Chelsea - Getting a Return on Your Investment!
It has long been a bone of contention, especially amongst the members on this site that our youth system is failing, that we're not bringing enough players through with regards to the capital being invested in our academy and its subsequent infrastructure.
Sitting in the office today, I came across an old Chelsea yearbook, issued for the Centenary season of 2005/2006.
Flicking through its pages and wistfully recalling the various games covered in the previous season review, I soon found myself navigating to the pages reserved for the reserve and youth teams.
Looking at the group photo it dramatically proves the point that I started this article with.
If we take a look at the reserves first, the line-up is as follows:-
Joe Tillen, Adrian Pettigrew, James Younghusband, Steven Watt, Michael Mancienne, Jimmy Smith, Danny Hollands, Lenny Pidgeley, Yves Ma-Kalambay, Phil Younghusband, Dean Smith, Joe Keenan, Anthony Grant, Filipe Morais, James Simmonds
Fifteen players who all had high hopes of being the next John Terry, high hopes of coming through the ranks and securing a Chelsea future. Worryingly, only Michael Mancienne looks to stand any chance of doing such a thing. The rest have already, or are about to, be consumed by clubs who are active away from the higher levels.
So what about the youth team of the same year? Do things look any better? Are any of those pictured in the team photo destined for great things? Let's take a look at the names of those pictured:-
Scott Sinclair, Jack Watkins, Shaun Cummings, Harry Worley, Sam Hutchinson, Fabio Ferreira, Ricardo Fernandes, Tomi Saarelma, James Russell, Nick Hamman, Rhys Taylor, Dean Furman, Hamze Ismail, Jack Cork, Liam Bridcutt, Ryan Bertrand
Interestingly, a far higher percentage of those listed above are still actively involved at Chelsea, a higher percentage still have their dreams intact and a higher percentage who might follow that path taken by John Terry.
However, if you were to conduct a quick overview, it would appear that the problem of turning youthful talent into first team talent hits the rocks somewhere between the natural progression from the youth side to the reserve side. Is it a step too far or is that the precise stage whereby emerging talent fails to convert into what's needed to really succeed in the professional game?
We'd be interested to hear your thoughts!
But, perhaps we should also point out that since the period we've focused on; matters have slightly changed as far as young talent is concerned at Stamford Bridge. A system whereby players are loaned out, to other clubs providing valuable first team experience for several of those considered to be reserves, is now common-place, this in turn allows the youth players to play at a higher level. Often the reserve team contains numerous youngsters pitting their wits against far more seasoned professionals.
Also, it's been recognized that the current 'reserve' league system isn't conducive to developing emerging talent, there are far too games with some of these games being against limited opposition. Last season saw the introduction of some top-notch friendly fixtures with the side encountering clubs such as Liverpool, Manchester United and AC Milan who they'd not normally encounter.
On the surface it can only be good for the development of these players and hopefully it'll move us away from the scenario this article highlighted whereby from the 2005/2006 handbook only Michael Mancienne from the reserve team squad has a cat in hell's chance of sustaining a first team career at Stamford Bridge.
If not, it wouldn't be hard to find a 'bean-counter' who'd give you a strong case for closing the academy facility and using finances it drains to simply go out and buy that one player.
Some food for thought anyone?