Chelsea's 5 Youth Players Who Could Be Future Stars
Throughout Chelsea's owner Roman Abramovich's 10-year reign, there has always been a willingness to complete some audacious objectives: achieve success domestically? Check. Win the Champions League? Check. Sign world class players and gain worldwide appeal? Check.
Build a successful youth academy modelled on Barcelona and Ajax? Not quite, but the signs of late are showing that the millions invested in nurturing potential stars from the club's base in Cobham could finally be set to pay off.
The Blues won the FA Youth Cup last year and in this season's NextGeneration Series, they reached the final before being beaten by Aston Villa in Como.
Defeat may have been difficult to swallow for the young Blues, but their time will come. Youth team coach Dermot Drummy would have been satisfied with the progress of his side, and there have been certain individuals who have shone.
Want to know who they are? Let's take a peek, shall we?
Lucas Piazon (on Loan at Malaga)
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One of Chelsea's most expensive youth imports, there is a reason why there were celebrations from both the club and Piazon's family when the move was rubber stamped.
The deal, worth £7 million up front with another £3 million due in add-ons, was put in place in 2011 to take Piazon from his native Brazil to Chelsea, with the player delighted to get his dream move to the Premier League. However, due to age restrictions limiting English clubs from signing players from non-EU countries until they are 18, the starlet spent the remainder of that period on loan at his club Sao Paulo.
Once he turned 18 in 2012, Piazon signed a long-term professional contract with the West London club and went straight into their academy team, where his performances earned him the award of Young Player of the Year.
Comparisons have seen him dubbed as 'the new Kaka' and in all honesty, the resemblance is uncanny. Piazon plays with a similar elegance; his touch and vision display the makings of a player with bags of potential, and his creative influence is undoubted, mainly slotting in behind the main striker.
And moving on loan to Malaga in January for some experience at a higher level, Piazon has made nine appearances at La Rosaleda, creating two assists for his teammates.
His time at the Andalusian club may be coming to an end as his deal runs out in June, but his career at Stamford Bridge has only just begun.
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Chelsea's top scorer in the Under-18 and Under-21 domestic leagues, it seems like stardom could be coming from the unlikely source of Somalia for the Blues in the next couple of years.
But if Islam Feruz continues his remarkable rise to the top, regular playing time in the Premier League could become something of a reality for the highly-rated 17 year old.
Signed from Celtic in 2011 for a nominal fee of just £300,000 after he rejected an offer for a professional deal, which left Hoops boss Neil Lennon dejected and angry. Considering the club had taken Feruz and his family under their wing and helped him gain asylum, you could say he has a point.
But he understood his reasons for leaving, and to his credit, Feruz has wasted no time in making an impression both at club and international level.
A hat-trick against Switzerland for Scotland's Under-19 team in a thrilling 4-3 victory saw Feruz hailed as a player who could "make an impression at full national team level" by Scotland FA's performance director Mark Wotte.
Many have called for the striker to be called up to the main squad after his goalscoring exploits at youth level. And while this season may be too soon for him to make the step up, 2013-14 could be an important year in his career.
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One of more improved players in the youth team at Chelsea, the influence of central midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek has become evident this season.
The promise that Loftus-Cheek has shown in the past has led to a number of agent squabbles over representing him, with the Independent going as far as reporting that the Blues offered him a deal worth £1.7 million-a-year to sign a professional deal.
The amount of money may be ludicrous as he is simply a teenager, but highlights the lengths Chelsea went to secure his future in West London.
His role as a deep-lying playmaker has seen him pull the strings for the Blues in both the Under-21 league and the NextGeneration Series. His performance against Arsenal in the semi-final was assuring and every touch he had was made with confidence.
Just one of several promising youngsters coming through at the club, Loftus-Cheek is viewed as one of those who can make the step up. Perhaps he may need to experience first-team football out on loan first in order to do that, but if Ryan Bertrand is anything to go by, he will get there eventually.
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Anybody who would have watched the NextGeneration Series would know that Lewis Baker looked different; something special. The decision by the organizers of the tournament to give him with the Player of the Competition award only reinforced that point.
Baker's two goals in the semi-finals epitomized what was a superb performance from the 17 year old. And his breakthrough this side, including captaining the side in the Final against Aston Villa, has shown his leadership abilities as an attacking midfielder.
He is the youth team's penalty taker, and his cool head combined with excellent composure has seen him score four times from the spot for the Blues.
Baker is a blue through-and-through, having been at the club since the Under-10s level. And with his impressive performances, could make the step up to the reserves and perhaps the first team?
Judging by his mature showings this season, the signs indicate he could do just that.
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When Nathan Ake plays, it's hard not to compare him to a young Ruud Guillt.
Primarily a center back, Ake is one of the few Blues' academy graduates to make the breakthrough to the first team, with the 18 year old making his European debut as a starter against Rubin Kazan.
Playing in the defensive midfield position, he had a solid game, and despite not having a lot to do, the Dutch youth international played the full 90 minutes, which would have done wonders for his confidence.
Although he stands at 6'1" What he has in height and strength certainly does not hinder his technical ability. His tackling and movement is what makes him a special player; a real presence in the center of the park.
Ake, who started his career with Feyenoord, moved to West London in 2011 after displaying some tremendous potential during the Under-17 World Cup while on duty with Holland, who were beaten in the Final by Germany.
Rafa Benitez has shown a lot of faith in the young starlet, including him on the bench for their FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester City. And despite not featuring, it shows he definitely has a future at Stamford Bridge.
He could become one of the very few youngsters to make the grade at Stamford Bridge, and that would be something Ake can be proud of.