The Generation Game

Scott Sinclair, Miroslav Stoch, Franco Di Santo.

Headline names amongst a group of young players who have permanently departed Chelsea this summer, and in doing so, have helped reveal something Chelsea are potentially working towards.

It’s no secret that the club regards its 1991-93 generation as one of the finest to ever come through the youth academy. They made good on their promise last season in winning a first FA Youth Cup in almost 50 years.

The next step is to further accelerate their progress at the expense of some of the club’s older prospects, who may not be developing at a pace Stamford Bridge brass would like to see.

It’s an interesting trade-off. The likes of Michael Mancienne, Ryan Bertrand and Jack Cork have all been held onto, and have considerable experience in professional football for their relatively young ages, but as of right now, they’re being overlooked.

Instead, the far less experienced Jeffrey Bruma, Patrick van Aanholt and Josh McEachran, along with Fabio Borini and Gael Kakuta, are being afforded the opportunity to work alongside Carlo Ancelotti’s 19-man first-team squad in 2010/11, and will presumably feature in the occasional fixture.

Premier League registration rules would have necessitated registration for the three loanees, but with six vacant spots, and all three being homegrown, there would have been no issue in including them.

Which means it’s simply a case of choice. It was also choice when it came to selling Sinclair and Di Santo, and whilst Stoch’s transfer was slightly different, a commitment to the Slovakian may have resulted in a different outcome.

It’s enough right now to say that none of the names mentioned in this piece are currently likely to command a regular place at Chelsea. That almost goes without saying.

Yet in an injury crisis, would you want to turn to a player with over 100 career appearances to his name, including a season in the top flight, or one with less than five?

Chelsea feel comfortable going down the latter path, and to be fair to them it’s not as if the quintet haven’t earned their opportunities. Standouts at youth and reserve level, they’ve all acquitted themselves well when called upon (with the exception of McEachran, who is yet to feature) and there’s a tremendous amount of promise about them.

It’s also commendable to see players being challenged by moving to the next level ahead of time. In previous years the flotsam and jetsam clogging up the reserve ranks was indicative of a system which was something of a closed shop – players closing out their teens with no hope of inclusion in the first team.

Jose Mourinho introduced Sinclair, Ben Sahar, Sam Hutchinson and others to the world of senior football, but since his departure a succession of managers have gone as quickly as they came, all with a brief of winning now. There can be no commitment to youth in such a situation.

However, now, with a stable structure in place (unless the rumours of Beguiristain arriving are unfortunately found to be true) at all levels, perhaps the time has come to see what the academy has to offer.

Those in their late teens and early twenties have been pushed to one side, and instead you’re going to see more from the five named, with Conor Clifford, Jacopo Sala, Milan Lalkovic and Gokhan Tore. Sure, there’s a couple of 91s mentioned here and there, but they played in the Youth Cup winning squad and are considered alongside their younger teammates.

With as small a senior squad as we’ve seen in some time, it’s going to be an interesting season for the club. This group of players has already received its fair share of attention – let’s see if they can make the world sit up and take notice.

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