Blues Talk: Chelsea and the State of Their Youth Academy
On Thursday morning, Wolverhampton Wanderers accepted 22-year-old Michael Mancienne back for his third loan spell at the Molineux. The Chelsea utility player has linked up with Wolves until the end of the current campaign.
Mancienne previously had spells at Molineux in the Championship during 2008-09 and then last season on their return to the Premier League, whilst earning rave reviews in the process.
It brings back the age old debate, if they haven't made it by the age of 19 they won't make it all. Clearly, in a team of the level of Chelsea, a youth player now has to be outstanding to have any sort of chance of becoming a regular in the first team.
The very nature of youth and reserve team squads is that most will not make it at the club they start at—especially if that club is one of Europe's most successful in recent years. If every years youth intake is conservatively 15 kids, over five years that's 75 kids—and if every one of them is brilliant, where are they all going to go?
Miroslav Stoch, an outstanding talent, may not have made it at Chelsea, but can we really say that he hasn't made it as a player?
Absolutely not, because at the age of 20 he has won a Championship medal in Holland, scoring goals along the way; has played 17 times for his country and has played in the World Cup Finals too; and he has now joined a massive club in Turkey in Fenerbahce, and will have earned himself a handy signing on fee and is probably earning well over £1 million a year.
At the age of 20, that to me indicates he is making his way very well in football, albeit not at Chelsea.
The same can be said of Mancienne, who is allegedly on £25k a week at Chelsea and will play another full season in the Premier League at Wolves. A while ago I watched him win his 22nd under-21 cap, where he was also wearing the captain's armband. He may or may not make it at Chelsea, but he is definitely making it as footballer and will earn himself some very good money along the way too.
A large proportion of the young players that Chelsea sign on pro forms will go on and have a decent career in football, albeit at a lower level than Chelsea, but only the very few can hope to become first team regulars at a club of the ilk of Chelsea.
John Terry is a prime example. He was out on loan for a few seasons but eventually came good and is now regarded as one of the finest defenders in Europe. However, for every John Terry there are hundreds of run of the mill, decent-ish players and many more thousands of not-so-decent players. Mancienne, for example, appears not to being up to Chelsea standards, but as he is out on loan there is time for him to do a "John Terry."
If not, I believe Chelsea are asking £5 million for him and if that happens, then it pays for the academy for a while during which we all hope our "Mr Gem" turns up.
Of course, there are exceptions, and perhaps one of the biggest was performed by Arsenal a few donkey years ago when they had a youth player on their books who went by the name of Andy Cole but was told he would never make it. As irony would have it, he just happened to end up a prolific goal-scorer at rivals Manchester United and leading the line for England.
Clearly, it's a selection process, and the hope is now that from every year's intake that one will make it. But even that is a big ask, as Chelsea's experience blatantly shows. Of the others, a percentage will have a decent career as professional footballers, and a few may even play in the Premiership regularly, albeit not as stars of one of the big clubs.
Chelsea already have on their books one of the most talented prospects in the world: Kakuta, who just a few weeks ago was voted the best player at the under-19 European Championships in France.
Kakuta was not in the squad when Chelsea kicked off their title defence at home to West Bromwich Albion, amid reports Champions League runners-up Bayern Munich want to take him on loan and put him straight into the team.
Sources at Chelsea say the Frenchman, renowned for his ability to dribble at pace and for a wonderful left foot, will be used more regularly this season than last, when he made just one start and three substitute appearances.
As with Stoch, hopefully Chelsea can sell one or two to help maintain the running costs of the academy, so that we can carry on looking for that odd gem to make it to our first team. Chelsea's stance is to try and keep the most promising guys until they are 22 and then decide what to do with them.
In this category at present are Mancienne, Cork, and Bertrand. Chances are they are not going to make it and this year will be the last with the club, but hopefully they can raise approximately £10 million by selling them next summer to premiership or championship clubs.
Coming up behind them with a chance of making it, in no particular order are Nemanja Matic, Jeffrey Bruma, Gael Kakuta, Josh McEachran, Fabio Borini, and Patrick Van Aanholt. All very promising, and hopefully two or three from this list will make it at Chelsea, but those that don't are still likely to have good careers, in my opinion.
Great things were expected of Scott Sinclair when he signed from Bristol Rovers for £250,000 in 2005. Last month, he was sold to Swansea City for £500,000 after having been sent on loan to six different clubs.
Argentine striker Franco Di Santo is another to arrive for a large sum—in his case £3million from Chilean side Audax Italiano—but failed to impress. He scored once on loan at Blackburn last season and is still looking for a new club.
There are countless youth players released each year from one club. Out of them, maybe none, or at best one player, makes it at the highest level. Who that one player turns out to be is probably a question of luck and instinct.
Is it possible to keep them all on in order to get the right player? When one batch turns 19, the next lot at 18 have their turn. Of each batch three or four are retained who have potential. But if it was only about potential, Arsenal would have been winning year in year out.
That United class of 1992, I hear you ask? It's only ever happened once in Premier League football so far.
This year's batch of youngsters seems to be the most promising Chelsea have had in years. Whether they all make it is anyone's guess but one thing is for sure, they will all get their chance to shine.
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