Are Chelsea on the Verge of Emulating Manchester United's Class of '92?

Garry Hayes@@garryhayesFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 05:  Ruben Loftus Cheek of Chelsea lifts the FA Youth Cup after winning the Second Leg match between Chelsea U18 and Fulham U18 at Stamford Bridge on May 5, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Things are changing at Chelsea.

The club's transfer dealings this summer have shown the determination at Stamford Bridge for Chelsea to dominate English football once again.

The additions of Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Filipe Luis have made Chelsea more than Premier League title contenders—they've made them favourites.

Under the guidance of Jose Mourinho, a new dawn is breaking.

Not content with just splashing the cash on big-name stars, there is equally a determination to create them in west London these days.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 04:  John Terry of Chelsea acknowledges the crowd following the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Norwich City at Stamford Bridge on May 4, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images

From bringing through just one first-team player in the past decade or more in John Terry, Chelsea suddenly have an army of youngsters on the brink of making it into Mourinho's long-term plans.

The line-ups the Chelsea boss picked early in pre-season would have been a proud moment for the club's academy coaches as Chelsea fielded teams made up mostly of players from their youth setup.

Indeed, the Blues' first outing against Wycombe Wanderers featured eight academy players in the first half, with a further six coming off the bench at the interval.

Chelsea won 5-0, three of their goals coming from youngsters—Patrick Bamford scored the opener, while Izzy Brown bagged an impressive brace.

HIGH WYCOMBE, ENGLAND - JULY 16:  Izzy Brown of Chelsea celebrates scoring a goal duing the pre season friendly match between Wycombe Wanderers and Chelsea at Adams Park on July 16, 2014 in High Wycombe, England.  (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

With the deep pockets of Roman Abramovich meaning Chelsea can invest in ready-made stars from across the globe, it was refreshing.

There was an element of Mourinho having little choice in fielding so many young players given the World Cup had decimated his squad, yet the performance told the true story.

Chelsea don't just have numbers in the academy anymore, they have talented players who are going to enjoy successful careers in the game.

Winning the FA Youth Cup in three of the last five seasons has also hinted at that.

The big challenge now is whether they can be integrated into Mourinho's team effectively enough to ensure their careers scale the heights of players they will be replacing—the likes of Terry, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard.

LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA - JULY 27: Team manager of Chelsea Jose Mourinho looks on prior the Pre Season Friendly match between FC Olimpija Ljubljana and Chelsea at Stozice stadium in Ljubljana, Slovenia on Sunday, July 27, 2014. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Get
Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images

Mourinho is one who seems to think they will.

"If, in a few years, [Lewis] Baker, [Izzy] Brown and [Dominic] Solanke are not national team players, I should blame myself," he recently declared, per the Mirror.

Focusing on just three of the players who have impressed this summer, they were encouraging words from Mourinho.

Not since Manchester United's famous Class of '92 have we seen an English club blood a team of youngsters that has gone on to deliver success at the highest level.

United fans and neutrals—begrudgingly or not—often eulogise over the impact of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers, Gary and Phillip, for a reason.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 01:  Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Phil Neville, David Beckham and Gary Neville attend the World premiere of 'The Class of 92' at Odeon West End on December 1, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Image
Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Their emergence as a group was unique and it's going to take something special to emulate them.

Chelsea themselves have a team of youth graduates equally lauded in west London: Docherty's Diamonds.

When Tommy Docherty was appointed Chelsea manager in 1961, he bravely ditched his team of experienced names in favour of his youngsters who had recently enjoyed back-to-back victories in the FA Youth Cup in 1960 and 1961, not to mention finishing runners-up in 1958.

"I’m a great believer that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough," Docherty explains to Bleacher Report.

Tommy Docherty in his days as Chelsea manager
Tommy Docherty in his days as Chelsea managerGetty Images/Getty Images

"They’d just won the FA Youth Cup for the second time, so I threw them in because they were good enough.

"It was all down to Dickie Foss, the youth coach at Chelsea back then. He was responsible for all these young players coming to the club. It wasn’t about a culture or anything like that. He was the man making it happen for Chelsea.

"He brought them through and I gave them the chance to prove they were good enough. They never disappointed me."

The players in question were Ron "Chopper" Harris, Ken Shellito, Bobby Tambling, Peter Bonetti, Terry Venables, Peter Houseman, John Hollins and Peter Osgood.

Peter Osgood
Peter OsgoodPeter Kemp/Associated Press

From youngsters, inexperienced and untested in professional football, they all became legends along the King's Road. With the exception of Venables and Shellito, they all hung around long enough to inspire Chelsea to their first-ever victory in the FA Cup in 1970, too, adding the European Cup Winners' Cup a year later.

"You’ve got to back your judgement as a manager," Docherty continues. "Every young player is going to have bad games and make mistakes, but you need to trust your judgement that he is good enough.

"I dropped Barry Bridges—an England international—for Peter Osgood, who was just 17. I said to Ossie that he had 10 games to prove himself and he went out and did it.

Undated:  Peter Osgood of Chelsea during a match. Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK/ALLSPORT
Getty Images/Getty Images

"In a way, that shows my inexperience as a manager at the time, yet in terms of ability, Ossie was a far better player than Barry Bridges."

Chelsea were producing talented players at such a rate, they had not long sold Jimmy Greaves to AC Milan when Docherty was appointed boss.

Greaves was a star, one of the finest strikers English football has produced. In 169 games for the club, he scored 132 goals, including four in his final appearance in a Chelsea shirt.

"Had the chairman not sold Jimmy, we would have won the championship four or five times with that team," Docherty laments.

Jimmy Greaves
Jimmy GreavesAssociated Press

That era of players still wrote its name into the history books, though, with Ron Harris leading the way as captain.

"Tommy used to shout from the dug out: 'Come on my Diamonds!'," Chopper remembers.

"He was a manager who gave youngsters a chance. His philosophy was that youngsters never cheat, that they'll work hard all day to prove themselves.

"When I made my debut at 17, I thought Tom was the bee's knees. I would have run through a brick wall for him. Now, you think of the young lads Jose has, if he starts playing them, they’ll be running up the Fulham Road telling everyone they’re playing for Chelsea's first team and they’ll love him for it."

Ron Harris
Ron HarrisPaul Gilham/Getty Images

And that's the key to it all—Mourinho needs to play his youngsters the way Docherty did if they're to achieve their potential.

In these days of short managerial stints, when it's difficult enough to build a team around experienced names let alone youngsters, is that approach even possible?

"Let’s be honest, look at some of the sides now and they’re dominated by foreign players," Harris continues. "There’s not many homegrown players. Manchester City, Spurs, Arsenal, Manchester United—they’re all paying big money for overseas players.

"Chelsea are spending money themselves, but they're also trying to get younger players into the squad, which is a positive thing to see. The problem at the moment is you get more opportunities lower down to play regular football, so a lot of them are sent out on loan."

Journalist Clive Batty is a man who knows the Docherty's Diamonds era well, writing the acclaimed book Kings of the King's Road that documented their rise.

Unlike the 1960s, though, Batty sees the pressures and culture of modern football playing a significant role in the development of players now.

"It's hard for any club in the modern era as the pressure to succeed is so intense," he explains. "If the players are going to develop, they need to go on loan as it's more beneficial than reserve-team football.

"It's about finding the right club, though, as lower down there can be a tendency for kick-and-rush tactics.

"What I'd like to see at Chelsea is for Mourinho to play these young players in the League Cup. Outside of that, it's difficult to see how you can give a youngster a chance over players who play for Brazil, Spain and other countries.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 05: Dominic Solanke of Chelsea breaks away from Fulham's Cameron Burgess and Ryheem Sheckleford during the FA Youth Cup Final Second Leg match between Chelsea and Fulham at Stamford Bridge on May 05, 2014 in London, England. (Photo b
Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

"Logically, you can see it's not going to happen."

Chelsea supporter David Johnstone is in agreement.

"If Dominic Solanke and Patrick Bamford are going to make it, Diego Costa needs to be the last big signing up front," he says.

Docherty: "Look at Fernando Torres. He was a great player at Atletico Madrid and Liverpool, but it hasn’t quite happened for him at Chelsea.

"It’s judgment time for him for now. He hasn’t delivered and the club should get him on his bike, give a young striker the chance to do what Torres hasn’t—score goals.

"Chelsea shouldn’t have a £50 million striker as their third choice. For that type of money, he should be playing every week. When you pay that type of money, you’re buying the finished article.

"The third-choice position should be given to a youngster looking to make his mark."

Where to draw the line, though.

Mourinho's conundrum is such: He has a duty to deliver success at Stamford Bridge and in an era where Chelsea's rivals at home and abroad continue to spend huge sums on international stars, he needs some of his own to keep up.

Those very players who are delivering success are blocking the route to the first team for those in the academy, however.

Joseph Heller calls it Catch-22.

"You've only got to look at Manchester United," Docherty concludes. "Since the Class of '92, they haven't had another generation like it. And when things went wrong last year, all we hear now is about spending sprees and the big names the club is targeting.

"How can young players flourish in that environment?"

Chelsea's Rising Young Talent
Lewis BakerMidfielder
Patrick BamfordStriker
Izzy BrownMidfielder
Jeremie BogaMidfielder
Charly MusondaMidfielder
Charlie ColkettMidfielder
Ruben Loftus-CheekMidfielder
Jordan HoughtonMidfielder
Nathaniel ChalobahMidfielder/Defender
Todd KaneDefender
Dominic SolankeStriker
Jay DasilvaMidfielder/Defender
Andreas ChristensenDefender

Johnstone is a well-respected figure among Chelsea fans, producing the CFC UK fanzine. He believes a team of homegrown talent would be supported from the Stamford Bridge terraces regardless of success.

"If Mourinho was to field a team of youngsters from the academy, any real Chelsea fan would be behind them and supporting them every week. Whether he would be given the time is another thing, but I also think Roman Abramovich wants to see it.

"As fans, we would love to see a team of homegrown players and I really hope this current crop of players can go on to emulate what we've seen in the past.

"It's going to be very difficult, though."

Batty: "Football has changed now. Docherty's young team was relegated in his first season, but they soon bounced back the following year.

"They were allowed to fail before they succeeded. That wouldn't happen now."

The odds may be stacked against Chelsea emulating the success of Docherty's Diamonds, let alone United's Class of '92, although Harris is keen to stress one point:

"You can see a little bit of that Docherty’s Diamonds era at Chelsea now with the likes of Frank Lampard leaving and more younger players on the brink. If that continues, who knows what can happen?"

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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


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