It’s trendy for people, inside academy football or otherwise, to be bullish about the quality of talent in their junior ranks. With every passing season it seems there are five or six new ‘golden generations’ at clubs up and down the country, anointing the ‘next ones’ before the previous gems have even left their teenage years.
It’s understandable to an extent; the promise of tomorrow is naturally exciting, the discovery of previously unknown talent by the wider footballing public and the opportunity for those behind the scenes to share their work to a larger audience is appealing on both sides of the table. And, let’s not forget, the quality of academy coaching is certainly improving, so players are getting better at younger ages.
The academy class of 2019 at Chelsea, however, is very much a bumper crop. Arguably the strongest group in terms of depth of talent since at least 2016, the late-2002 and 2003 born boys are serial trophy winners who have racked up considerable international recognition in the last two years. It’s almost entirely home-grown and raised at Cobham, with a sprinkling of international flavour thrown on top, and it will provide Andy Myers’ Under-18 team with an injection of talent that will certainly see them challenge once again for league and cup silverware in 2019-20.
Click or tap on a player’s name to view their profile on TheChels.info, our comprehensive wiki.
Lucas Bergström, Goalkeeper
The sole overseas signing in the group, the 6’6” Bergström arrived from Finnish club side TPS last September, shortly after his 16th birthday. Having settled into his new club at Under-16 level, an injury kept him out for a little while, but he returned to make his youth team debut in the final game of the season at Reading. His gigantic size and long limbs make him an imposing presence for opponents, and he’s more than happy to involve himself in the possession game. He’ll compete for playing time with Jake Askew and Ethan Wady this season, as Karlo Ziger and Nicolas Tié focus on Development Squad football.
Lewis Bate, Midfielder
A tenacious yet cultured left-footed central midfielder who has often captained this group of players, Lewis was one of the first to break into the Under-18 team, making six appearances and scoring one goal last season. Not afraid to put himself about despite his short stature, he’s at his best running the show and pulling all the strings from the middle of the pitch, and has become a regular in the England Under-17 squad since the start of 2019.
Josh Brooking, Defender
An England Under-16 international centre-back or right-back, Brooking joined from Reading last season and quickly demonstrated why Chelsea were keen to bring him to the club. Standing at 6ft tall and with pace to spare, he’s happy in any number of roles in a back three or four, composed in possession, and an all-round polished performer who will be keen to work his way back into Three Lions contention moving forward.
Levi Colwill, Defender
Hailing from the Southampton area, the left-footed Colwill has been at Chelsea since boyhood and, although he can play at full-back or wing-back, he does his best work from the heart of the defence. Confident and assertive, he has the quality on the ball of a young Jake Clarke-Salter and could very well develop into the same sort of quality performer as the England Under-21 international in the coming years.
Ben Elliott, Midfielder
Were it not for a string of injuries in the last two years, chances are you’d have heard a lot more about Ben Elliott by now. A broken ankle during his Under-15 season was followed by a knee problem that blighted much of his Under-16 campaign, a real blow after spending an impressive season with Myers’ older group this time a year ago. Undersized but never under-appreciated, he oozes midfield class and control, bringing together all the individual strands running through a match and playing the game on his terms. When fit, his quality is undeniable.
Joe Haigh, Forward
The England Under-16 international Haigh is rather un-English, in a similar manner to the likes of Mason Mount before him, his technical quality and balance evoking comparisons to a more continental style. Unlike Mount, he’s less of a central midfielder and more a wide forward, preferring to play on the left of the attack, where he can cut inside and wreak havoc with the ability to unlock defences with the pass, or bypass them entirely with the odd spectacular goal in his locker.
Bashir Humphreys, Defender
A relative late-comer to the academy, arriving from grass roots football as an Under-15 after previously spending time in Reading’s academy, Bashir quickly earned England caps that confirmed what Chelsea saw in him. Having built a strong partnership with Colwill in particular, he provides the right-sided balance to Colwill’s left-footed quality, using his size to defend with authority while having the ability to step into midfield and play from there if required.
Valentino Livramento, Defender
While many among this group played Under-18 football last season, only one appeared in the Under-19 UEFA Youth League, and that was the young right-back Livramento. From South London but with Italian heritage, he can play anywhere on the right – a central defender in a three too – but is a tour de force along the right side, powerful and mature, dominant against the very best in his age group, and an England mainstay. Injury kept him out of the European Under-17 Championships in May, but he’ll make up for lost time quickly this season, and is arguably the most well-rounded player in this intake.
Myles Peart-Harris, Midfielder
The comparison is easy, obvious and maybe lazy to make, but when you see Myles Peart-Harris go about his business on the football pitch, it’s hard not to think about Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The physical resemblance aside, they have a similar running style, very upright when cruising laconically through the lines, making it look easy as they get into the attacking third to score or assist. Like Ruben, Myles needs to be pushed and challenged to use everything in his locker to really take over a game rather than contribute in fits and starts, but he’s entirely capable, and Chelsea might have another one on their hands.
Dion Rankine, Full-Back/Wing-Back/Winger
Watching Dion Rankine play football is fun. Arriving from Cambridge United as a 13 year-old, he can play anywhere on the right, and has a little bit of Tariq Lamptey about him in the way his sheer speed and directness can unsettle even the best of opponents. The wing-back role has been integral to Chelsea’s academy successes of recent years, and with Rankine and Livramento available down the right this season, they’ve got two of the best in the business.
Xavier Simons, Midfielder
No, not that one. The source of eternal confusion because Barcelona have a 2003-born player of the same name, Chelsea’s version came from Brentford when the Bees closed their academy operations in 2016, and is a fine player in his own right. A stronger or more powerful version of Ruben Sammut might be a starting point for him in terms of a comparison, though Xav is more likely to get forward and score a goal, and strikes a really nice ball that shows off his technique. Often captaining the team, the step up in quality facing him will challenge him to develop a more rounded game, and will give him the platform to make sure people think of him first when they hear the name Xavier Simons.
Charlie Wiggett, Defender
A former Swindon Town schoolboy, Wiggett arrived at Chelsea as a 14 year-old who caught the eye for his leadership and potential at centre-back. Also able to play in a holding midfield role, he’s the latest in a long line of defensive prospects to emerge at Cobham who neatly combine physical and technical traits into a package that, if all goes to plan, will develop into a fine professional footballer in the years to come. Even if he doesn’t don the captain’s armband, he plays like one, and will bring that added value to the pitch every time he crosses the white line.
Jamal Musiala was due to agree a scholarship too but, in line with some of his fellow 2003-born players around the country, he has chosen to explore other opportunities, and has since signed with Bayern Munich.
It doesn’t end there either; Jack Mesure and Andy Ross led their Under-15s to the Southern Final of the Floodlit Cup last season, in a strong campaign of results overall, and as that group graduates to Under-16 level under the tutelage of James Simmonds, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see two or three of those get opportunities to step up before starting their scholarships this time next year. Sam Iling-Junior has already debuted at Under-18 level; his powerful physique and devastating left foot makes him a threat anywhere down that side of the pitch or in a leading role up front, while goalkeeper Kelechi Chibueze, attacking midfielder Harvey Vale and striker Jude Soonsup-Bell are all England regulars with plenty to offer.
Congratulations too must go to those former blues who will continue their careers elsewhere, having secured scholarships at other clubs, a route that has yielded considerable success for those who have explored that path in recent years. Aiming to experience the same sort of success tasted by Declan Rice and Eddie Nketiah in the coming years are Max Thompson, Rio Campbell and Jordan Harrison (all Watford), Paul Appiah (Aston Villa), Jesuran Rak-Sakyi (Crystal Palace), Jason Sraha (Arsenal), Nathan Young-Coombes (Rangers), Matthew Hall (Southampton), Bright Arrey-Mbi (Bayern Munich) and Antef Tsoungui (Brighton).
That Chelsea are developing players who settle at the calibre of clubs listed there is testament to the tremendous work being done by Neil Bath and his academy staff, and they all depart the club with nothing more than the very best wishes for their future development. With pre-season underway, we’re gearing up for another memorable year of youth football, one you can enjoy here at TheChels.net and on Twitter @chelseayouth like nowhere else.