It’s not a senior player this time but nonetheless, the Belgian contingent at Chelsea is set to increase by one this week with the reported arrival of Anderlecht’s Charly Musonda.
The 15 year-old son of a former Zambian international father also named Charly has attracted attention from all of England’s biggest clubs but is apparently close to a move to West London. Belgian junior international team-mate Mathias Bossaerts, a recent acquisition of Manchester City, posted “Good luck at Chelsea, Charly” to his Facebook page on Thursday night according to multiple Belgian media outlets. It’s not the most concrete source ever but it’s as strong an indication of a move as there’s been in the chase for his talents.
Musonda, a midfielder who recently extended his Anderlecht contract until 2018, would remain a schoolboy for the upcoming 2012-13 season as he doesn’t turn 16 until mid October.
You can get more on this story as it develops on Twitter by following @chelseayouth.
The interview has been translated into English below. Apologies for any minor inaccuracies, the content is generally as published in French.
Gael, is it not annoying that you’ve had to delay your holidays because of Under-21 duty?
Let’s say that we expected it a little; we were warned that there would be a match during this period. It was prepared for. I’ll be on holiday next week, so it doesn’t matter.
What does it mean to you, playing for the Under-21s?
It is a pride to wear the blue shirt. In addition, there’s a new kit, so it’s good for us to wear it before anyone else. It’s like a reward for our performances for out clubs. To be called up to international level shows that you’ve proved your talent and that you’re part of the group close to the full squad.
Erick Mombaerts still called you up despite your lack of playing time with Dijon in the last three matches of the season. Does this confidence show that you’re a key part of his team?
In four months I have been able to show what I could do with the ball, I made a mark with my club. I didn’t play in the last three games…I do not know if I am a part, but the fact that the coach selected me proves that he has confidence in me.
Will you stay at Dijon?
And in Ligue 1?
Could you be loaned out again?
No. If I leave, it will be permanent.
Can you tell us what happened during the strange end of the season, where we had the feeling that everything has exploded in Dijon?
This was a settling of scores between the coach and sporting director…It’s a bit sad from a club that had been promoted to Ligue 1.
Were you taken hostage by this situation?
No, the coach got fired, everything he did and he should not be turned against him. But hey, it’s true that I suffered a bit.
Did the decision not to play you in the last three games come directly from Patrice Carteron?
Yes, it was his fault. He’s the coach, it is he who decides.
Do you know what happened between him and the general manager Sebastian Perez? Did you pay for being close to the latter?
I didn’t pay attention to any of that. I’ve know Perez for years, it was a childish reaction from the coach.
Do you have a grudge against Carteron on this end of season?
Yeah, well…he’s a person who thinks of himself. With Sankhare and Koro Kone I had scored the most goals in the second half of the season. So it’s a bit inexplicable that I was left out of the team, because my performances were not bad.
On the first of three games you missed, Carteron claimed you were injured…
I do not know what he said, I didn’t pay any attention. It doesn’t interest me…to say I was hurt, it was perhaps to justify whatever. But I was not hurt at all.
Will you be returning to Chelsea next season? Will you play with Hazard?
Playing with Hazard, I don’t know. But I want to return to Chelsea, yes. I hope we will play together. After that, it’s up to me to earn my place.
Is there a chance that you go on loan again? It didn’t go so well at Fulham and then at Bolton…
I will return to the club, and I myself will take the decision based on the situation. At Fulham, I did get playing time. I only started two games, but I was involved every time. It was more complicated at Bolton as the club was already in a bad way when I arrived.
Ligue 1 gave you that this season?
Yes, I started playing regularly. I was able to string together games of 90 minutes, I found my rhythm and level, I think. I was also able to show Chelsea that I had lost nothing and they could always trust me. It was a good experience, I still started 12 games. I gained some things, got some experience.
It’s unclear who will lead the Blues next season. So, do you think Roman Abramovich has looked at your games?
Him directly, I don’t know. But I was watched in every match.
It’s still a real disappointment what happened to Dijon. The team had defensive problems but often offered an enjoyable game, and often made a ‘pschitt’ at the end…
As I said, there were things that should never have happened. Without that, we would have survived. The coach made decisions that should never have been taken, he wanted to show he had the power. But everything went wrong, and finally he got fired.
Returning to the Under-21s, how do you approach the two games coming up? What is the aim?
Win both matches without conceding a goal. We must continue our momentum.
Personally, what do you expect? Is it another opportunity to impress Chelsea, or do those who will decide your future already know where they stand?
As usual, I want to play. And then we’ll see. As for the people of Chelsea, they’re on holiday, I don’t think they’ll watch the matches…They had time to visit me in Dijon for six months. If I play and I perform well in both games, they’ll be aware, for sure. It’s up to me to be decisive if I’m on the pitch.
What are your personal goals for next season? There will be fantastic players at Chelsea…
There are also many people who will leave. Drogba, Kalou surely; Malouda, I do not know…
Have you ever thought about your shirt number?
No (smiles)…As I play, the number doesn’t really bother me. I was 44, I will try to take Anelka’s 39. He was a great example. We exchanged a lot and he taught me a lot. He sat next to me in the changing room.
What other players do you get along well with at Chelsea?
Drogba, Malouda, Kalou, Bosingwa…all those who speak French!
For you, is it less of a blessing that the Blues have won the Champions League? Without this trophy, the club would have been less attractive and you would perhaps have found your place more easily…
No, it means nothing. Football moves fast. If anything, next year will be my year and I’m going big. But maybe it will not be my year…it’s up to me to work hard and show that I’m able to play at Chelsea.
Do you feel more ready, in fact, that in previous seasons?
Yes, because I received game time and I picked up the pace, so it will be easier to join the group. Before, I tended to be worse than the others physically. As I play more regularly, I think I’ll be fine.
In many ways, it’s not a question you can answer with particular ease or brevity. After all, what is ‘ready’?
We often see players head out on loan moves to help them refine their game and develop in order to be ‘ready’ to compete for a first team spot upon their return.
It usually entails some combination of developing physically against older players, progressing mentally with points and league positions to play for, and working out how best their game translates to the professional level.
Of course, that’s all well and good and in many cases entirely valid, but there comes a point where you have to sit back and ask yourself if your definition of ‘ready’ is unrealistic.
Gael Kakuta really sparked this discussion earlier in the week on Twitter, and indeed over the course of the season. Consensus amongst Chelsea supporters was that he needed to go away, perform consistently and prove that he can play at the level required of first team footballers at Stamford Bridge.
Yet there’s a very strong argument that he’s been just that for a while, and is simply better placed after a relatively successful spell at Dijon because he’s shown the ability (at least in patches) to perform in top flight football.
Few would have claimed that Ryan Bertrand was ‘ready’ to have started in the Champions League Final but, given a clearly defined role and set of duties, and trusted entirely by his manager, he put in a solid performance and contributed towards his team’s success.
The likes of Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas, Wayne Rooney and others exploding onto the scene as top class sixteen and seventeen year-olds has helped perpetuate a myth in the last decade that players can only contribute as youngsters if they’re able to be key players, amongst the first names on the team sheet and individuals you can turn to in moments of need.
Kakuta, like Bertrand, is ‘ready’ to play for Chelsea. At the age of almost 21, he’s not going to become much more than he is now, certainly not for a number of years. If and when he does, it will simply be a maturity which comes with experience.
He is what he is; a flair player, a luxury. Critics will be swift to note that he doesn’t defend with particular commitment, that he drifts out of games, that his right foot isn’t good.
If your team can accommodate such a player, and trust him to produce what he’s clearly capable of doing in attack, then he’s ‘ready’. You might equally match each of those flaws to a Juan Mata or a Daniel Sturridge – both are also luxury players, albeit better and more effective ones.
This is no slight on Kakuta, but it doesn’t mean that he can’t be one of a squad of 25/26 and be of use to whoever the new Chelsea manager may be.
It’s easier for attacking players to be ‘hidden’, but if you show sufficient trust in your players and have a solid, well-structured environment for them to play in, they can be ‘ready’.
Oriol Romeu isn’t ready to be a regular for Chelsea but was effective in his role last season. It helped that he was given protection from a group of players around him, but it was something that his manager understood and as a result the Spaniard looked capable more often than not.
Ability will always separate the wheat from the chaff at the upper end of the scale but, strictly speaking, you could take any one of close to a dozen reserve teamers at Chelsea (including those who have spent the last season out on loan) and plug them into the team without a problem, as long as their strengths are accentuated and their weaknesses protected.
Talent evaluation has numerous intricacies and differs from sport to sport but one constant found amongst them all is that a player will a) do some things well, b) struggle to do other things, and c) develop over time. Very, very few are the finished product, but they need not be for them to be of use. It’s part of the charm of team sports that whilst individuals make the headlines, the true value of the team as a sum of its parts always comes to the fore.
A 10/10 player is always nice, and producing a John Terry is a magnificent thing for any academy. However, producing two or three 6/10 players every season is just as useful. A dependable, maybe versatile player who can feature for 20-25 games a season is more valuable now than ever.
We’ll never know if those who have departed Stamford Bridge in search of first team football were ‘ready’. We do now know that Ryan Bertrand is. He might not be great in every game, he might never be a consistent 9/10 player, but he’s more often than not been a 7/10 and that is more than adequate at this point in time.
Positive reinforcement is encouraged throughout the academy setup up and down the country, but appears to stop when players leave youth team football and try to make the hardest step of all into the professional ranks. It needn’t be this way.
There are others at Cobham waiting to be given the same opportunity as Ryan Bertrand. Expecting perfection is ambitious. They’re perhaps more ‘ready’ than many realise.
Friday saw the Premier League publish their official Released and Retained lists for the end of the 2011-12 season and in doing so all but confirmed the departures of five Chelsea players.
Didier Drogba’s exit has already been announced and is the most high-profile free agent in the game. He’ll be joined by Salomon Kalou and Jose Bosingwa, whilst two reserve team players will also depart at the end of their contracts.
Swedish forward Marko Mitrovic turns 20 at the end of next month and after a career in London which has largely been beset by injuries, he will be moving on.
Academy top scorer during the FA Youth Cup winning 2009-10 season with 16 goals, Mitrovic often looked very good as the lone striker in a 4-3-3 formation, proving adept at occupying two defenders and being able to finish off either foot and with his head.
Unfortunately, he just wasn’t able to stay fit, as after three different medium term injuries in his first season at the club, he missed most of the 2010-11 campaign with an ankle ligament problem before being absent for much of the last ten months.
Earlier this year, former club Malmo invited him to return to the club in a pre-season training camp, but they extended the offer to all of their former academy players who have departed without making progress elsewhere. There is no great indication where he may end up but a return to his homeland would be amongst the favourite options.
Also leaving is Welsh goalkeeper Rhys Taylor, who moves on in search of regular first team football after proving himself more than capable in League Two over the last two seasons at Crewe Alexandra and Rotherham United respectively.
Taylor, now 22, has long been highly rated in the goalkeeping fraternity and has occasionally served as third-choice goalkeeper for the first team, working with Christophe Lollichon, Petr Cech and others.
However, with Cech showing little sign of slowing down and a host of other alternatives making waves, it’s been a long and uphill task for him to impress at Stamford Bridge and he has reportedly agreed terms with his new club, but is yet to confirm their identity.
He made the trip to the United States with Chris Coleman’s senior Wales squad this last week to play Mexico but remained an unused sub, as he did against Georgia as a teenager some years ago.
Also released but not included on the Premier League’s documents is second-year scholar Reece Loudon. Another who struggled with injuries in the last two seasons, the left sided player spent six weeks on loan at Potters Bar Town in early 2012 and most recently played in a trial match for Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
Everyone at TheChels wishes the six all the best of luck in the future. You can read Tweedy’s homage to the legendary Drogba HERE and over the next month there will be appropriate content for fellow European Champions Bosingwa and Kalou.
Tuesday saw the final deadline for European Championship squads to be named, and, injuries pending, we now know there will be nine Chelsea players in Poland and the Ukraine next month.
John Terry, Frank Lampard, Gary Cahill, Ashley Cole, Raul Meireles, Fernando Torres, Juan Mata, Petr Cech and Florent Malouda have been selected by their respective nations and are all set to play key roles throughout June.
Lampard suffered a thigh injury in England training on Wednesday and is a reported doubt, but otherwise the European Champion contingent are fit and ready to contribute.
Chelsea are the most represented club in the Premier League but trail the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in overall contribution to the sixteen 23-man squads.
All bar Cahill have featured in a European Championships before, but for the English quartet it’s a first appearance since 2004, as the Three Lions failed to qualify for Austria and Switzerland 2008.
Then, eight Blues took park, with Cech and Malouda joined by Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira, Michael Ballack, Claude Makelele, Nicolas Anelka and Khalid Bouhlarouz.
In Portugal four years prior to that, Terry and Lampard were joined by team-mates Joe Cole and Wayne Bridge in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s party, and were four of another total of eight including Marcel Desailly, William Gallas and Jesper Gronkjaer.
It means this year’s selections represent an all-time high for the club, and it could have been higher had Jose Bosingwa not fallen out with the Portuguese management. Daniel Sturridge remains on the England standby list.
As an aside, there is also a healthy group of former Chelsea players heading East, with Damien Duff, Yuri Zhirkov, Arjen Robben, Ricardo Quaresma, Fabio Borini, Andriy Shevchenko, Glen Johnson, Scott Parker and the aforementioned Boulahrouz all confirmed.
Just shy of a week ago, Chelsea youngsters Nathaniel Chalobah and Todd Kane were enjoying celebrations in Munich with the first team squad as Champions of Europe.
Preston’s Deepdale Stadium may be a less glamorous place to spend their Friday evening, but both players found the back of the net for Noel Blake’s England Under-19 team as the Three Lions got their European Championship Elite Qualifying Round campaign underway.
Slovenia were comfortably brushed aside 5-0, with captain Chalobah opening the scoring with a deftly curled effort from the edge of the box. It was his first goal at this level and second in England colours after a header in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup last summer. Remarkably, it was also his 47th appearance at junior international level.
Full-back Kane entered the match in the second half and played in a more advanced role on the right hand side. He slammed home from Chalobah’s incisive pass to make it 4-0 in the closing stages, with the other goals coming in the form of a Will Keane brace and a strike from Tom Thorpe.
Blake’s team now head to Rochdale on Sunday, when they’ll host Montenegro, before returning to Deepdale for the final group match against Switzerland. Kane and Chalobah will hope to make a similar impact, as will the third blue in the squad, forward Patrick Bamford.
To conclude our week-long review of the reserve and youth seasons, let’s take a look at some of the very best of the campaign, a celebration of all things young and blue, if you will.
A second FA Youth Cup crown in three years leads the way, a magnificent achievement for everyone involved…Nathan Aké was named the academy’s Scholar of the Year after a superb debut campaign in England…Lucas Piazon won the coveted Young Player of the Year Award (the first to win it without playing for the first team since Leon Knight 11 years ago), impressing so quickly after arriving from Sao Paulo in November.
Islam Feruz led the way on the goalscoring front and was the most prolific of three schoolboys at the top of the charts; Alex Kiwomya and Ruben Loftus-Cheek excelled as well…Amin Affane weighed in with his fair share of goals and assists as he stepped his development up in his second year in England…Lewis Baker and John Swift saw plenty of playing time throughout the campaign and both impressed hugely, finishing the year in the reserve team.
Sam Hutchinson’s return from a year of retirement was the early season feel-good factor, and the defender capped things off with first team appearances…James Russell returned to the club after an absence of five years and filled in admirably as an emergency goalkeeper…Billy Clifford racked up seven assists as the team’s most creative outlet.
Milan Lalkovic would have gone close to the top scorer’s title had he not departed on loan; he had a fine half season….finishing just one goal behind eventual top scorer Romelu Lukaku, who was thoroughly professional and keen to learn…opportunities arose for a number of first year scholars to dip their toes in the water throughout the season, and even a few schoolboys got a look…Jeremie Boga made his reserve debut before his youth team bow, appearing just a few days after his 15th birthday against Fulham and holding his own.
Thibaut Courtois followed up his Belgian title at the age of 18 with a Europa League winners medal as a 19 year-old, finishing a fabulous year at Atlético Madrid…Ben Gordon also lifted silverware in the form of the Scottish League Cup at Kilmarnock…Tomas Kalas and Patrick van Aanholt saw Vitesse return to European competition for the first time in over a decade…Gael Kakuta finally showed what he can be capable of with a red-hot run of form for Dijon before internal politics ruined the end of their season…Kevin de Bruyne offered a glimpse of the future by becoming arguably the best player in Belgium.
Lewis Baker’s top corner special in the FA Youth Cup Final against Blackburn…Alex Kiwomya’s presence of mind to lift the ball over a Fulham defender before trapping it and finishing back in November…Islam Feruz’ powerful shot on the turn away to Norwich…Lucas Piazon toying with the Arsenal defenders on a cold December afternoon at London Colney…Amin Affane picking out the top corner on the same pitch for the youth team three months later…Adam Phillip starting the season with a deft volley after a precise pass from Billy Clifford.
Thanks for being involved in another outstanding season of youth and reserve team football at Chelsea, it’s always a pleasure to watch it and share it with so many of you.
Nothing stops during the summer so be sure to keep it here at TheChels and on Twitter @chelseayouth for the very latest on what’s going on at Cobham and at Stamford Bridge, home of the European Champions!
Chelsea continued to be extremely well represented on the international scene in 2011-12, enjoying notable performances at every age group from top to bottom.
At senior level, new signing Thibaut Courtois made his Belgium debut against France in November, becoming the youngest goalkeeper in national team history. He is almost certain to become first choice when the Red Devils begin their World Cup qualifying campaign in the Autumn.
Jeffrey Bruma has been a regular part of the Dutch setup and earned his third and fourth camps last October in decisive European Championship qualifiers against Moldova and Sweden. Unfortunately, he is not a part of their 2012 Finals squad.
Welsh goalkeeper Rhys Taylor has earned a long-awaited recall to the senior squad, having first been called up in 2008. He travels with the team to take on the United States in a friendly later this month.
Most remarkably, schoolboy winger Bertrand Traore is already a full international with Burkina Faso, making his first appearance days before his sixteenth birthday before featuring at the African Cup of Nations.
Former Blues Gökhan Töre, Miroslav Stoch and Fabio Borini continue to make a strong impression on the international stage, following on from their impressive representation whilst at the club.
A whole host of current Chelsea players aim to follow in their footsteps, and none moreso than an impressive group of Under-21 internationals.
Josh McEachran has been a regular part of Stuart Pearce’s side since the age of 17 and now, as a 19 year-old, will be relied upon even more to be a key contributor. Despite a lack of playing time at club level, he has been entrusted with a central midfield role by Pearce and continues to impress.
Milan Lalkovic and Gael Kakuta are regulars for Slovakia and France respectively, whilst Patrick van Aanholt has kissed and made up with Netherlands Under-21 boss Cor Pot and earned a recall to the squad after an impasse which lasted almost a year.
Tomas Kalas graduated from the Czech Under-19 ranks last summer as a runner-up in the European Championships and has been an excellent addition to their Under-21 team, even earning outside consideration for a place in their Euro 2012 squad.
Conor Clifford continued in his third season as an Irish Under-21 international, and Chelsea gained another representative at that level this season in the form of schoolboy Islam Feruz.
The Somali-born striker had previously featured for Scotland at Under-16 level and after taking part in European Under-17 Championship qualifiers in the early spring, he received a maiden Under-21 selection for a friendly against Italy.
He is rated extremely highly north of the border and is set to leapfrog a number of age groups in the next twelve months, taking part in an Under-20 tournament in the Netherlands this week.
The Under-20 level is one which is rarely used in Europe, but extensively so elsewhere, and last summer’s World Cup was a big draw in Colombia.
The Blues had Billy Clifford and Ben Gordon called up (alongside former Blue Billy Knott) but Clifford withdrew in order to take part in the first team’s tour of Asia, leaving Gordon to fly the flag alone. Kenneth Omeruo and Ulises Dávila were signed after strong performances in the competition.
At Under-19 level, England have been well represented, with captain Nathaniel Chalobah leading teammates Jamal Blackman, Todd Kane, Aziz Deen-Conteh and Patrick Bamford in regular selection. Bamford, who has also represented the Republic of Ireland at junior level, scored his first goal for the Three Lions against the Czech Republic in February.
Billy Clifford and George Saville have both been on standby for selection on more than one occasion but are yet to be properly involved with Noel Blake’s group. Bamford, Kane and Chalobah will this week take part in qualifiers for the Finals in July later this year.
Swedish duo Amin Affane and Anjur Osmanovic are regular faces in the Swedish Under-18 setup, but it’s at Under-17 level where the largest volume of Blues can be found, headlined by a double European champion.
Nathan Aké joined from Feyenoord last summer having won the European Under-17 Championships, and he repeated the trick as captain a year later as the Netherlands defeated Germany for the second successive year, becoming just the third team to ever retain the trophy.
The only side to defeat the Oranje throughout the entire campaign was England, who failed to qualify for the tournament after falling to the wayside in Georgia during the elite round.
John Swift, Lewis Baker, Jordan Houghton, Fankaty Dabo and Ali Gordon all played under John Peacock in 2011/12, and young striker Chike Kandi played for Wales during their unsuccessful attempts to qualify.
Hoping to follow in their footsteps are another healthy clutch of schoolboys playing for ex-Chelsea man Kenny Swain at Under-16 level. Connor Hunte, Charlie Colkett, Ola Aina, and Aaron Hayden all received their first caps this season, as did standout pair Alex Kiwomya and captain Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Kiwomya found the scoresheet against Wales, adding to Hunte’s goal against Northern Ireland as the Chelsea boys led the way, but it was captain Loftus-Cheek who evidently stole the show in the Sky Sports televised tournament.
He also found the scoresheet against Wales and drew acclaim for his stylish, capable displays in midfield, where he looked a class apart. The incoming 2012 scholar is, of course, the latest in a long line of Chelsea academy products who have captained England at one level or another, including but not limited to Houghton, Chalobah, Ryan Bertrand, Michael Mancienne and, of course, John Terry.
The ultimate aspiration is to follow in the hugely successful footsteps of the one England captain, and many of them are doing everything right in pursuit of excellence.
Coming tomorrow…we round off the week and the review with our take on the very best of the youth and reserve season.
A new manager, a dozen new scholars, a change of Sporting Director at the top, but things remain the same as far as the Chelsea youth team are concerned.
A second FA Youth Cup title in three years was the undoubted headline of another campaign in which the league slate was often handed over to the younger players – typically including more than a sprinkling of schoolboys – and the cup took over as the main priority.
By any standard, Chelsea remain at the forefront of youth development in England, regardless of opportunities to progress into the first team squad. That’s another area for (a very large) debate, but when put up against any other club within the development sphere, they certainly hold their own.
Dermot Drummy’s promotion to the reserve team manager’s role meant a vacancy was created at Under-18 level, but the club have had an internal promotion structure in place for a number of years and like Drummy and Paul Clement before him, Adi Viveash made the step up from Under-16 level and continued coaching a group of players he had already been with for the best part of two seasons.
Such familiarity cannot be underestimated in its plus points. Everyone is already exceptionally familiar with each other and time ordinarily spent on learning and acclimatising can instead be spent on developing and progressing, increasing productivity all round.
Viveash has proved himself to be an excellent selection for the post, retaining a headstrong approach throughout an eventful campaign whilst keeping his players focused on doing the simple things right. Once that’s in place, he believes, good things will happen, as more often than not Chelsea have the most capable players on the pitch.
He claimed the Youth Cup triumph to be the proudest moment of a long career as a player and a coach, and he has clearly gotten the best out of a talented group this season. It was far from an easy run to glory though, as those who have followed it closely will be able to attest to.
They fell behind within two minutes of their first tie against Doncaster and relied on a late Lucas Piazon goal to give them safe passage into Round Four, where they would triumph on penalties away to Norwich City after a tense goalless draw.
Spot kicks would also decide a Fifth Round tie at home to West Ham after a heart-stopping 3-3 tie featuring a 93rd minute equaliser from captain Nathaniel Chalobah, restoring parity less than a minute after Elliott Lee appeared to have won the day for the visitors.
If their first three ties had been dramatic, the last eight clash at Nottingham Forest was downright ridiculous. Three goals behind at half time and staring elimination in the face, the Blues turned the game on its head with a brace from Islam Feruz, a deflected strike by Piazon, and a late winner from Alex Kiwomya to re-define ‘never say die’.
With each unlikely result, confidence within the camp was soaring and the youngsters saved their best football for the most important fixtures. They were excellent value for their 2-1 win at Old Trafford against Manchester United in the first leg of the Semi Final and although the Reds produced some good stuff in return at Stamford Bridge, another goal from Piazon earned a deserved draw and a place in the Final.
Brazilian Piazon had been the team’s wildcard throughout; arriving from Sao Paulo in November eligible to feature in the competition. He grew in impact throughout the run and ultimately won the club’s Young Player of the Year Award but in the end against Blackburn, it was others who would star en route to winning the competition.
A 4-0 rout of Rovers at the Bridge courtesy of two more Feruz goals added onto effort by Chalobah and by Lewis Baker put things beyond doubt, making the second leg at Ewood Park little more than (literal, given the weather) damp squib.
Not that it would affect the celebrations though, as Chalobah followed in Conor Clifford’s recent footsteps and lifted the coveted trophy. The academy was fully represented in rainy Lancashire, and it was thoroughly appropriate that they were, as whilst the headline-grabbers were featuring in high-profile matches, the rest were taking part in the league campaign, furthering their own developing and staking a claim for spots themselves.
Group A remains perhaps the most competitive Academy League Group and Chelsea’s seventh place finish belies their overall quality, especially with more wins than defeats and a positive goal difference.
Well over a dozen schoolboys were given ample playing time – including three highly-rated Under-15s – and only a final day defeat to Ipswich Town ended a three-month unbeaten run in all competitions.
It represented a tangible improvement over the course of the season as the Blues started with just one win from their first eight games. Defensive frailties were the order of the day as they proved themselves more than able at the other end, notching three at Newcastle, two away to Watford, Coventry and Southampton and another treble at home to Ipswich without a single win.
Chief amongst their goal-getters in the early weeks of the campaign were a pair of schoolboys in Alex Kiwomya and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The former finished with eight goals as the team’s second top scorer, and they all came from the bench in a super-sub role.
Loftus-Cheek, meanwhile, sparkled in late 2011 with a run of goals at club level and a standout show for England’s Under-16s on Sky Sports in the Victory Shield, where he was the winning captain and star attraction.
Injuries would curtail his involvement from Christmas onwards but results began to turn in Chelsea’s favour. Six wins on the spin took the Blues into the winter break on the crest of a wave, helped in part to the emergence of another schoolboy in Feruz.
His protracted arrival from Celtic was agreed in September, when he turned 16, but he was unable to feature until a couple of months later. With a recognised experienced forward in place (after Walter Figueira suffered a long-term injury) and Piazon introduced into the fold, the team began to click and show some of their potential.
Figueira returned in early 2012, as did fellow long-term casualties Danny Stenning, Nortei Nortey, Samuel Bangura and James Ashton, but unfortunately Daniel Pappoe was only able to return for three games before damaging knee ligaments to signal another long-term layoff.
Elsewhere, the likes of Tom Howard, Anjur Osmanovic, Ali Gordon and Ismail Seremba produced the goods on a consistent basis in the league whilst Jamal Blackman, Alex Davey, Nathan Aké (scholar of the year), John Swift and others upped their game on the bigger stage.
The depth in quality continued to exhibit itself in the form of incoming 2012 scholars Jordan Houghton, Mitchell Beeney, Reece Mitchell and Dion Conroy amongst others, and we can look forward to seeing more from them next season.
It promises to be much like the year just gone, in which case; you wouldn’t want to miss it.
Coming tomorrow…we take a look at the international scene.
Chelsea’s Reserve team failed to retain the national title they win at the end of the 2010/11 season but that was the least of the concerns in a tumultuous campaign which has raised a number of talking points for the future.
Mixed in with all of the usual positives were a succession of lows, including but not limited to poor performances, questionable attitude, player departures and a smattering of controversy.
With close to fifty players turning out for Dermot Drummy’s second string, we rarely saw the same team twice and whilst that’s often an occupational hazard at this level, it unfortunately breeds some unwanted results.
Players become frustrated at a lack of playing time, especially if they’ve not been out on loan. Aziz Deen-Conteh was one such player who told Chelsea TV mid-season that he hadn’t particularly enjoyed the first half of the campaign because he wasn’t involved enough, and when he was it was out of position in an advanced role.
It’s to his credit that he was the recipient of praise from Drummy for how he handled the adversity and once Ryan Bertrand had fully ascended to the first team squad, the young left-back earned a regular spot in his favoured position.
It’s small examples like this which reflect the unpredictable nature of football at this level. The coaching staff are regularly at the behest of those above and below them, with the first team often requiring bodies to make up the numbers during training sessions and the youth team retaining their strongest group for knockout competitions during the second half of the campaign.
Add in a hefty chunk of loanees and you’re left with less than a dozen ‘true’ reserves who train together day in, day out. Others step up or down for matches, but when they’re sometimes two or three weeks apart, minds wander, questions are asked and performances can be stale and uninspiring.
Drummy was critical of many a display this season but his comments after the season finale – a 4-1 reverse to Manchester United – were most revealing and encapsulated the frustrations of a less than ideal nine months:
“They weren’t performing, simple as that. They were giving the ball away, they were sloppy, they were second to every ball, there was more urgency from the opposition. We’re playing Man Utd, and if it needs me to be on the sideline to shout to someone to put tackles in and run then we’ve got a problem.
“The boys moved out of the first team building, they’ve got to pick themselves up, they’ve got to understand that if you want to progress you’ve got to work hard and be prepared to take criticism. I think this year has been a massive learning curve for the reserve team group and where it sits at the club.”
After spending almost all of his coaching career in the youth ranks, 10/11 represented Drummy’s first foray into the world of reserve team football and he was the first to admit it was a big learning experience for him too.
Whilst the group of players he inherited was one he has coached before – many of them from the ages of 14 and 15 – the dynamic changes dramatically with older players who are keen to kick on in their careers and play regular first team football.
To that end we saw Mesca, Rhys Taylor, Carl Magnay, Kaby, and Philipp Prosenik depart the club in search of exactly that, whilst Jacob Mellis left by mutual consent in March after a highly-publicised incident which merely accelerated a process which would likely have happened anyway.
Mellis was one of the better performers throughout the season, enjoying a purple patch around the New Year where he was regularly in the goals and influencing proceedings from the centre of the park. Unfortunately, he found the route to the first team blocked by expensive recent signings (Lucas Piazon was named on the bench twice by Andre Villas-Boas ahead of him) and with no loan move forthcoming, it can’t have been an enjoyable time.
He won’t have been the only one to feel that way either, and it’s doubtless a source of great frustration for everyone at the club. Reserve team football has long been problematic but there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon, and it comes in the form of the Elite Player Performance Plan.
Starting in August, the wasteland of the second string is to be replaced with an Under-21 Development League. It’s more than just a renaming process though, as involvement is mandatory for Premier League sides and it promises more fixtures in a more structured manner.
Training grounds will no longer be allowed to host the majority of fixtures, with stadium environments and ‘hostile’ crowds sought in order to represent the sort of situation the youngsters will find themselves in somewhere down the road.
Matches are scheduled to be played each weekend between Friday and Monday, sometimes at first-team venues before or after the seniors play. This has been designed to allow developmental groups to stay together for longer, encouraging clubs to invoke something of a ‘B Team’ feel with structured weekly training geared towards a match at the weekend.
Whether this all translates into what we hope it will remains to be seen, but progress is being sought. The season may not have gone entirely as planned but there were more than a few bright moments and but for one or two unfortunate developments, it might have gone even better.
Adam Phillip’s third serious injury in as many years in just the second week of the season was desperately sad for all involved, particularly after a fantastic and prolific eight months in 2011 where he looked as fit as he has been in years and was looking forward to going out on loan.
The same can be said for Daniel Pappoe, who returned from a long layoff only to suffer another cruciate ligament injury in February. He, like a number of his teammates, has been remarkably unlucky with injuries and hopefully will be able to enjoy a more positive spell upon his return later this year.
There were plenty of opportunities for the younger generation, with first-year scholar Lewis Baker starting the season in the squad and playing at Stamford Bridge, and playing time for many others in the youth team squad. The youngest of those was Under-15 forward Jeremie Boga, who thoroughly impressed against an experienced Fulham side and is a face we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the near future.
At the heart of the team was a core of half a dozen players who didn’t go out on loan and were as ‘regular’ as you can get at this level. Billy Clifford, Todd Kane, George Saville, Conor Clifford and Nathaniel Chalobah all played in more than half of the total fixtures and each displayed their versatility, lining up in two or three roles to not only further their own experiences but also to aid the balance of the squad for any given week.
With Sam Walker and Rhys Taylor away on loan and Jamal Blackman often occupied with youth team duty (or overseas with the Champions League squad), the coaching staff called upon James Russell to take over goalkeeping duties for most of the second half of the season.
Russell was formerly with the club as a schoolboy and scholar but was released at the age of 19 and has since made his way around the non-leagues whilst developing as a coach. He joined the backroom staff at the academy last summer whilst maintaining his role as first choice at Canvey Island and split his time between the two clubs from January onwards, filling in as emergency reserve team goalkeeper.
He did very well, and it’s to his immense credit that he walked away with a bundle of trophies from Canvey Island’s awards night too.
Patrick Bamford joined from Nottingham Forest mid-season and showed an eye for goal with five in seven appearances, especially impressive considering he played right on the right most of the time.
That was in order to accommodate Romelu Lukaku as the centre-forward, as the Belgian found first-team playing time hard to come by.
In his case, it’s important to forget the £18m price tag and consider the long-term future, particularly as the club were keen to stress upon signing him that he wasn’t read to contribute just yet and that they only really signed him so as to not lose his potential to a rival suitor.
Unfortunately, by featuring against Norwich in Premier League action in August, he was precluded from going on loan (as he had already played for Anderlecht in the 11/12 season) and so was reduced to turning out under Drummy.
Performances were up and down but he did finish as the squad’s leading scorer with seven goals, one more than Milan Lalkovic, and displayed an impressive work ethic and drive to improve.
Men of his size simply do not exist very often in football, and certainly not with his athleticism and football ability. At 6’4” and a shade under 100kg (listed the heaviest outfield footballer in the top flight) he appears cumbersome at times but is built like a heavyweight boxer and has already streamlined his physique with a season at a top level club.
On the face of it, a comparison with Emile Heskey might seem grotesquely unfair, but for those able to recall the veteran exploding onto the scene as a teenager in the mid-90s, it may well seem entirely appropriate – at least from a stylistic point of view.
Blessed with explosive pace, strength and the ability to score off either foot or his head in any situation, the striker nicknamed ‘Bruno’ was a nightmare to defend and enjoyed a big-money move to Liverpool and a long international career.
Heskey, however, gives up two inches and up to ten kilos in weight against Lukaku, and it’s this which is perhaps the most frightening prospect. If, in the next five years, he can put everything together, he could be quite unstoppable. It’s why Chelsea paid such a big sum for him, and it’s why comparisons with the much leaner, much smaller Didier Drogba are unfair and inaccurate.
To finish with, it would be remiss not to comment on Sam Hutchinson. A year after announcing his retirement from the game as a result of a chronic knee injury, he returned to action on a part-time, non-contract basis before earning an 18-month deal last November.
He played every second reserve team game as part of a gentle approach to his full-time return and finished the season by making his full Premier League debut with a start on the last day against Blackburn Rovers.