It’s been a good twelve months for the Chelsea academy.
Age groups from 12 upwards have taken part in various tournaments, both in the UK and abroad, and have come away with four trophies, headlined by April’s FA Youth Cup at Under-18 level.
On Friday, the Under-15 team added a fifth cup to the cabinet as they sealed the Junior section of the 2010 Milk Cup.
The prestigious tournament, now in its 27th year, is held in late July every year, and the Blues first entered it back in 2004, when Brendan Rodgers – a Carnlough man – took an Under-18 side over.
They reached the Final but lost to Barcelona and Giovani dos Santos, and ever since, the club have sent a junior squad to participate in the Under-15 section.
Many of the club’s current youth and reserve players, including Josh McEachran, have played in the competition, but not one of the teams were able to string together a week of success.
That is, until now.
Chelsea won all five fixtures without conceding a goal. Five hours of defensive dominance (matches are 30 minutes each way) was the strong backbone for an attack which combined for 18 goals.
Sounds just like the academy side’s run last season.
The tournament draw matched Chelsea against South Coast Bayern (from California) and County Tyrone, one of many local sides taking part in the festival.
They made up three of an eight team group, with the top four qualifying for the Milk Cup tournament proper, whilst the remainder played out the Dunluce and Slemish trophies.
The boys got off to a fine start on Monday with a comprehensive 3-0 win over the Americans. Midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek opened the scoring with a header from George Cole’s corner before Ismail Seremba curled into the top corner to double the advantage before half time.
Loftus-Cheek doubled his tally in the second half after a lovely build-up involving a number of players.
Things got even better on Tuesday as Armagh were put to the sword in the form of a 7-0 demolition.
Lewis Baker opened the scoring from the penalty spot before Loftus-Cheek bundled home from a corner to make it 2-0.
Reece Mitchell’s persistence in closing down the defence earned him the third, and Seremba added his second of the week, pouncing on a short backpass which gifted him an open goal.
Armagh were hardly covering themselves in glory and were 5-0 down before half time as Loftus-Cheek struck for a fourth time, his header dropped by the goalkeeper in unfortunate fashion.
He was denied a hat-trick by a nice save from a long range shot after the break, but Walter Figueira pounced on the rebound and showed a deftness of touch in volleying home the sixth.
Figueira bettered it with the seventh and final goal, however, coming inside with a lovely turn before finishing off the outside of his right foot.
With ten goals, Chelsea had topped their group, securing a Quarter Final date with County Tyrone, which would prove to be the closest match of their week.
A solitary Reece Mitchell strike was enough to seal a place in the last four, the young striker displaying explosive pace to create the opening, and was rewarded with a little luck in finding the net through the goalkeeper.
Seremba, Cole, and Jonathan Muleba all went close to adding a second but only one was needed in the end.
Thursday saw a return to the goalscoring antics as Dundalk 93 were next in line to face the powerful attacking young Blues.
Four more first half goals saw the game over inside 30 minutes, and as the squad was rotated, more goals could have followed.
The opening goal came in something of a controversial fashion when Alistair Gordon tapped in at the far post from a free kick. Most players had stopped after hearing an apparent whistle, but the referee hadn’t blown it, and awarded the goal after just a minute.
Cole curled a free kick over the wall and beyond the goalkeeper to make it 2-0 after Loftus-Cheek was fouled on the edge of the area, and the flame-haired winger was involved in the third shortly afterwards.
Showing good persistence to work crossing opportunities from the right, he eventually found the marauding left sided player Reiss Awuah, who saw his header saved. Mitchell was on hand to tuck away the rebound.
Immediately from kickoff Chelsea seized possession and broke forward. Lofus-Cheek’s slide-rule ball found Cole inside the box, and he dinked a left-footed shot past the goalkeeper.
Seremba, Figueira and Jess Starkey had second half chances and on another day may have regretted their profligacy, but they were on their way into a Final against Cruz Azul from Mexico.
Chelsea sealed a 3-0 victory courtesy of an overhead kick by Mitchell before a fine effort from John Swift made it 2-0, beating the goalkeeper from well outside the area. Swift then won a penalty which was tucked away by Lewis Baker to set off celebrations in the Blues camp, allowing captain Jordan Houghton to collect the trophy and presumably take a Milk shower, as is tradition.
More information from the match will be updated in this piece as it becomes available as details are only just emerging, so keep a check on it here, and on Twitter @chelseayouth.
A hearty and deserved congratulations go to the entire squad and coaching staff, and in particular Adie Viveash and Gerry Harvey, who are with the boys on the trip.
Some of the squad featured in Under-18 pre-season action against Plymouth, and on recent evidence may be seen at higher levels ahead of time.
Neil Bath said earlier in the week that the academy is still in the process of a 10-year development and improvement plan.
After year six, things are going very well if silverware is anything to go by.
Squad: 1. Mitchell Beeney, 2. Jonathan Muleba, 3. Alistair Gordon, 4. Jordan Houghton, 5. Samuel Bangura, 6. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 7. Ismail Serema, 8. John Swift, 9. Reece Mitchell, 10. Lewis Baker, 11. George Cole, 12. Walter Figueira, 13. Ben Killip, 14. Joel Tamina, 15. Jess Starkey, 16. Fankaty Dabo, 17. Ambrose Gnahore, 18. Reiss Awuah
3-0 vs South Coast Bayern (Loftus-Cheek x2, Seremba) – highlights
7-0 vs Co. Armagh (Baker ‘pen, Loftus-Cheek x2, Mitchell, Seremba, Figueira x2) – highlights
1-0 vs Co. Tyrone (Mitchell) – highlights (starting at 1.45)
4-0 vs Dundalk 93 (Gordon, Cole x2, Mitchell) – highlights
3-0 vs Cruz Azul (Mitchell, Swift, Baker ‘pen) – highlights to come
(picture courtesy of Russell Pritchard)