For the better part of recent history, the Chelsea youth academy have been mocked more than touted.
A look at how many players have actually broken through to the first-team in the last 10 years validates the claim that Chelsea simply uses its financial muscle to build their team. On the current team, only John Terry and Ryan Bertrand have come from the academy.
At first glance, the days of players like Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Tambling, and Terry Venables developing in the academy and making an impact on the Senior team, appears to be long gone. This is not to say that necessary improvements are not being made.
Shortly after purchasing the club, owner Roman Abramovich spent roughly £20 million to replace the dilapidated Harlington training ground with the state of the art Cobham training centre.
Complete with 30 football pitches, media and medical centres, and a 56 foot hydrotherapy pool, Cobham illustrates how serious Abramovich is about his club competing at the highest level, while also building for the future. Since the training facilities were upgraded, the youth squads have become more competitive, winning the 2011/12 Premier Reserve League and 2012 FA Youth Cup. The players in the Youth and Reserve Teams are beginning show the benefits of better training and competition.
Players like Nathan Ake, Nathanial Chalobah, and Reuben Loftus-Cheek have all shown the ability to be contributors to the senior squad down the road. Ake made his full debut last season against Norwich at the age of 17, and has shown versatility, able to play both defence and holding midfield. Captaining both the Netherlands U17 and U19 National teams highlighted Ake’s ability to lead a team on and off the pitch, an intangible asset not often found in an 18-year-old.
Like Ake, Chalobah is an adaptable player, similarly playing in midfield and defence. The young Englishman blossomed in 2012/13 at Watford, appearing 38 times, for manager Gianfranco Zola. He also showed an eye for goal with five goals for Watford, including this wonder strike against Leicester .
Loftus-Cheek, a natural box-to-box midfielder, is perhaps the most promising of the trio, given his passing ability, comfort while in possession and potential to grow being only 17. Furthermore, Abramovich and Co. have put extensive amounts of effort into building relationships with foreign clubs as well. Cristian Cuevas, Lucas Piazon, Tomas Kalas, Gael Kakuta, and Patrick Van Aanholt are all either on loan or were loaned to Eredivisie side Vitesse Arnhem last season.
Having quality players than can help out other clubs is vital, for it creates a good working relationship between the clubs. Teams like Vitisse may be more likely to part with their talented players - seen in the recent purchase of Marko van Ginkel for £8 million.
Had the two clubs not already had a working relationship, the fee could have easily doubled. With the first-team already being deep at most positions, and a plethora of up and coming players, expect Chelsea to build similar relationships with other European clubs in coming years.
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