Whilst Monday sees the Chelsea first-team return to Cobham for pre-season, the younger generation are already back in Surrey after their summer breaks.
For eight teenagers, the hard work starts now as they signed their maiden professional contracts.
James Ashton, Billy Clifford, Aziz Deen-Conteh, Rohan Ince, Milan Lalkovic, Josh McEachran, Philipp Prosenik and George Saville put pen to paper yesterday afternoon to secure themselves senior deals, and whilst it’s a momentus occasion, they know what is expected of them.
With the security of an immediate future at the club and a hefty bump in salary comes the expectation of even harder work to take their game as far as they can, in hope of progressing through the club’s ranks.
It’s a real mixed bunch of players, some of whom had brighter starts to their scholarships than others, but all eight are interesting and intriguing individuals with potential be harnessed.
Five of the group were key to last season’s FA Youth Cup success, with only George Saville not really having a key involvement through choice, as both James Ashton and Phillip Prosenik missed large parts of the campaign through injury.
Prosenik was guaranteed professional terms as part of his agreement to join the club last summer from Rapid Vienna, so his was expected and he will be hoping for an injury-free 2010-11 to show everybody what he can do.
For Ashton, however, it speaks volumes of how highly rated he is around the club, for despite being limited to a handful of outings in his first year full-time at the club, he has been rewarded with pro terms. He too will be eager to make up for lost time in the coming months and display his brand of midfield technical excellence.
Ince deserves credit for working hard to come back from an injury crisis of his own, battling to return to full fitness after a cruciate ligament problem kept him out until January. He improved with every appearance and was superb in the second leg of the Cup Final.
Full-backs Clifford and Deen-Conteh caught the eye en route to success with their energetic and attacking displays, with Clifford stepping up to the reserve ranks. Deen-Conteh will be looking to follow in his footsteps after making more youth team appearances than any other player last season.
Lalkovic too made the leap into Steve Holland’s reserve squad and looked very much at home, earning the occasional spot training with the first team. Saville had a fantastic year in defensive midfield, moving out of his schoolboy defensive position, and was quietly effective and composed throughout.
Finally a word for McEachran, who, of course, is well known to many a Blues fan after his fabulous Cup performances and his key role in England’s European Under-17 Championship success.
Having travelled with the first team as a 16 year-old and trained with them since the age of 15, much is expected of the Oxfordshire-born schemer, and this is another achievement to knock off for him on his way to the top. He’ll understand as much as anybody what it takes to get there, and is entirely capable of doing so.
Congratulations to the eight new professionals – your time is now.