As we enter the last six months of the footballing decade, we’re presented with the opportunity to reflect upon the work done by Chelsea at academy level between 2010 and 2019. In the first of several pieces that will both look back and take a peek at the future, we’ll focus on the numerous Cobham graduates who have flown the nest and made a name for themselves elsewhere.
For, while the Blues have handed out 18 debuts to academy products since January 1st 2010, there have been success stories away from Stamford Bridge; far and wide, at home and abroad, and in other sports or disciplines. It speaks to the quality and consistency of the work being done by Neil Bath and his team, and promises to get even better in the months and years ahead.
Of those eighteen, some – like Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Andreas Christensen and Callum Hudson-Odoi – remain, but many more have moved on to pastures new. Patrick van Aanholt, Ola Aina, Nathaniel Chalobah, Nathan Aké, Dominic Solanke, Jeremie Boga and Bertrand Traore are full senior internationals, while John Swift and Josh McEachran have carved out respectable football league careers that might yet yield top-flight opportunities, with both of them still in their 20s and with their best football ahead of them.
International caps have also been earned by Mukhtar Ali, George Saville and Gael Kakuta, while Declan Rice – released at the age of 14 – has gone on to star for West Ham United and England. Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah can tell a similar story, having left Chelsea at the same age, and is set to add to his burgeoning reputation next season after scoring his first Premier League goal on the final day of last season. Zech Medley cancelled his scholarship after just three months in order to join him in North London, and he too played under Unai Emery this season, making his debut in the Europa League.
Certainly, parting company with Chelsea before scholarships are issued at the age of sixteen does not mean the end of the road; far from it in fact. Zain Westbrooke is pushing for a full-time breakthrough at Coventry after heading to Brentford upon his exit from the Blues, while Barnet’s Jack Taylor recently made his Ireland Under-21 debut, and Jake Hessenthaler has been a reliable and dependable midfield option for Gillingham and Grimsby. Among the more recognisable names to follow suit, Levi Lumeka has played top-flight football for Crystal Palace and has just joined Varzim in Portugal, Rhian Brewster is an Under-17 World Champion who is on the road to recovery at Liverpool after missing all of last season through injury, and Ian Carlo Poveda, who spent his formative years under the tutelage of Chelsea coaches before taking in spells at Arsenal, Barcelona and Brentford, made his Manchester City debut in last season’s League Cup tie against Burton Albion.
Trialists come and go in their droves each and every season, many leaving their mark in the process. Timothy Weah announced himself to a wider audience on loan from PSG at Celtic earlier this year, Domingos Quina is an increasingly bright prospect at Watford after moving from West Ham, and Brooklyn Beckham is doing his thing outside the world of football. He’s not alone; Adam Gemili is a World Championship gold-medal winning sprinter, Alex Lozowski has played international rugby union for England, and Bradley Simmonds has transitioned from football into the celebrity personal trainer industry, counting the likes of John Terry as friends and clients. It’s a small but important demonstration that Chelsea are invested in the person behind the footballer, and strive to set them up for success in whatever walk of life they end up taking.
That much is further evidenced by the way Bath builds his coaching and scouting staff. A potent mix of former academy players who didn’t quite make it, graduates who went all the way through and returned to pass on their wisdom, and talented personnel from outside the club allows for a broad range of experiences and education. Ali Gordon, Tom Howard and George Cole all made youth team appearances this decade and have been involved in coaching since, with Howard in particular making strides at the younger age levels, while Harry Worley, Jack Saville and Sam Hurrell from slightly earlier are all involved on the non-playing side these days. Where Joe Edwards, Jody Morris, Ed Brand and others have gone, the next generation continue to follow, and it’s a vital part of the Cobham ecosystem.
Hubert Adamczyk, Miro Muheim, Isak Ssewankambo and Ali Suljic all came from abroad and went back home to generally positive outcomes, and they’ve been joined on their travels by numerous home-grown youngsters too. Harvey St Clair is currently with Venezia in Italy, Jonathan Panzo has just completed his first year in Monaco, and Charlie Colkett has ventured to Sweden, where former team-mate Kevin Wright is doing very nicely as well. Archange Nkumu has carved out a nice little stay in Iceland over the last four years, Walter Figueira and Ambrose Gnahore spent time in Portugal and Spain and Greece between them, and Milan Lalkovic has just signed for Banik Ostrava after finding the fun in football again last season at Sigma Olomouc. Martell Taylor-Crossdale‘s impending move to Hoffenheim will be a rare foray into the German market, and a fascinating step for him to take.
A few of the more familiar names, perhaps, remain on UK shores. Fankaty Dabo recently joined up with Charlie Wakefield at Coventry City, where Adi Viveash is the Assistant Manager, Dion Conroy is a key player at Swindon, and Jordan Houghton is thriving at Milton Keynes. Brad Collins’ four-year contract at Barnsley gives him the chance to impress in the Championship and forge a real path to the top. Cameron McGeehan – another to leave before the age of 16 –won a Youth Cup at Norwich before going on to shine at Luton and Barnsley too, and earning a Northern Ireland call-up. Billy Clifford, Kaby and Daniel Pappoe played under the late, great Dermot Drummy at Crawley Town (where Alex Davey and Mitchell Beeney have also plied their trade), and both Nortei Nortey and Aziz Deen-Conteh played down at Dover. Each of them have had their ups and downs but will go into the 2019-20 season at new clubs with optimism for the future.
Ben Killip, a former scholar goalkeeper who left for Norwich at the age of 17, recently represented England C and has signed for Hartlepool United after an outstanding year at Braintree, while there was also success in non-league football last term for Alex Kiwomya (Chesterfield, on loan from Doncaster) and Billy Knott, who once starred for Bradford, winning against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and more recently spoke bravely and honestly about his struggles with mental health.
— Luke Lambert (@LukeLambert90) May 10, 2018
What becomes of Rohan Ince (last contracted to Brighton), Islam Feruz, Reece Mitchell, Anton Rodgers, Jon Muleba, Connor Hunte or Chike Kandi in the coming years is up to them; some will shine, some will struggle, some might even come back to Chelsea to embark upon a new journey. A cursory glance around team line-ups on a Saturday afternoon will turn up former Chelsea academy players everywhere; from the Ryan Bertrands and Sam Hutchinsons and Scott Sinclairs of the 2000s, to the current loan army, and the names covered above. There’s a Chelsea connection seemingly everywhere these days, and it’s only going to grow stronger as we head into the 2020s.