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The Fan Perspective: The Chelsea youth exodus

The Chelsea youth system is a dilemma for fans to contest with. We outline the problems faced by supporters in getting behind the club’s policy.

When a youth player is sold by a club quite often it doesn’t cause much noise. Many a player will come through the doors of a Youth Academy and then not be able to make it into the first team for one reason or another and then head to pastures new to hopefully earn that first team spot, However in recent weeks, Chelsea have had not one or two youth academy prospects leave. Six have left the Cobham system to new horizons.

Lewis Bate, Myles Peart-Harris, Dynel Simeu, Charlie Wiggett, Marc Guehi and Fikayo Tomori. All have been sold by the club. Even the Academy Player of the Year Tino Livramento has exited this summer. At first glance this could be a surprise, considering the past two seasons the likes of Mason Mount, Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham have all experiemced significant first team exposure.

The exodus is a cause for concern for the fanbase. Most supporters love to see local lads do well, live the dream. Playing in the shadows of the local area and making it under the spotlight of the club they have supported all their life. Mason Mount and Reece James first earned their debut appearances it was under club legend Frank Lampard. Chelsea needed a manager who would be able to galvanise the post-Sarri era squad with the FIFA transfer ban hanging over their heads. Lampard was the perfect candidate for this job at the time. He blooded in the youth players, including those he already knew. Mount and Tomori had shown Lampard their quality at Derby County the previous season, and Reece James had earned Wigan’s Player of the Year award the season prior. All three took well to life in the Premier League, as did Tammy Abraham who ended that campaign as the club’s top scorer.

When youth became necessary

Ahead of the 2020/21 season though, investments were to be made again. The transfer ban was over and Chelsea splashed on the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell and Hakim Ziyech, whilst veteran defender Thiago Silva came in on a free. Naturally these players were expected to be prioritised over any youngsters. Their high fees, high wages and prestige of arriving under specific recruitment strategy made it inevitable for them to be prioritised within the squad.

Chelsea are known for their hire and fire manager culture. Looking at the track record, it has brought many a trophy, but whoever is in charge knows the pressures of the job. They have to win, which naturally means they are more likely to favour experienced big names over the youth academy. For a fan, this is frustrating, albeit an inevitable by-product of the system.

New FIFA rules in regards to loan deals (a maximum of eight from any one club) has meant the “Loan Army” of Chelsea is dramatically reducing. For the players this is certainly a good thing. Even for fellow fans to see the likes of Lucas Piazon, a player who had seven separate loan moves over the course of his contract, will be an intriguing result. On the human side, the uncertainty each season surrounding where you are going to be living for the season and with the personal circumstances, be it your family moving over with you or staying back in London must become mentally challenging to deal with. These new rules will certainly subject fewer academy graduates to such uncertainty.

The Chelsea Loan Army

The so called “Loan Army” has produced many positives for Chelsea. With players being loaned out and then sold at a profit, but also progressing young talents. However, for every Mason Mount we have a Mario Pasalic. A midfielder who spent six years at Chelsea after moving from Hajduk Split for £3m, yet never made a single appearance for the Blues. He has since flourished in Serie A with Atalanta, becoming a key part in the system that saw them nearly reach the Semi Finals of the 2019/20 Champions League. Watching him perform on the European stage at such a high level did at the time make fans think “Is this going to be another Salah, De Bruyne, Lukaku moment?”. A player loaned out, sold for a profit, and in the future comes back to haunt us by becoming an elite player that would fix a problem with the side. This as a fan of the London club can be a truly frustrating sight to see.

The most recent case of this being Tariq Lamptey. Lamptey, when he did get a chance at Chelsea, showed he had that raw potential to be a top calibre defender. In a summer where bids were launched for Achraf Hakimi, likely so Reece James could slot into that back three, you have to wonder if Tariq Lamptey would have been the perfect player for said role. Due to lack of game time it was decided he would depart for Brighton and show his ability there.

These youth players, not just at Chelsea, want certainty. They do not want to be part of a revolving door loan system and that is why we have seen many reject new deals to remain. Lewis Bate for example likely saw how Billy Gilmour struggled to break into the first team on a consistent basis and then head out on loan. Bate must have felt he was better off trying to usurp a player in the Leeds squad than the likes of Jorginho, Kovacic, Kante and others at Chelsea.

A similar case is the departure of Livramento to Southampton. He had an incredible campaign for the Academy side last season but would have needed to unseat one of Cesar Azpilicueta, James and even fellow academy start Dujon Sterling. Then you have Callum Hudson-Odoi who also played in that RWB role under Tuchel last season. This is most likely why Tariq Lamptey decided he was better off breaking into the Brighton side than at Chelsea. This has proven to be successful for Lamptey, and is said to have interested sides like Bayern Munich. That is inspiration right there to make the jump.

Taking back control

Chelsea will always be a club that is about the “win now” attitude. This is expected, especially when the club spend the big transfer fees that they do. Anything less than Champions League qualification and a trophy each season is often seen abject failure. Last season it was clear that finishing in the top four was the minimum over any trophy.

It does however lead to many a youth player not getting their fair chance to showcase their talents at the club that they grow up dreaming to play for. We have seen with Tammy Abraham, that even if you have made it into the first team, if the new manager does not feel you suit their system, you can be cast aside. This is a risk for any player when the new coaching staff come in not just a youth player.

With the change in loan rules, the success of the likes of Tariq Lamptey and the buying power of Chelsea meaning a new big name signing could add another blockage in the line to get into the first team. It gives players from the academy who want to become a first team Premier League player the drive to look elsewhere for that reward. Do they wait ti be pushed? Or take the leap themselves? The power is now firmly in the hands of the academy player.

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