Out With The Old…

Suddenly, Chelsea’s first team squad is a whole lot lighter as Wednesday saw the confirmed departure of Joe Cole, Juliano Belletti, and Michael Ballack.

With the club’s apparent new policy of both getting tough on wages and reducing the average age of the side well and truly underway, we’re very much interested in the second part.

It opens up three first-team squad berths, and with both Deco and Paulo Ferreira both reported to be on their respective ways out too, 2010/11 becomes a rather intriguing proposition.

Home-grown regulations are coming in, and attentions will be turned to the club’s youth and reserve ranks, fresh off the back of a glittering season headlined by the first FA Youth Cup victory in 49 years.

The success wasn’t limited to domestic football though, and it could be that a Dutch league champion has the best shot of replacing the outgoing old guard.

Miroslav Stoch had a sensational season for FC Twente and is set to feature for Slovakia at the World Cup, knowing that a good tournament could give him a great chance at replacing Cole.

Out of contract in twelve months, the diminutive winger has been subject of transfer speculation linking him with the regular first team football he so craves, but having met every expectation placed upon him by Blues hierarchy, he deserves a chance to show if he can play.

In a similar vein, two versatile England Under-21 internationals will return to Stamford Bridge for pre-season training next month with their eyes on Belletti’s place.

The Brazilian became something of a utility man at the club, filling in at full-back or across the midfield as and when required, and both Michael Mancienne and Jack Cork understand the job specification well, having covered them in their brief careers to date.

The duo acquitted themselves well enough for Wolves and Burnley last season and are likely to be competing for the same job.

Replacing Ballack might prove to be a task best left to more experienced hands though.

Whilst the club possesses excellent potential in the middle of the park in the form of Nemanja Matic, Josh McEachran, Conor Clifford and Jacob Mellis, they all lack professional experience to date, and, like Ballack or not, the German captain provided know-how in spades.

This particular quartet will have to be patient, for their time will come, but to expect any of them to step up in the space of a couple of months would be both ambitious and unfair on the individuals themselves.

If Ferreira and Deco are next to go, one would have to consider the chances of Sam Hutchinson and Gael Kakuta.

If Sam can find consistent fitness, a season-long loan spell would serve him incredibly well after missing so much football, but being versatile enough to play in any defensive position helps his case, as do his brief first-team cameos to date.

Kakuta, meanwhile, has been name-dropped by Carlo Ancelotti as one of five players to join the senior ranks on a permanent basis for next season, and whilst it doesn’t guarantee regular football, the talent is there for all to see.

Summer is often a time of change in football, and Chelsea have started early on their biggest clearout since 2004. Then, Marcel Desailly and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink were marquee names jettisoned by a manager keen to make his mark on the squad.

In came young, talented players hungry for success, supplemented by a club-produced defender named as permanent captain, and the likes of Robert Huth and Nuno Morais taking their games to the next level.

As a new era begins at Stamford Bridge, big decisions are being made which will shape the club’s next generation. It’s up to the youngsters to realise their potential and put their foot firmly in a door which has been blown open for them today.