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Chelsea’s victory in the FA Youth Cup is unlikely to aid the first team

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Chelsea

Chelsea’s victory in the FA Youth Cup is unlikely to aid the first team

The Blues were recently crowned FA Youth Cup champions.

On Monday evening, Chelsea beat Arsenal 4-0 to finalise a 7-1 aggregate victory on their way to securing the FA Youth Cup.

The Blues, managed by Jody Morris, went into the tie with a 3-1 lead from the first leg and were able to add a further four goals in what was ultimately a one-sided final.

However, more significantly, it cemented the club’s current standing as the most dominant and prominent academy structure in England.

Victory on Monday means that Chelsea have lifted the trophy for a fifth consecutive year, a feat that has only been matched by Manchester United, who achieved the same record after they won the inaugural competition in 1952 and in the subsequent four years.

It is something that no club has come close to accomplishing in the modern era and is rightly being heralded as a significant achievement.

On a broader scale, Chelsea currently dominate the under-18 scene in academy football and they have already secured the Premier League South title this campaign.

Furthermore, they have reached the final of the FA Youth Cup Final in all-but-one of the last eight years, lifting the trophy on seven occasions, to emphasize the club’s reputation and proficiency for talent development.

However, over the last decade, the Blues have been unable to capitalise on their success at youth level and the club has a long-standing issue of facilitating the transition of youth team graduates into first-team regulars.

Andreas Christensen has emerged a regular under Antonio Conte this season, but his story is the exception, rather than the rule.

Nathan Ake, Patrick Bamford and Dominic Solanke are more fitting examples.

All were central components of Chelsea’s youth development programme, yet all failed to break into the first team picture at Stamford Bridge, eventually having to leave the club in an attempt to find regular football elsewhere.

It is a common theme and they are joined by numerous other players with less prestigious names that have disappeared into football’s wilderness following success at youth level.

In fact, you have to look back almost a decade until you find academy graduates making regular first team contributions at Stamford Bridge.

But why is this? Why do Chelsea struggle to convert success at youth team level into players that play regular first team football?

Transfer Policy

(Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

When Roman Abramovich purchased Chelsea in 2003, he altered the very nature of the football club.

The focus shifted from attempting to be competitive in the upper reaches of the Premier League, to a new-found expectation of challenging for the major domestic and European silverware on an annual basis.

Abramovich was happy to invest significant sums of money on building a team capable of fulfilling his lofty ambitions and this has been reflected in the club’s transfer policy.

Chelsea have tended to purchase the best talent that is available, opting to spend big in the transfer market on established names rather than attempting to promote youth.

It is a policy that has served the club well in terms of on-pitch success, reflected by 14 major trophies in 15 years, but has also contributed to stifling potential talent within the academy by consistently blocking any obvious route into the first team.

This was clearly demonstrated this season.

In the summer, the Blues elected to spend a combined total of £75 million on Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko in order to strengthen their midfield, despite having Ruben Loftus-Cheek on the periphery of the first team squad and seemingly ready to become a regular part of the side.

Ultimately, the youngster was loaned out to Crystal Palace in the summer whilst Chelsea invested another £15 million on purchasing Ross Barkley, in January.

Managerial Change

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The high expectations at Stamford Bridge, combined with the significant sums of money being invested in the transfer market, have created an environment where managerial change is a regular occurrence.

Since purchasing the club Abramovich has made 12 managerial appointments over a 15 year period.

Regardless of their reputation or previous achievements, managers at Chelsea are only ever half a season of indifferent results on the pitch away from being dismissed – there is no room for sentiment or failure.

This was demonstrated when Carlo Ancelotti was sacked in 2011 just twelve months after winning the double in his first season in charge.

With Chelsea operating a revolving door system when it comes to managerial appointments is it any wonder that managers choose to focus on instant success rather than investing in youth?

Why would a manager emphasize bringing academy graduates into the first team when they know that they are unlikely to see the long-term results of any subsequent success that the players facilitate?

The lack of longevity means that managers focus on the here and now, rather than laying the foundations for the future by placing their faith in youth.

Loan Policy

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Chelsea currently operate a controversial loan policy that results in large numbers of players being shipped out around the globe to gain first-team experience.

This season, the Blues have 38 players loaned out to clubs, with youngsters plying their trade at a variety of different levels, from the lower tiers of English football with Woking to the Champions League with Juventus.

In effect, Chelsea stockpile talent and then use other clubs as a testing ground where players can gain experience and develop.

It is cost efficient, with other clubs usually paying loan fees and a portion of the player’s wages, and risk-free, with any mistakes that players make on the pitch being made far away from the first team picture at Stamford Bridge.

If a player begins to fulfill their potential, then they are loaned out to increasingly prestigious clubs until they are judged to be capable of making a significant contribution to first-team affairs, whilst those that fail to live up to expectations are sold on.

Some players, such as Matej Delac, have spent over half a decade at Chelsea without making a first-team appearance – the Croatian has had ten loan spells over the last seven years.

The club’s loan policy is summarised by Patrick Bamford.

The striker had six loan spells away from Stamford Bridge, having mixed success with five different clubs in the top two tiers of English football, before being sold for £5.5 million to Middlesbrough in 2017, having never made an appearance for the Blues.

There is no clear pathway at Chelsea between the academy structure and the first team squad with the vast majority of young players becoming lost in the club’s expansive system of loans.

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Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

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