Marco Van Ginkel Highlights the Failings of Chelsea's Youth Policy

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Marco Van Ginkel Highlights the Failings of Chelsea's Youth Policy
Sang Tan/Associated Press

Dominic Fifield reported in The Guardian on Tuesday that AC Milan are confident of sealing the season-long loan signing of Chelsea’s Dutch international midfielder, Marco van Ginkel.

The 21-year-old looks set to move to the San Siro alongside his Chelsea teammate Fernando Torres, who the BBC reports Milan have identified as a replacement for Mario Balotelli.

But although Van Ginkel’s transfer to Milan is not permanent, the loan deal looks set to spell the end of his Chelsea career before it even began. Van Ginkel’s mooted departure comes just a year after he moved to London from Vitesse Arnhem in a deal worth around £8 million.

Much excitement surrounded the Dutch youngster’s arrival at Chelsea.

Van Ginkel had been voted the best player under the age of 21 in the Eredivisie for the 2012-13 campaign. Then 19, Van Ginkel scored eight-goals from midfield in helping Vitesse to achieve a fourth place finish—the club’s highest league finish for more than a decade. 

These performances also prompted Louis van Gaal to hand Van Ginkel his senior-level international debut in a friendly against Germany in November, 2012.

Parallels between Van Ginkel and a young Frank Lampard abounded at the time of his arrival in London, and manager, Jose Mourinho, promised the youngster a starring role in his debut season.

"Marco is one of the best prospects in European football right now," Mourinho told reporters, per The Guardian, "I have been following him for a long time. He has great potential.”

How hollow those words seem now as Van Ginkel seems set to be shipped off and out of Chelsea having made just two first-team appearances.

Of course Mourinho never really had the opportunity to establish Van Ginkel in the first XI. The Dutchman suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury in a League Cup tie late last September which effectively ended his season.

Nevertheless, when one observes the experience of talented youngsters like Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku at Chelsea (again, promising players recruited from central European leagues for sizeable fees), it is very difficult indeed to regard the suggestion that Mourinho considered Van Ginkel a potential first-team player with any seriousness.

After all, if the Portuguese manager was so taken with Van Ginkel’s talents, why did he spend over £50 million in recruiting Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas as senior level midfield starters during the Dutch youngster’s absence through injury?

Indeed, the cases of Matic and Fabregas demonstrate well the fact that there are few things in football that Chelsea and Mourinho loathe more than developing young talent.

Chelsea signed Matic as a prodigiously talented 19-year-old in 2009. However, the Serb was barely given a sniff of senior-level football during his first two-seasons in England and moved to Benfica as a part of the David Luiz deal in 2011.

Matic, though, progressed rapidly in Portugal having been exposed to first-team football with Benfica, and Chelsea ultimately ended up re-buying him at a massive loss last January. A loss that could be averted if they'd used

Fabregas’ time at Arsenal, meanwhile, embodies the fruits that patience and faith in a talented young central midfielder can reap.

Cesc had a patchy injury record during his formative years in the Arsenal first-team and he was by no means a performer of any great consistency when Arsene Wenger blooded him as understudy to Patrick Vieira aged 17.

Nevertheless, Wenger maintained faith in Fabregas through injury and dips in form and was ultimately rewarded with three-seasons of some of the best attacking midfield play in the Premier League era.

This chronic mistrust of young talent constitutes Chelsea and Mourinho’s greatest failing in terms of transfer policy.

Van Ginkel’s Chelsea career seemed destined to go the same way as De Bruyne’s and Lukaku’s from the moment he was signed; one can well see the futures of Mohamed Salah and Kurt Zouma following a similar path.

Van Ginkel may well consider himself fortunate to get out of Chelsea before his career stalls completely under Mourinho; a failing Milan side could be a good venue for the Dutchman to rebuild his reputation.

But Marc Overmars’ dire warnings at the time that Van Ginkel turned down Ajax in favour of Chelsea have taken on a haunting prescience this week.

“We would have liked him to come to Ajax," Overmars told the BBC, "whether it is too early for him to go to Chelsea or not, I don't know.”

The former Arsenal and Barcelona winger concluded: “With us, he would have played a lot of games and played in the Champions League…the important thing for the player is that he gets minutes in the first team. Hopefully the deal goes well and he will get into the team."

It was clear at the time that Overmars thought Van Ginkel was making the wrong decision in moving to England and he was ultimately proved correct. One hopes that the Dutch youngster’s time at Chelsea stands as a warning to other emerging players in lesser European leagues tempted to choose petro-dollars over playing regularly.

Because at a club like Chelsea, it seems that it can only ever go one way.

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