Youth & Reserve Year in Review – Part Two: The Loanees

It’s generally been a successful season for Chelsea when looking at the exploits their young loanees have gotten up to in the last nine months.

With Daniel Sturridge scoring at a fine pace in the Premier League and more players in England’s second tier than in any recent season, the next generation at Stamford Bridge are making waves.

Whether it’s good enough to see them push through at the club or not remains to be seen, but at the very least many of them have gone a long way to showing the wider footballing world what they have to offer should they continue their career elsewhere.

Sturridge is undoubtedly the headline act of the season, as he bagged eight goals in twelve appearances for Bolton and backed up the view that he can score against Premier League defences.

From the moment he came off the bench on his debut to score a last-minute winner against Wolves there was something about him, and he displayed versatility and an innate sense of where the goal is in his range of finishes.

Close-range poached efforts against Arsenal and Blackpool showed his predatory instinct, whilst efforts from outside the box against Newcastle, Tottenham and West Ham were classy and emphatic in equal measure.

He will return to Chelsea for pre-season intent on earning a regular berth in the starting eleven, but for the two other Premier League loanees this season, the future is less clear.

Gael Kakuta’s heralded move down Fulham Road to play the second half of the season at Craven Cottage didn’t exactly go to plan, as he spent more time on Mark Hughes’ bench than on the pitch, but when afforded a chance he did tend to play well.

A first senior goal away to Sunderland was the highlight but for a spell intended to give him regular playing time, it has to go down as a disappointing few months.

Michael Mancienne’s third loan at Wolves was hindered by a serious knee injury which sidelined him for five months, but when he was fit the England Under-21 captain showed his usual versatility, playing all across the back four and in midfield.

He had his ups and downs but with his immediate future looking increasingly like being away from the club he has been at since the age of ten, the campaign was as much about putting himself in the shop window as it was developing on a personal level.

No fewer than eight Chelsea players turned out in The Championship during 2010-11, and the majority of them did very well indeed.

Unfortunately, those who fared best are unlikely to ever be seen in a Blue shirt as they head off to new clubs this summer.

Jack Cork’s second season at Burnley saw the midfielder firmly entrench himself in their starting team and he is likely to sign with the club permanently providing an agreement can be found on his transfer fee.

Fabio Borini, meanwhile, saw his stock shoot through the roof after six goals in nine appearances at Swansea, but he too will be moving on.

Contract talks with Chelsea broke down in November and with no shortage of interest in his services both here in England and back in Italy (where Parma are the favourites to sign him), he will be securing first team football next season.

Ryan Bertrand spent the first half of the season on loan at Nottingham Forest before returning to Chelsea in order to allow Patrick van Aanholt to take in some time at Leicester City, but his experience at the Walkers Stadium was a mixed one.

Alongside compatriot Jeffrey Bruma, both had highlights including spectacular goals from outside the box, but the duo also saw their defending abilities come into question in a back four regularly comprised of young loanees.

Ben Gordon spent the first half of the season in the Scottish Premier League with Kilmarnock and proved a revelation, earning a new two-year contract at Christmas before joining Scunthorpe for the remainder of the campaign.

He fared less well at Glanford Park in a relegation scrap and finished the season on the bench as new manager Alan Knill was apparently not a fan of the attacking left back, but after a poor spell at Tranmere in 2009-10, it was a nice bounce back for Gordon.

Jacob Mellis too responded to a less than positive loan period a season ago at Southampton by becoming an important player for Barnsley after joining in January.

He scored twice in as many appearances to start his career at Oakwell and, despite the sacking of Mark Robins at the end of the season, could head back there in August.

Daniel Philliskirk joined Sheffield United on a permanent basis during his extended loan at Bramall Lane after a brief sojourn to Oxford in the early days of the season.

League One was rather sparse by comparison, with only three representatives, but whilst Michael Woods toiled to impress at Notts County and Adam Phillip struggled at Yeovil, Conor Clifford shone as one of the league’ best.

He may have only made seven appearances for the cash-strapped club but the Irishman was regularly amongst their best performers and earned rave reviews.

A transfer embargo ended his stay in Devon despite all parties wanting it to continue, so he too headed to Meadow Lane, but under the less than impressive management of Paul Ince was woefully misused.

Having already proven his mettle in the same league, Conor was unfairly used on the right wing for the best part of his nine appearances, and decided to end his stay when Ince was sacked in April.

League Two also saw just a couple of Chelsea players turn up on loan, but curiously both were goalkeepers.

Rhys Taylor played almost fifty games for Crewe, keeping ten clean sheets and displaying a knack for saving penalties, denying four takers throughout the course of the year.

He often came in for criticism from Alex fans who were frustrated at not playing ‘club owned’ players like Steve Phillips, but the Welshman had the unwavering support of Dario Gradi and had the best season of his career to date.

In the final weeks of the season, Sam Walker headed up to Barnet on an emergency deal as an injury replacement to help the Bees in their battle against the drop.

Unbeaten in six of his seven outings, a last day clean sheet – his first in the pro game – helped secure survival at the death, sending Lincoln City down to the Conference instead.

Overseas, Slobodan Rajkovic was made captain of Vitesse Arnhem and was joined by Nemanja MAtic and Matej Delac as friendship between new owner Merab Jordania and Roman Abramovich developed into an official link between the clubs.

Whilst Rajkovic played most of the season for the relegation strugglers, Matic was sold in January as a make-weight in the David Luiz deal, whilst Delac failed to make one appearance behind incumbent started Eloy Room.

However, he claims that goalkeeping coach Christophe Lollichon was not totally disappointed with the way the move went, as he learnt a great deal under Raimond van der Gouw in Arnhem and will play more next season at a different team.

Two young South Americans continued their development in domestic football, as Uruguayan forward Jhon Pirez made a senior debut and grabbed a maiden goal, whilst Lucas Piazon prepares for his move to England in 2012 by making his mark at Sao Paulo, although he is yet to play for the first team.

It must be viewed as a positive year for Chelsea overall, particularly when compared to 2009-10’s disappointments. Whilst the likes of Miroslav Stoch impressed, players like Scott Sinclair were regularly sat on the bench and many of those who went out never came back.

Some will leave this year as well, as they find the buzz of regular football too much to turn down – and rightly so – but at the same time, Chelsea will now know far more about many of their next generation than they did this time twelve months ago.

Coming up tomorrow on TheChels…we review a title-winning Reserve team campaign.

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