

The Cobham training complex now rivals any training facility in the land, and Chelsea's expensive and extensive scouting network has constantly been recruiting some of the hottest prospects in world football.

But again, the spending has only had varying degrees of success. The Blues academy won the FA Youth Cup in 2010 and 2012 and were beaten finalists in 2008, but graduates have been too few with only Ryan Bertrand holding onto a slot in the seniors.

Names like Michael Woods, Tom Taiwo, Harry Worley and Sergio Tejera—amongst many others—are now nothing more than footnotes in the record books rather than vaunted members at the club, and the current roster is brimming with players such as Gael Kakuta, Jeffrey Bruma and Ulises Davila whose chances of making the grade seem remote.

The reasons why these players have never progressed to first-team standard are multiple. Were they the right purchases in the first place, or were Chelsea just desperate to recruit in numbers and for effect?

In the early days, routes into the seniors were blocked by a surplus of big names and since then managers have been walking a tightrope to keep their job in the immediacy, let alone plan for years down the line.

But like much that has come pass in the decade since Roman Abramovich took over the club, there needs to be an amnesty where what went wrong is forgotten and what should have gone right needs to be implemented.

That begins with the right managerial appointment this summer and some astute purchases to bridge the gap between where they are now and where they should be.

Supplementing that Chelsea need to finally pave the way for a production line system to allow a constant flow from the academy into the seniors.

At present the current crop of new Blues are arguably the strongest set the club have had for a long time and the past pipe dream of generating graduates is now a reality.

Although Dermot Drummy's Under-19's lost to Aston Villa in the NextGen final last week, the Chelsea youth are a fine young side with some prospects who do look capable of ending the long and fruitless wait for an inductee.

Most of you will already know about Islam Feruz, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Lewis Baker, but at just 16 years old Jeremie Boga and Connor Hunte are—in my opinion—the most exciting players out of the lot.

Their promotions maybe a few years away, yet but Nathaniel Chalobah, Nathan Ake, Lucas Piazon and Josh McEachran should all be part of the first team set up next season, and their involvement can only ease the divide between the second string and the big time.

But already there's an issue. Eden Hazard, Oscar, Juan Mata, Victor Moses and Ramires are all in or approaching the peak of their careers and will hopefully be part of things for a good while yet.

Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne were forced to go elsewhere for regular appearances and may not even be guaranteed game time if Chelsea insist on purchasing replacements they don't need during preseason.

McEachran was once in a position to make the breakthrough in 2010 under Carlo Ancelotti, but others blocked his way and managerial sackings meant faith was at a premium for those who needed it.

The constant loaning out of players has had a mixed effect with Lukaku admittedly gaining from the experience but can the same be said of Kakuta, Bruma, Van Aanholt and the rest?

Being farmed out to all parts may be beneficial for experience, but does it create a bond between player and club? If an individual is at a different team in a different country, is the desire to represent Chelsea instilled in them, or are they just playing to improve and put themselves in the shop window for when the inevitable call comes from base that they are no longer required?

For too long too many players have been left in limbo somewhere between being too good for the reserves and not quite good enough for the main pack.

It seems to me that the talent is there, but the methods of harnessing it are not.

At present, there's no need for some slots to be allocated by Paolo Ferreira, Yossi Benayoun and Marko Marin when wages could be saved and opportunities given on players there has already been massive expenditure to sign and style.

All campaign there has been an over reliance on Ramires, Mikel and Lampard to tirelessly work the midfield two whilst McEachran has been catapulted out to Middlesbrough.

Why has Fernando Torres been flogged to death when Feruz has been scoring goals at all other levels of the club for fun?

Barcelona again get it right with their way of promoting three "B" team players each summer to the first team, but in what's more than just a gesture, those players are then given games to prove themselves over a season or so.

The Catalans create a tangible goal for their kids to work toward. There is light at the end of the tunnel, a carrot dangling down from a stick. It's not a complicated practice, but one where the results are evident for all to see.

The brutal truth is that for all the money spent on the academy, the facilities, coaching, scouting and procuring, the output has been absolutely minimal. Bertrand aside, who else has even made a dozen starts? Excluding substitute appearances, how many starts have academy products made over the last decade? Now take out League Cup games, FA Cup ties against Scunthorpe, Macclesfield Southend and Wycombe, and what are you left with? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

The sight of the Chelsea team filled with academy graduates may be some way off—and will probably never happen— but there needs to be a watershed where a few young players are brought in and backed to do a job.

That's why when I was constructing my squad for next season, there were spaces for Nathaniel Chalobah, Nathan Ake, Lucas Piazon, Josh McEachran and Islam Feruz, because after all, we want these to be the next Terry, Lampard and Drogba, and not the next Bruma, Davila and Kakuta.

It comes down to faith, encouragement and patience, Mr. Abramovich.


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