Chelsea youth products proving potential for Mourinho’s senior set-up
On a cloudless night in Nyon, Chelsea’s Under-19 side lifted the UEFA Youth League trophy, after rallying to an impressive 3-2 triumph over defiant Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk, the latest success for the club’s talented youngsters.
Such a prestigious award and hard-fought victory usually tends to be the maiden silverware success young players need as they step on the path to regular first-team action, a platform on which they can build their abilities upon to reach the highest standard.
However, despite Chelsea’s historically successful academy, and this most recent triumphant team of starlets to have been reeled off the brilliant Blues production line, a top-flight career at Stamford Bridge in still far from guaranteed.
Members of the victorious Under-19 side, such as gritty skipper Izzy Brown, deadly finisher Dominic Solanke and promising midfield maestro Ruben Loftus-Cheek, could be forgiven for dreaming of their first-team breakthroughs following such a high-profile coup in Switzerland, but the reality is that each young hopeful still faces a tough task of making that a reality.
Despite such a sustained amount of success at all youth levels, very few eventually make their senior breakthrough, and even less grind out a prolonged career in the blue part of London. Chelsea’s Under-21 side currently the reigning Premier league champions and the club are also the holders of the FA Youth Cup, which will be defended against Manchester City’s youngsters in their fifth final in six seasons.
This constant flow of winning mentality, along with the most recent Under-19 European exploits, has made the biggest claim for youth promotion possible, with current first-team boss Jose Mourinho surely now unable to deny these prolific prospects their shot at top tier progression.
The self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ has maintained silverware success throughout his trophy-laden career by working with what was available immediately and, if the Portuguese manager needed a quick fix, he swiftly signed suitable players to embed in his style and tactical needs.
During spells at Inter Milan, Real Madrid and his first stint in London, with the possible exception of his Porto days, Mourinho has somewhat ignored youth, instead focusing on a more immediate solution to making sure of his next personnel glory.
However, keeping youth products on the outside of first-team proceedings, as they anxiously gaze through the senior shield erected by the determined coach, can only be prolonged for so long. Chelsea’s latest crop of exciting youngsters have not only knocked on the first-team door, but have rampantly blasted through it and catapulted themselves into Mourinho’s thinking.
Blues boss Mourinho could soon reveal his immediate intentions in London, with his potential ploy to dealing with this current line of Chelsea starlets about to revealed. It was obvious the Portuguese coach was never going to remain at the San Siro or Bernabeu long-term, hence the reasoning behind his lack of youth promotions.
At Stamford Bridge, though, the former Los Blancos boss must undergo switches in his managerial preferences, by finally letting talented youngsters into his senior set-up. If he, once again, fails to do so, it may indicate another imminent departure, with the successful manager having displayed a journey-man approach in his career, a major contrast to the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola, who adapted a long-stay career at clubs.
It’s not as if Mourinho would be taking a huge gamble on this present stream of youth stars, with the Under-19 team having outclassed Roma’s young guns along the path to the UEFA Youth final, as well as emphatic wins over Atletico Madrid and Sporting Lisbon. These are youth sides full of stars, not just capable of winning trophies, but of eventually making their mark on their club’s senior squads.
Within the UEFA title-winning side are many supremely talented individuals, including some who have briefly been introduced into the first-team and earning token caps. Captain Brown, who netted twice in the final, recently featured on the bench for Chelsea’s Premier League triumph over QPR, while match winner Solanke was the tournament’s top scorer and has been capped for England’s Under-18s.
Brown, Solanke and towering midfield maestro Loftus-Cheek have all been slightly involved in the senior set-up, grabbing only several minutes of action, but they will now be pushing for more regular appearances. Despite superb striker Solanke having risen to prominence in recent youth seasons, it is still hard to see him challenging Chelsea’s main forward Diego Costa, who is a 9/1 chance to finish top scorer in the Premier League, for a first-team position.
Andreas Christensen is another star performer, with the Danish Under-21 international having been a key playmaker in his side’s recent success. The versatile 19-year-old was signed by former first-term boss Andre Villas-Boas during his reign, and has since been a vital aspect of the youth squad.
It is evident that Chelsea and their current manager Mourinho, now in his second stint in London, must adapt a more welcoming approach to dealing youth stars, with former products being left out to dry, before eventually enduring constant frustrating loan spells.
Josh McEachran, once tipped as England’s next big hope, is presently into his fifth loan spell in three years, currently plying his trade for Blues feeder club and Dutch Eredivisie outfit Vitesse Arnhem. Meanwhile, Nathaniel Chalobah, who struck in Chelsea’s FA Youth Cup final win over Blackburn Rovers in 2012, is also in his fifth loan stint in the past three seasons, now at Burnley.
If the London outfit are to change their fortunes with promising youth players, the club and its manager must embrace a new policy, allowing their potent production line to eventually end up dropping off the continuous flow of starlets in the first-team set-up, rather than being shipped off elsewhere.