London’s Chelsea Football Club is top of the Premier League and heading for soccer glory this year.
Even more heartening to fans is the sense that the team’s future is bright, with fresh young talent waiting in the wings. Three recent events have increased that optimism:
- Chelsea’s under-19 squad recently won the UEFA Youth League, the equivalent at that age group of Europe’s elite Champion’s League competition.
- Chelsea’s under-18s are leading 3-1 against Manchester City in the FA Youth Cup, which will be decided next week in the return leg.
- And, perhaps most interesting of all, Patrick Bamford has won the award for the best player in the Championship, the division below the Premier League. He is on loan playing for another team—but Bamford is under contract to Chelsea, which means the best player in the top two divisions could both be Blues.
But we will probably never see most of these players in a Chelsea shirt. The last player to come through from the youth academy and have a consistent run in the team is the current captain and club legend, John Terry, who made his debut in 1998 and established himself in 2000-01. Will there be another John Terry?
This year, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has made a big deal of a one academy player, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who has now been called up to the senior squad and trains with them everyday. Yet he only played once this season, coming on as a substitute for Cesc Fabregras—who cost Chelsea $40 million last summer.
And that is the problem—no matter how much young talent a club like Chelsea has, there are always better players out there, and its wealth affords it the ability to acquire them. That limits the opportunities for youngsters to come through.
It’s not unreasonable, as an approach. Would you, as a manager in the ruthless Premier League, trust Tammy Abraham, the kid who scored two goals in the FA Youth Cup final first-leg, over Diego Costa, the monstrous, battle-tested Spaniard who has scored 18 goals against some of the best defenders in the world already this season?
Or Bamford, for that matter, who turned down a scholarship to Harvard to play professional soccer at Chelsea? The 21-year-old striker wants to force his way into Mourinho’s plans—but he understands the realities of the game. ”At a club like Chelsea, they have the money to buy world class strikers like Diego Costa and there’s also that pressure to win trophies,” Bamford said. “I just have to stick with it, be patient, and hopefully my rewards will come.”
He may be waiting a long time—Mourinho has refused to guarantee him regular football next year.