It’s been another remarkable, record-breaking year for the Chelsea academy. From silverware to debuts and the breakthrough of Andreas Christensen into the first-team squad, there has been much to celebrate and enjoy. As 2017 draws to an end, let’s take a look at some of the significant moments from each month of the year.
The year got off to a strong start as Jody Morris’ Under-18s geared up for another assault on the FA Youth Cup with a 5-0 win away to Birmingham City in Round Four. Mason Mount, who served as captain for the campaign, netted a sublime hat-trick.
Whilst the hunt for a fourth successive Youth Cup continued in earnest, Morris’ boys were also seeking a first national Under-18 league title in more than 30 years. On a brisk February morning at Cobham, they blew Brighton away to the tune of a 13-0 victory, with Martell Taylor-Crossdale, Luke McCormick, and Charlie Brown all scoring hat-tricks.
This was clearly an academy group determined to make history. A Semi Final date against Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Youth Cup looked tricky on paper, but a competition-record 9-2 aggregate victory saw them into a fifth consecutive final, and a third in a row against Manchester City. Their 7-1 mauling of Spurs in the second leg at Stamford Bridge bore all the hallmarks of their devastating attacking football.
This was supposed to be Man City’s year. This was their ‘golden generation’, the one with the best chance of finally overcoming Chelsea in the Under-18s’ showpiece occasion. It didn’t work out that way though, as Chelsea stormed to a 6-2 aggregate victory with a 5-1 drubbing of their closest rivals on another memorable evening at Stamford Bridge.
And they didn’t stop there. A 3-0 win at home to Reading ensured they would also become Under-18 league champions, securing an historic treble for the academy to go alongside their Southern section crown and another Youth Cup, on the day that the first team won 1-0 at West Brom to become Premier League champions again.
The club season drew to a close, but a memorable summer of international youth football was just getting started. England, with Joe Edwards on the coaching staff, took a hybrid group of Under-18s and Under-20s to the Toulon Tournament, and came back as champions for the second year in a row. Five Chelsea players; Iké Ugbo, Reece James, Josh Grant, Martell Taylor-Crossdale and Tariq Uwakwe, plus a former academy product in Dan Kemp, were in the victorious squad.
Fikayo Tomori, Jake Clarke-Salter, and Dominic Solanke also helped the actual Under-20s to become World Champions out in South Korea with a dramatic and hard-fought path to glory. Solanke, who would leave on a free transfer and join Liverpool three weeks later, was named the Player of the Tournament.
They handed over to the Under-19s in July, but the wins simply kept coming. James pulled double-duty in joining Mount, Dujon Sterling, Jay Dasilva, Trevoh Chalobah and Jacob Maddox in Keith Downing’s squad, who went all the way in Georgia. Mount was selected as the tournament’s Golden Player before joining Vitesse Arnhem on loan for the 2017-18 season.
The club season returned with a bang, as Chelsea were beaten 3-2 at home by Burnley on the opening day of the Premier League season. Jeremie Boga was handed his club debut, one that was unfortunately ended prematurely following Gary Cahill’s dismissal, but that in turn helped to open the door for Andreas Christensen to begin to establish himself as the club’s best defender.
The League Cup allowed for more debuts as Ethan Ampadu and Dujon Sterling both made their Blues bows at home to Nottingham Forest in September. Ampadu had only joined from Exeter City in the summer, making a strong impression in double-quick time, but Sterling’s journey had begun at the age of 7 and represented the best of what the academy tries to do. For a player to rise from the youngest age groups all the way through to the first team is testament to the exceptional work done by Neil Bath and a cast of hundreds at Cobham, and hopefully it will be the first of many appearances for the talented youngster.
Then they took over the world. Anyone who had the fortune of watching England’s 2000-born age group over the last two or three years would have told you that this was a team destined for greatness. In October in India, they announced themselves in style by becoming Under-17 World Champions, sweeping aside all that came before them, including impressive triumphs over Brazil and Spain in the Semi Final and Final respectively.
Callum Hudson-Odoi, George McEachran, Marc Guehi, Jonathan Panzo and Conor Gallagher represented Chelsea to the highest of standards, with each of them playing a major role along the way.
England’s double-header of friendlies against Germany and Brazil at Wembley proved the proudest of moments for the academy staff as Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Tammy Abraham, Jack Cork, Ryan Bertrand and Solanke all featured – four of them debutants – on the international stage. Loftus-Cheek was named Man of the Match against the World Cup holders, whilst Ampadu also made his debut for Wales away to France at the same time.
Another FA Youth Cup campaign got underway with a 4-0 win over Scunthorpe, a result that helped take the Under-18s’ unbeaten home run past the 1000-day mark. They last suffered defeat on home soil against Middlesbrough on April 4th 2015 and have won 44 of the 48 matches they’ve hosted since, scoring a breathtaking 166 goals along the way.
In sadder news, we suffered the loss of former academy coach Dermot Drummy. The 56 year-old spent seven years at the club, starting out with the Under-16 squad before making his mark on the Under-18 and Under-21/Development Squads. He oversaw the development of countless young talents and led the club to FA Youth Cup and Under-21 League triumps, but the true mark of the man was in the small everyday moments that imprinted upon the lives of everyone he interacted with. He was a wonderful, genuine man, and he left us far too soon.
Rest In Peace Dermot.