Eight years ago this spring, fifteen young boys put pen to paper as official members of the Chelsea Football Club academy, Under-8s beginning their journeys amidst dreams of becoming the next big thing.
This July, seven of them become the latest scholars in a long line of recent hot prospects coming through the system at Cobham along with three team-mates who have joined them along the way. It’s a hugely impressive feat not only for so many of them to have made the journey together, but for the exploits the rest of the group have gotten up to since moving on.
Ian Carlo Poveda is an England Under-16 international who has taken in spells at both Arsenal and Barcelona before landing at Brentford, and is expected to join Manchester City before very much longer. Rhian Brewster has played alongside him for the Three Lions after opting to swap blue for the red of Liverpool two years ago, and Jamie Bradley-Green agreed a deal with Southampton earlier this year after not receiving the offer of a scholarship.
Almost everyone else is still involved in the game in some form too; Andrew Demby is at Crystal Palace, Harrison Hume is at Maidstone and Harry Riley at Hendon, with Taylor Munroe at Leatherhead leaving just Finlay Savill moving onto other interests since 2008. Stood proudly behind the group are a host of academy stalwart staff including Neil Bath and Jim Fraser as well as a very youthful Joe Edwards, who this year vacates the post of Under-18 manager to take a year out in completion of his UEFA Pro Licence.
Jody Morris steps up from his role as assistant to take full charge with another academy graduate, Ed Brand, his new number two after combining Under-16 coaching duties with match opposition scouting for Adi Viveash’s Under-21s. The pair are on their own UEFA A Licence progression and, at a time when we celebrate the achievements of the latest 16 year-olds to become full-time scholars at Chelsea, the development of those educating them is just as impressive.
Let’s meet the class of 2016. Click on a player’s name to view his profile on our wiki site http://www.thechels.info.
Jamie Cumming, Goalkeeper
One of those seven who joined the club as an eight year-old, Jamie made his Under-18 debut midway through last season and looked very comfortable in doing so. Similar to Nathan Baxter and Brad Collins before him, he’s technically capable and is an assured goalkeeper who earned England Under-17 recognition back in March.
Juan Familia-Castillo, Midfielder
The sole overseas import in the group and a Dutch Under-16 captain, Juan arrives from Ajax having been sought after by a number of notable European clubs including Arsenal and Manchester United. A left-footed schemer who also has the ability to operate at the back, he should quickly become the fulcrum of the UEFA Youth League and FA Youth Cup-defending teams.
Conor Gallagher, Midfielder
A hard-working and energetic box-to-box midfielder with an older brother in non-league football, Conor made a single Under-18 appearance against West Ham last season and even in that cameo showcased what his game is all about. He provides bite in the tackle and composure in possession along with a penchant for the odd spectacular long-range goal.
Marc Guehi, Defender
A regular England captain at Under-15 and Under-16 level, the versatile Guehi can and has operated in any of the defensive positions used by Chelsea across their 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-2-1 formations since becoming the first 2000-born player to feature at Under-18 level for the club. Athletic and powerful with confidence in himself, a spell in the team at the end of last season acted as the perfect springboard to hitting the ground running when things kick off again.
Reece James, Defender/Midfielder
The son of a UEFA-qualified coach who first joined Chelsea through the local development centre circuit as a six year-old, Reece impressed considerably towards the end of 2015-16 with tenacious and vivacious displays from right-back. Equally at home in a combative midfield role, he encapsulates perfectly the type of player the club are trying to develop; a blend of raw athleticism and technical competency able to play in any number of positions.
George McEachran, Midfielder
The famous surname ensured he stood out long before he came to wider attention and, indeed, George is very similar to older brother Josh. They both have the same casual gait, the same easy-on-the-eye left-footed style and abundant technique, but George is a bit more attacking, a bit more dynamic and has a little more nasty in him. Another with plenty of England Under-16 recognition under his belt.
Zech Medley, Defender
Like Gallagher, Zech has an older sibling in non-league football with Luke Medley’s big moment coming with his first touch in professional football as he struck a stupendous volley for Bradford against Wrexham in 2007. Zech, standing literally head and shoulders above his cohorts, has a long and languid left-footed approach and likes to play at centre-back or left-back, but can also play further forward in midfield. His outing at Blackburn in the final match of last season ensured everyone bar Familia-Castillo enters 2015-16 with at least one Under-18 appearance.
Dujon Sterling, Defender/Attacking Midfielder
The player with the biggest reputation so far from this class, Dujon’s antics as the FA Youth Cup reached its climax last term are still fresh in the memory and for good reason. Despite being the youngest player on the pitch he produced a match-winning assist in the Quarter Final against Reading and scored decisive goals in the Semi Final and Final whilst playing as an auxiliary second striker despite nominally being a right-back who is comfortable at centre-back. Throw in a rock-solid UEFA Youth League Final outing against PSG whilst facing an opponent four years his senior and it’s easy to see why there is so much excitement about him. Under-21 football is the next step even at this tender age.
Martell Taylor-Crossdale, Forward
A prolific junior-age goalscorer who already has some fifteen goals for England up to Under-17 level, it’s just a matter of time before he gets his first at Under-18 level. He has big shoes to fill as the next in line after Dominic Solanke, Tammy Abraham and Iké Ugbo but he’s more than capable, just as dynamic, and in a team as attacking as Chelsea tend to be can be relied upon to lead the line over the next ten months.
Tariq Uwakwe, Midfielder
Another left-footer in the group, Tariq knits things together nicely in midfield with composure and authority. Twelve goals at Under-16 level last season including a host of long-range specials reflect the player he can be and will aim to develop a more aggressive side to go along with his undeniable basic talent.
As always, the group will feature a number of last year’s intake as they become senior Under-18 players whilst next year’s intake will get a look-in now and then as the season goes on. Forward Callum Hudson-Odoi and defenders Marcel Lavinier and Jonathan Panzo are all England Under-16s and as many as half a dozen more could feature as the year goes on. And, as always, you can keep fully up-to-date with everything from pre-season through to what we all hope will be another trophy-laden conclusion to the campaign both here at TheChels.net and on Twitter by following @chelseayouth.