Jose Mourinho Must Rediscover Chelsea's English Backbone for Prolonged Dominance

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Jose Mourinho Must Rediscover Chelsea's English Backbone for Prolonged Dominance
ALASTAIR GRANT/Associated Press

Since his retirement from playing, Gary Neville has earned plenty of plaudits from neutrals with his frank views on football.

The former Manchester United defender has a growing reputation as a pundit on Sky Sports and often uses social media to air his views on the wider issues impacting the game in the modern era.

In April, he targeted the notion of homegrown talent, highlighting how successful teams throughout history have used a core base of indigenous talent as the basis of their dominance.

It's why Chelsea fans should be worried.

Jose Mourinho may have returned and Stamford Bridge may still be an attractive destination for some of the game's biggest names, but the Blues' English contingent is dwindling rapidly.

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With news last week of Frank Lampard's departure, failure to offer Ashley Cole a contract extension when his current deal expires at the end of this month will leave Chelsea with just two recognized first-team players from England: Gary Cahill and captain John Terry.

It's alarming.

Chelsea's success this past decade may well have been fueled by Roman Abramovich's billions, bringing in the likes of Didier Drogba and other foreign imports, but the biggest influence at Stamford Bridge has been the club's Englishmen.

At the beginning there was Lampard and Terry leading the way, with Joe Cole, Wayne Bridge, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Steve Sidwell, Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill later added.

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Sure, some haven't exactly been the success supporters would have hoped for, but in some cases they gave something much more important than what their performances could: identity.

Having a core group of players who understand the Premier League's culture and importantly that of the club is vital to any team's success.

They show their overseas teammates the values of playing in England, the culture behind even the simplest of traditions such as Christmas fixtures or facing minnows in the FA Cup.

It means something to the fans, too, giving them players to whom they can relate. Eden Hazard will always be popular, but he will struggle to acquire the acclaim Lampard, Terry and the Coles command along the King's Road.

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With Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, Glen Johnson, John Flanagan and, of course, Steven Gerrard, Liverpool are busy building their own English contingent right now.

The finest example in recent memory, though, is Manchester United, a club built in the modern era by Sir Alex Ferguson's insistence on blooding homegrown talent coming through the academy system or snapping it up elsewhere.

United enjoyed a 20-year spell of dominance in the Premier League, one that came to a depressing end when David Moyes took over the reins as manager last year.

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Ferguson built the core of his club around the likes of Neville, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, peppering their talents with other players from across the globe.

Sure, Ferguson's Englishmen—or Welshmen in the case of Giggs—were players of incredible ability that would have made his starting XI regardless of nationality, but England hasn't stopped producing their like, despite what we read.

Southampton's Luke Shaw is among the modern breed of England's future stars, while Ross Barkley at Everton is another.

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Chelsea have a few potential talents coming through the ranks themselves, with Dominic Solanke and Izzy Brown just two of the names who grabbed attention in the club's 2014 FA Youth Cup victory.

They need to be given an opportunity to flourish, while Chelsea need to be in the market for the likes of Shaw and Barkley to replace those who have seen Lady Time strike the death knell.

Chelsea are at a crossroads right now. Mourinho has been tasked with a job very different to the one he first took in 2004.

Dita Alangkara/Associated Press

Back then his remit was to make Chelsea a juggernaut, a ruthless glory-fuelled express train that chugged along to trophy after trophy.

He succeeded, with the Blues winning plenty even after his departure in 2007.

Now it's about rebuilding, and the decisions he makes now will impact Chelsea for the next decade.

Mourinho needs the next generation of Englishmen to complement the talents of his overseas stars. And he needs them now.

 

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @garryhayes

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