Over the last decade, Chelsea have muscled their way into being a world superpower through spending money on some of the biggest and most exciting names in world football – the likes of Crespo, Robben, Drogba, Cech, Fabregas, Carvalho, Cole and Costa have been lured to west London by riches and the chance of trophies.
Chelsea’s spending has not been limited to the world’s elite players though with millions upon millions of Roman Abramovich’s money being spent on some of the brightest young prospects in world football. So, why has Chelsea’s academy produced no new talent that has consistently played for the club since John Terry? And, more importantly, is Chelsea’s buying and stockpiling of young talents nothing more than a cynical business manoeuvre to get around Financial Fair Play regulations or is it simply insurance to ensure the future looks promising?
For the purpose of this, it is important to look at young talent as two different groups – the true youth (from 15/16-18) and the young players (18-20). These groups have two very different routes to the first team generally at Stamford Bridge as the true youth spend time within the youth set-up while the young players join at the most crucial part of their development and play for the reserves or on loan at another club. Therefore, it is important to look at each group separately and determine the point of the stockpiling.
Chelsea have always looked for players that will impact their side immediately with big money thrown at name players but they did pick up some young talent around a decade ago. The likes of Glen Johnson, Joe Cole and Arjen Robben were all signed around the 18-20 age mark and thrown right into the first team with varying levels of success.
However, more recently Chelsea has begun signing young players left, right and centre. The likes of Thorgan Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Bertrand Traore and Wallace have all been brought in and then loaned out around the world to get game time.
This season alone, Chelsea have sent around 30 different players out on loan with the vast majority being young talent signed. With only 11 places in the starting line-up and the vast array of talent already in that line-up, it is hard not to look at this policy without some scepticism.
Thibaut Courtois is the perfect embodiment of what Chelsea are looking to do with their spending now. Signed from Genk as a fresh faced Belgian league winner in 2011, Courtois was immediately sent off on loan to Atletico Madrid who themselves were looking for a goalkeeper to replace the departed David de Gea.
Courtois’ three year loan was superb for his development as he helped Atleti to the Europa League, La Liga and Copa del Rey crowns as well as the final of Champions League where they were so close to winning. He’s now Chelsea’s undisputed number 1 and is still only 22. This is what Chelsea are looking to do with most of their young players signed but as always it does not work out that way as many get nowhere near the first team and end up just being money making objects.
Cases in point are two other Belgian talents – Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne. Lukaku was signed as the replacement for Drogba at just 18 for a lot of money but made just ten league appearances for the club despite impressing in two loan spells at West Brom and Everton. Chelsea were more than happy to make a big profit on him this summer when Everton gave them £28 million for the striker.
In a cynical way, it seemed that Lukaku never fit in at Chelsea but the club saw that he had enough about to him draw a good fee from another club hence their eagerness to sell when Everton came with a lot of money. De Bruyne was in much the same position as Lukaku as he signed as a youngster from Genk in 2012.
However, unlike his counterpart, he was sent on loan straight away to Werder Bremen to improve him and after impressing in Bremen was assured of a place at Chelsea last season. He made a grand total of nine appearances and was sold (at a considerable profit) to Wolfsburg last January. For every Courtois, there a few like De Bruyne and Lukaku who are never given the chance to shine and serve to be nothing more than money makers in the future. It is these kinds of cases that have people looking at Chelsea’s policy and thinking of it as a business model rather than a football one.
While De Bruyne and Lukaku made the first team there are many more who will not. Mexican Ulises Davila was signed at 20 and is already on his fourth loan spell away from the club and at 23, looks to be on his way out. Chilean full back Cristian Cuevas joined at 18 from O’Higgins in Chile and is already back in Chile on his third loan spell and is struggling for game time at Universidad de Chile. Matej Delac is a Croatian goalkeeper who is on loan number seven with Arles Avignon in France. Colombian striker Joao Rodriguez has had three loan spells away from Chelsea at 18 and is looking for another after his time at Bastia was cut short this month. Brazilian defender Wallace has struggled for game time on loan and could follow the rest as being money makers in the future.
This is not a new phenomenon either at Chelsea. The case of Nemanja Matic is a perfect example. Brought in as a youngster and saw fleeting glimpses of first team football, Matic was loaned out to improve him but was eventually deemed expendable and let go as part of the deal to sign David Luiz. Now he’s back at Chelsea after impressing hugely at Benfica and is a rock at the heart of the midfield. In many of these cases, Chelsea will send them packing before giving them a chance to shine while others will just not progress like the club expected. It is the risk they take with signing young players but Chelsea seem to be very keen to take that risk.
They are also very keen to sign true youth and have done so in the past with very limited success. Gael Kakuta was signed controversially at 16 and cost Chelsea a lot in terms of fines and almost a transfer ban too. He was hailed as the “future of Chelsea” by former boss Carlo Ancelotti and Michael Ballack raved about him. Kakuta’s foray into senior football was promising but very quickly he stalled with game time limited and now 23, he is onto his sixth loan spell at Rayo Vallecano in Spain. Islam Feruz has been a star at youth level for Chelsea since they got him from Celtic who were furious when he left, but now finds himself struggling and having a poor time on loan at OFI Crete in Greece.
It isn’t new for Chelsea to ruffle a few feathers when signing true youth either. Back in 2006, the Blues paid Leeds £5 million after being accused of tapping-up four young players in their academy. Two of those players joined Chelsea – Tom Taiwo and Michael Woods. Woods now plays for Hartlepool in League 2 while Taiwo is at Scottish Championship side Falkirk. As far as this writer can remember, none of Chelsea’s true youth signings have progressed to first team level despite some considerable fees being spent on them.
And what about the Chelsea academy? It is blessed with some wonderful talents but has not produced any first team regulars since John Terry. The closest they have got is full back Ryan Bertrand but he was never a true regular and has been sent on loan to Southampton this season because he wasn’t going to get a game at the club. This season alone has seen the departure of a number of academy graduates – Billy Clifford, George Saville (for a fee), Daniel Pappoe, George Cole and Sam Hutchinson. A number have left on loan too including Chelsea’s next home-grown star Josh McEachran.
McEachran is the embodiment of Chelsea’s struggles to blood young players into the side. It all began so promisingly as McEachran impressed in his first season in the first team but eventually the games began to dry up as the win now mentality of Chelsea meant the more experienced proven players were preferred. Five loans later and, at 21, McEachran sits on the bench at Vitesse Arnhem with his career stalling and the hype and promise surrounding him fading very quickly. It’s a sad thing to see and while all is not lost for McEachran, the chances of him breaking into the team are diminishing quickly.
Chelsea fans will argue that the high number of talented youngsters the club owns is a smart move designed to secure the future of the club. Yet, the results of their stockpiling of talent is a lot of loan deals and a lot more big name signings to win immediately. Chelsea’s summer transfers were partly funded by the sales of youngsters like De Bruyne and Lukaku who, if they were given the chance, could have perhaps have saved Chelsea money by being key parts of the side. Instead, for all of Chelsea’s spending, it is really only Thibaut Courtois who has grabbed a place in the side while others play around Europe. Looking at the evidence, it’s hard not to look at what Chelsea are doing and think it is nothing more than a business model designed to keep their spending within FFP regulations despite their protestations they only think football when signing players.
Are Chelsea finally going to see the best of Alvaro Morata?
The Spanish international has been inconsistent since his £60 million move.
When Antonio Conte sealed the signing of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid in the summer, many Chelsea fans lauded him as one of the signings of the window.
He was an instant hit at Stamford Bridge following his £60 million arrival, scoring on his debut off the bench in a 3-2 loss against Burnley on the opening day.
Morata has been most commonly used as an impact sub especially at Madrid, but at Chelsea, he was quickly given the responsibility of spearheading the Blues’ attack.
He repaid the faith Conte showed in him early, notching a hat trick away at Stoke in mid-September.
There was early talk of him being involved in a four-way battle for the golden boot alongside Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku and Gabriel Jesus.
Since then, it hasn’t worked out as well for Morata at Chelsea.
He went on a scoring drought soon after, although he did score a crucial winner against title rivals Manchester United in November.
He still received criticism, however, culminating in a poor performance against Arsenal in the Carabao Cup, where he missed several guilt edge chances to give Chelsea the advantage.
He then played 40 minutes in the FA Cup against Norwich, managing to receive two yellow cards in a matter of seconds, first for diving, and then for dissent.
The cold weather has been blamed for his lack of form, as well as a back injury which at one point Conte suggested could force him to miss the rest of the season.
The English climate is different to what Morata will have previously experienced in Spain and in Italy with Juventus, although whether that can be used as a real argument is debatable.
He proved that theory wrong today, finishing off a fine Chelsea move in one of the coldest games of the season.
The Spaniard has looked bereft of confidence in recent weeks and months, and it appeared that Olivier Giroud had overtaken him as Chelsea’s leading marksman until today.
Morata proved his class against a Leicester side that, had it not been for a late mistake, would have taken the current Premier League champions to penalties.
His well placed shot after an excellent Willian through ball opening the scoring before an audacious flick hit the crossbar.
Although not at the heights of the likes of Kane (24 goals) and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (28 goals), Morata has notched 10 goals of his own – a decent return considering he has missed a fair amount of games with injury in a team that is equally reliant on goals from wingers Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian.
With the cold weather subsiding, if that can be used as an excuse for some of Morata’s poor performances, and Chelsea’s chances of silverware increasing with an FA Cup semi-final, now is surely the time for Morata to produce some of his best form and lead Chelsea’s charge going into the back end of the season.
Tieumoue Bakayoko disappoints again for Chelsea against Leicester City
The Frenchman looked to struggle against his FA Cup opponents.
Tieumoue Bakayoko was one of the big-name signings for Chelsea during the summer as the club tried to push on under Antonio Conte after their Premier League triumph.
The Frenchman had been a standout player for AS Monaco during their surprise Ligue 1 winning campaign and cost the Blues a reported £40 million.
Although they are one of the richest clubs in the world, that remains a big spend and they would have been expecting a first-team ready player.
That hasn’t been the case as Bakayoko has struggled to adapt to English football and has found himself sidelined for Danny Drinkwater on several occasions.
The England international is an experienced Premier League player, but he was brought in to provide cover. It is a worry that he has been performing better than the player brought in to partner N’Golo Kante.
Chelsea managed to qualify for the semi-final of the FA Cup with an extra-time victory over Leicester City. However, Bakayoko was underwhelming once again after being brought back into the starting eleven.
He lasted until half-time before being replaced by Cesc Fabregas. During the first half, the Blues were too predictable in central midfield as neither player offered creativity from deep.
Wilfred Ndidi was arguably the best player in that area of the pitch as he dominated Bakayoko and Kante for the first-half.
The summer signing from Monaco was booked just before the break and didn’t re-emerge for the second-half. It was another disappointing performance from him as he failed to take the opportunity provided by Antonio Conte.
During the match, Bakayoko had a tackle success rate of 33% and he failed to make a single key pass to influence proceedings in the attacking half.
It was obvious that he was lacking in confidence as he often chose the simple pass and wasn’t as aggressive as the Leicester midfield players that he was competing with.
As the season has progressed, central midfield has emerged as an area of weakness for Chelsea. They often play with two defensive-minded midfielders and that makes them predictable to play against.
Last season, Nemanja Matic was more dynamic in central areas and he wasn’t afraid to step into the attacking half to contribute to attacks. The decision to sell him to a rival club now looks a huge mistake as the Blues are less effective in the middle of the park.
It was hoped that Ross Barkley would provide more energy to that position, but he has struggled with injuries since moving to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have a difficult task to save their season, as they must finish in the top four and lift the FA Cup to restore pride.
Bakayoko needs to have a strong end to his season if he is to prove himself worthy of another chance next season. There is likely to be a new manager at Stamford Bridge with Antonio Conte’s position looking more untenable by the day.
A managerial change will lead to a squad overhaul and the 23-year-old will be one of the first to go. He doesn’t offer anything different to Kante and his compatriot is far superior in every area.
His most ardent supporters will allude to his inexperience and suggest that he needs to be given more time. However, when watching him against the 21-year-old Ndidi, it became clear that he isn’t good enough for a club like Chelsea. He was outclassed and outbattled by his younger opponent.
Since Roman Abramovich bought the club, there have been several mistakes made in the transfer market. The decision to sell Matic and sign Bakayoko was another.
Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea: Three talking points from the Etihad
Manchester City managed to beat Chelsea for the second time this season as they continue their march to the Premier League title. The contest was far from entertaining, as the visitors showed no interest in playing football and instead to soak in pressure.
Pep Guardiola’s team didn’t have to get out of second gear and it was a more comfortable victory than they would have been expecting. The Citizens are now 18 points clear at the top of the table and remain on target for 100 points, which would be a superb achievement.
Meanwhile, Chelsea sit outside of the Champions League places and are now five points behind Tottenham in fourth position. They will need a near perfect end to the season if they are to avoid missing out on qualification for next season’s competition. Here are three talking points from the Etihad Stadium…
David Silva showed his class
The 32-year-old has been at Manchester City for the majority of their journey from Premier League also-rans to elite super club and he remains a crucial player for them under Pep Guardiola.
If he had been in the team for the entire campaign, he would be running Kevin de Bruyne close for the PFA Player of the Year award. He is a classy operator who seems to get better with age.
He got the important assist for the winning goal with a superb piece of play and that is becoming par for the course for the Spanish international. Silva completed 95% of his passes and made three key passes during the contest. Meanwhile, he was very good out of possession as he made three ball recoveries.
It has been incredible to watch Pep Guardiola get all of his attacking talent on the pitch at one time, but the improvement of both Silva and De Bruyne off the ball has helped achieve that.
They are now complete midfielders and capable of thriving in both halves of the pitch. The midfielder is a club legend and supporters will be hoping that he has a few years left in him.
Antonio Conte continues to make puzzling decisions
Last season, the Italian was lauded every week as his side won the league title comfortably, but he has failed to follow it up with a good second campaign. There have been a lot of problems for Chelsea this season including recruitment, tactics and player performance.
They have been reliant on Eden Hazard and as the campaign has progressed, the team have lost their intensity, which suggests they no longer believe in Conte.
Their 3-4-2-1 formation was revolutionary, but they have moved away from it frequently this season and haven’t been able to settle on a first eleven. That was one of Chelsea’s strengths last season. Gary Cahill and David Luiz have been sidelined, while Alvaro Morata has failed to replace Diego Costa sufficiently.
On Sunday, Conte chose to field Hazard as a lone frontman, but he struggled to impact the game in that role. He is best when having space in front of him to run into and he didn’t have that against Manchester City.
The Belgian international was isolated and touched the ball only 31 times. It was a tactical error and one that blunted Chelsea’s attack before a ball was kicked.
Ilkay Gundogan is flourishing in the middle of the park for Manchester City
The former Borussia Dortmund midfielder has had his problems since arriving in the Premier League.
He has suffered a few injuries and that has seen him struggle to secure a regular starting berth, but he has featured prominently in recent weeks and is perfect for the system. Gundogen recycles possession effectively and that is required, especially when the opposition team sits deep.
Gundogen touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch with 181 touches and was very good at distributing the ball quickly. He finished the match with a 96% pass success rate, which shows his role.
He wasn’t taking any risks and he didn’t have to. City have a lot of attacking talent and the German international isn’t required to try risky passes to influence the game.
Although Chelsea didn’t get on the ball much, Gundogen broke up the play when required with four ball recoveries. Fernandinho’s absence could allow the 27-year-old to secure the place on a permanent basis and he does offer more in the role, especially in possession. It was a strong performance and one of the standouts in a dull affair.
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