In most team sports, it seems that young players are the key to building a period of sustained success at one athletic club. Fans of the NFL know that building a team through the draft, a la New England Patriots, will pay the most dividends in the medium and long terms. Our beloved sport is no different.
The amount of money being thrown around in the soccer world is mind boggling. But consistently spending money at obscene rates on ready-made stars cannot guarantee elite trophies every season. Sure, Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea have been testing that theory since 2004, and Real Madrid has been doing it for a while now too. Yet one only needs to look at Barcelona and Arsenal (Arsenal?) for a better method.
Those two clubs have had the best youth academies in the world for over a decade now and the impact has been undeniable. Barcelona assembled arguably the greatest team ever to grace a soccer pitch during the Guardiola era from 2008-2012 largely with players coming from the fabled La Masia academy.
The Gunners, meanwhile, have kept their perch in the upper echelons of the Premier League largely through youth players making their way up from the academy. The difference is that Arsenal sold their best players while Barcelona nurtured them into world class superstars.
Over the last three years, Chelsea have developed a stable of young stars that has usurped that of even Barcelona’s La Masia. The success the youth setup has experienced has been impressive to say the least. After all, Abramovich has spent a great deal of money on a state of the art training facility and academy since 2005.
But due to the pressure placed on managers by the owner to win NOW, no one at Stamford Bridge has attempted to give youth a chance. John Terry remains the last youth player to be a consistent presence in the first team. These struggles have been well documented. Will Antonio Conte be the man to change that? Doubtful, but we’ll see. It’s definitely feasible.
Chelsea’s first team has holes in every area of the pitch. But they have answers to each problem at their Cobham training ground and in their far-reaching loan farm.
Andreas Christensen fits perfectly into the Blues’ central defense. He and Kurt Zouma, 20 and 21 years old respectively, could form an elite defensive partnership to last 12+ years in west London. The young Denmark international is currently in the second year of his two-year loan to Borussia Monchengladbach. His stint in Germany has been supremely impressive. He was even voted the club’s Player of the Year at the end of last season. The German side wants to make him their record signing, such has been his impact in the Bundesliga.
Why splash $75 million on Kalidou Koulibaly when you have Christensen on hand?
At least one flank of the fullback position has been found wanting for the last several seasons at Chelsea. In Cesar Azpilicueta, the Blues have a player who can play on either side. But Branislav Ivanovic’s suspect form and dwindling pace have led to much speculation of his replacement. Yet the club has Ola Aina as a perfect solution.
He’s still young and raw, yes, but the 19 year old Englishman is a burgeoning talent who can also play on either flank. Speed and strength are his assets which makes him good in defense and a menace when buccaneering up the pitch. There’s the back line sorted out.
Antonio Conte’s ideal systems contain powerful, hard running central midfielders. If only Chelsea possessed a strong, 6′ 3″ 20 year old in their ranks…
Enter Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the current crown jewel of the youth system. RLC has the potential to be a complete midfielder, just as Frank Lampard was for the club. He’s got the strength, he can pick a pass, and he can score goals. He’s versatile and can play as either a number 8 or a 10. If Conte can instill in him his sense of hard work and passion for the team, the sky is the limit for this young man.
Further up the pitch, a plethora of talent is at hand to bang in the goals in the future. Dominic Solanke and Izzy Brown are both serious starlets who have a name to make for themselves in the game. Yet, Tammy Abraham seems to be taking his loan opportunity by the horns.
Sent to Championship side Bristol City over the summer, the 18 year old has been prolific so far for the second-tier club. Smashing in six goals and tallying one assist in six league appearances is excellent form for such a youngster. He’s also garnered a WhoScored rating of 7.17 so far this term. Quite impressive.
Three of these players are also English youth internationals. Transitioning them into the first team would increase the number of homegrown players in the squad.
As talented as these players are, and as bright of a future as they may have in the game, it would surely take time to integrate them into Premier League life. Unfortunately for supporters of Chelsea Football Club, time is not a luxury afforded to managers in the Stamford Bridge dressing room. Just ask the eleven managers that have sat in the hot seat since the Russian owner bought the club in 2003. Abramovich wants his trophies.
Is the current model for success and trophies at Chelsea sustainable? How much money can Abramovich consistently sink into ready-made players?
Call up the young players and let them become the next squad of club legends. That’s the way Abramovich can build a dynasty.