Football is increasingly becoming a young man’s game.
Players of ever more tender years are shining at the top levels of the game with each passing year, and naturally, to be in a position to do that, their development must be accelerated at each stage of their youth career.
Like many clubs, Chelsea have not shied away from such an approach, and it’s been something they’ve been very particular and deliberate about doing since the ‘overhaul’ of the academy in 2005. In each of the last two seasons, well in excess of a dozen schoolboys have made the early jump to Under-18 football, with some getting early reserve opportunities, and the same is happening so far this season.
The implementation of the Elite Player Performance Plan last summer allows for teams to make provisions for players to be educated on-site at their training ground rather than seek arrangements with schools for day release programmes. It means a young prospective footballer can spend more time on the training pitch and less time shutting between home, school, and football.
Six players – Jeremie Boga, Charlie Colkett, Connor Hunte, Ola Aina, George Brady and Charly Musonda Jr – therefore went full-time with the first and second year scholars in July, and three of them have already made a marked impact on the Under-18 and Under-21 teams in 2012-13.
Boga, who made his second string debut for Dermot Drummy a few days after turning 15 way back in February, has largely stuck around at that level despite being six years younger than some of his opponents. It’s been an entirely necessary transition though, as it’s the level which has been most demanding of him to this point. However, a stunning brace against Liverpool in November and a series of fabulous outings so far have raised questions as to just how much of a challenge even Under-21 football is for this prodigiously talented number ten, and what the next step is for him.
Drummy has also seen it fit to use Colkett and Hunte in the NextGen Series against some of Europe’s finest junior outfits, whilst the pair have been mainstays of Adi Viveash’s country-leading Under-18 team thus far. They each have two goals, with Colkett scoring home and away against Manchester City and Hunte notching against Middlesbrough and Fulham. Both left-footed, they each offer a multi-faceted game, with Colkett very much in the Josh McEachran mould and Hunte a rapid winger or occasional full-back with great dynamism about him.
Full-back Aina, an England Under-17 international, has seen some time in friendly matches and received his maiden Under-18 call against Crystal Palace, whilst Musonda and Brady – both overseas imports earlier in 2012 – will surely see more chances in 2013 after fleeting involvement in friendlies during the summer.
Academy manager Neil Bath has spoken regularly of the process the academy goes through at the midway point of the season. As Under-21 players look to further their own careers with loan moves (or more permanent departures), some of the brighter and more capable players in the Under-18s move up to the next level. It has a knock-on effect and so Under-16s move up to Under-18 football, and so on.
To that end, you can expect to see plenty more of the six players mentioned above as the season goes on, as well as some other upcoming scholars for next season and beyond. The team which has run roughshod over pretty much everyone at youth level so far this season has also been one of the youngest, and it promises to get even younger. With remarkably little drop-off in talent, there is much promise ahead.