Chelsea collected their third FA Youth Cup in five seasons with a resounding second-leg comeback at home to Fulham on Monday evening. The 5-3 (7-6 on aggregate) win meant Chelsea improved on last year's final defeat to Norwich and confirmed their place as the one of the finest academies in England.
Despite collecting trophies, Chelsea have failed to produce a single regular first-team player from their development program since John Terry made his debut in 1998.
Admittedly, Ryan Bertrand collected a European Cup winner's medal and Josh McEachran made his debut under Carlo Ancelotti at the tender age of 17, but with both being sent down the memory hole that is Chelsea's loan policy, it is safe to say that their futures do not lie in the Blues' first team.
Managerial instability is rarely conducive to a productive youth system. A coach is unlikely to risk unproven players if his job in on the line. As such, Chelsea have not enjoyed ideal conditions to blood promising youngsters in recent seasons. With Jose Mourinho safely installed at Stamford Bridge, the time is right to look to the academy.
Fortunately for the Portuguese, Chelsea's academy has produced a uniquely talented generation of players. Of course, titles at the youth level do not necessarily imply first-team quality, but several of coach Adrian Viveash's champion youth team do possess sufficient promise to warrant consideration for the senior side.
Perhaps the most promising is their captain, Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The 18-year-old, built like Yaya Toure, made headlines in 2013 when his extraordinary wages became public. Despite his notoriety, Loftus-Cheek has yet to make an impact with the senior squad.
In the first leg of the final, Loftus-Cheek was breathtaking. His stature is immediately striking, but it was his combination of poise and speed—both of foot and of mind—which truly made him stand out.
Cycling between his main holding position and a role higher up the pitch, he confounded Fulham’s defence, and although he was unfortunately injured in the second leg, he was still able to produce a few moments of magic. He possesses a rare combination of skills and, properly nurtured, has seemingly unlimited potential.
A not-as-high-profile—yet no less promising—member of Chelsea’s Cup-winning team is central defender Andreas Christensen. A Danish under-21 international at 17, the now-18-year-old Christensen is staggeringly talented.
Elegance and poise are two attributes which simply cannot be taught—Christensen possesses both. To watch him in the second leg of the final at Stamford Bridge was a joy. As players were flying into tackles and misplacing passes all around him, he was calm, and his interventions were crucial. His runs from defence produced panic among Fulham’s defence, and his goal-line clearance with a 6-6 aggregate score was decisive.
Already a star in his own country, it cannot be long before Christensen makes an impact in England.
Charlie Colkett, just 17, may be a surprise inclusion to some. He comes without the headlines of Loftus-Cheek and the international pedigree of Christensen, but to those who watched the two legs of Chelsea's triumph, he simply must be included.
His desire and resilience were decisive. He may lack the flashy skills of some of his team-mates, but his all-action display—and his cross for Dominic Solanke’s winning goal—hint at a John Terry-esque sense of occasion, which demands his inclusion.
Jose Mourinho has been reticent to promote from within at times in his managerial career. But as with Raphael Varane at Real Madrid, he has also shown a willingness to accept that "good enough is old enough." If he can embrace that spirit again, this group of talented youngsters could reverse the trend of Chelsea's academy and make a real impact on the first team.
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