Football has been in a strange place these last few months, and few if any of us really know what lies ahead, but there are some constants that remain in place regardless. The academic school year, for example, might have been interrupted in March by the government’s enforced lockdown, but it officially ends in July and everyone moves up a year or heads for pastures new.
The fabled last day of term took place back in the early spring for many across the country, and whether they have been home-schooling or enjoying a prolonged holiday, the time to take the next step is ever closer. For hundreds of aspiring footballers, the start of July means the official beginning of a new chapter in their careers and lives, as they put pen to paper on scholarship agreements.
The Class of 2020 at Chelsea Football Club is, like many of its predecessors, a remarkably talented one. Trophies have been won at every turn, there is considerable international representation with England and other countries, and while the core of the group once again comes from the foundation phase – Development Centres, pre-academy level and the like – it has been topped up with strong recruitment from a diverse range of influences. From rival London clubs to the Nordic region and from the wider English game and down to grass roots football, Jim Fraser’s search for talent knows no limits, and so Under-18 coaches Ed Brand and James Simmonds are able to welcome 14 new first-year scholars into a squad that was on course to challenge for multiple honours before the 2019-20 season was brought to a premature end.
Please welcome the Class of 2020. Each player’s name leads to their profile on our wiki at www.thechels.info.
Derrick Abu, Wing-Back
A West London boy who joined the academy while still in primary school, Derrick is the latest in a succession of wing-backs coming through the academy, bearing all the hallmarks of those that have gone before him, and when those players are Dujon Sterling, Reece James, Tariq Lamptey and Tino Livramento, you’re in exalted company. Capable of playing on either side of the pitch, he made his England Under-17 debut earlier in 2020.
Prince Adegoke, Goalkeeper
A hulking goalkeeper who joined from grass roots football as an Under-12, Prince has split duties between the sticks with at least two other stoppers in his age group over the years, but has earned a scholarship and will continue to work on refining his craft. Blessed with incredible size at a tender age, he is eligible to represent England and Nigeria, the latter having already expressed plenty of interest in his services.
Edwin Andersson, Winger
Edwin is a Sweden Under-17 international who joins from IFK Göteborg this summer after long being linked with the Blues. His father’s comparisons to Callum Hudson-Odoi are perhaps dangerous in a climate where hyperbole runs wild but, watching his preference to drive inside from the left wing and attack space with sharp dribbling and no little flair, you begin to see what he was on about.
Luke Badley-Morgan, Defender
A left-footed centre-back who has been a regular in England’s youth age groups, Luke has often captained this age group on the way up through the ranks, and is a leader who sets an example from defence and evokes memories of a young Jake Clarke-Salter. Made his Under-18 debut last season.
Kelechi Chibueze, Goalkeeper
The second goalkeeper in the group, Kelechi is another Anglo-Nigerian but one who has been capped by the Three Lions at Under-15 and Under-16 age groups. Perhaps more accomplished overall than Adegoke at this stage of his career, he should see a lot of playing time when the new season gets underway.
Alfie Gilchrist, Defender
Alfie is a defender who joined from QPR as an Under-12 and can play across the defensive line, although he’s at his best as a centre-back, where he relishes the dirty work of a defender. Comfortable in possession, he’s the sort of player who gives you a reliable level of performance week in and week out.
Alex Kpakpe, Defender/Midfielder
Alex is a relative latecomer to academy football, only joining Chelsea as a 14 year-old after a successful trial from grass roots football. As a left-sided defender or midfielder, favourable comparisons can be made to Clinton Mola, with both youngsters capable of playing a similar game. Alex is a little bigger physically at the same age, and will look to make the same progress as the now-Stuttgart man.
Malik Mothersille, Forward
Malik’s academy journey saw him deemed not good enough by both Charlton and Crystal Palace in his native South London, before a prolific spell at Leyton Orient turned heads at some of the country’s biggest clubs. Chelsea beat Arsenal to the punch to get a forward who can play wide or through the middle and who combines pace, flair and skill with a determination to score and a natural instinct to do so.
Jude Soonsup-Bell, Forward
Brought to Chelsea from Swindon Town as an Under-13, Jude has matured into an intelligent, strong and clinical number nine, scoring goals for club and country at every level. He netted the winner for the Blues’ Under-16s against Manchester City in the 2019 PL International Cup with an improvised backheel volley, and smashed a hat-trick as England Under-16s beat Spain 3-1 in February. Arguably the most refined academy forward since the days of Tammy Abraham and Dominic Solanke.
Jimi Tauriainen, Attacking Midfielder
Chelsea’s third foray into the Nordic market in 2020 took them to Finland, where they added Jimi Tauriainen to the signings of Edwin Andersson and Bryan Fiabema. Jimi, the son of a former Finnish international, has a wand of a left foot that has caused damage in any number of positions, but he’s at his best in attacking situations. Chelsea can line him up all over the pitch and have a real weapon on their hands.
Josh Tobin, Midfielder
Josh is another who joined the club straight from grass roots football at Under-13 level and is a defensive-minded central midfielder who loves a tough tackle and enjoys setting the tone for the rest of the team. There is a little bit of a young Luke McCormick about him – Luke eventually reinvented himself as a box-to-box goalscorer who took some time to come along – and Josh might well follow that path.
Silko Thomas, Winger
Silko is an England Under-15 international wide man who can play on the flanks either in attacking roles or as a wing-back. Useful on both sides, he has a range of tools by which to beat you with, and that versatility will be as useful to the team going forward as it has been in other players through the years in a team that relies on its wide players so often.
Harvey Vale, Attacking Midfielder
Chelsea brought the left-footed Harvey over from Fulham as an Under-12 and got one of the most talented youngsters in the academy game. A highlight reel of his best strikes from the last three years would stand up against anyone in the game, and a 30-goal season from attacking midfield in 2019-20 earned him Under-18 minutes as a schoolboy. An England regular, he’s arguably the most advanced player in this group right now in terms of individual development.
Charlie Webster, Midfielder
Charlie is an elegant number eight, a midfield orchestrator who pulls the strings and affects the game in the final third. He’s captained England’s Under-16s this season and, despite earning the sort of interest from other clubs that you might expect of someone with those credentials, is a Chelsea fan who has come through the ranks right from Under-9s.
Several among the group made their youth team debuts while still schoolboys and, as always at Chelsea, opportunities to step up will always be given to those who work hard and deserve it. From a particularly strong incoming Under-16 group, midfielders Leo Castledine and Lewis Hall stand out from their contemporaries for both club and country; the left-footed Hall is a regular in Justin Cochrane’s Under-16 squad for the Three Lions, while Castledine signed from Wimbledon in March to much acclaim for his standout performances for Lee Skyrme’s Under-15 team. Ronnie Stutter has also been impressive at St George’s Park and, as Chelsea held off competition from across the country to sign him from West Ham last October, he looks like another young forward ready to make a name for himself while Brodi Hughes is one of the best defenders of his age anywhere in Europe.
Congratulations must also go to the young players released by Chelsea at the end of their Under-16 season who have since gone on to secure scholarships at other clubs. Miles Leaburn (Charlton Athletic) and Luther Williams (Sheffield United) have already announced their new clubs while Josh Clarke, Ashley Akpan and Neo Eccleston will all be in demand. They each have very visible role models to attempt to emulate in the years to come, as the likes of Declan Rice and Eddie Nketiah have gone on to star in the Premier League and, as one door closes, another opens. Similiarly, Sam Iling-Junior declined to sign scholarship terms and will seek his next career step away from the club.
2020-21 promises to be a season like no other. Pre-season isn’t expected to be allowed to start until early August, with a mid-September start to the new league campaigns. We don’t know how it will take place and we don’t know what opportunities lie ahead. These boys haven’t played a meaningful match of football in more than four months, and it’ll be a little while longer yet until they will. Everyone else of the same age up and down the country is in the same boat, though, and Chelsea’s academy staff have been inventive, creative and understanding in their approach during what has become the ‘new normal’. When we do get underway, though, expect Chelsea to be challenging at the business end of competition as usual.