It’s that time of year again.
Back in March, a group of teenagers signed their first full-time contracts in football, putting pen to paper on two-year scholarship deals which will see them continue their footballing – and scholastic – eductation at Chelsea.
They will make up much of Dermot Drummy’s Under-18 squad for the coming season, and whilst many names will already be familiar to regular readers, let’s take a look at the Class of 2011.
Click on a link to view the player’s profile.
Nathan Aké (central defender, Netherlands): A tall, classy central defender, Nathan’s arrival at Chelsea was greeted with controversy in the Netherlands, as Feyenoord complained at the loss of another young talent. A Dutch Under-17 international, he brings technical ability and versatility, as he can also feature in midfield.
Lewis Baker (midfielder, England): Lewis made national headlines when, as a nine year-old, he moved from Luton Town to join The Blues. Now, six years later, he has earned a scholarship deal and featured for the youth team almost 20 times last term. The son of a former world power lifting champion, Baker is remarkable for being able to use either foot to the same competence – i.e. with no discernable loss in quality. Was in fine form at the back end of last season and is very highly rated at the club.
Samuel Bangura (defender, England): Sam, who hails from London but has Sierra Leonean heritage, is a versatile defender best used at full back. Right footed and very gifted athletically, he can also play in a more central role at the back or in midfield, and will become a key player for Drummy for this reason.
Nathaniel Chalobah (defender/midfielder, England): One who needs little introduction, Nathaniel ‘officially’ becomes a scholar this summer, but has been involved well above his age groups for some time now. A reserve team regular as a 15 year-old, the England Under-17 captain will see little time at Under-18 level as he forges ahead with his career at more testing levels.
Alex Davey (central defender, England): Another who featured extensively during the 2010-11 academy season, Alex has been with Chelsea throughout his football career, playing a confident, capable role at centre back, honing his abilities in Chelsea’s system. Quiet on the pitch, he nonetheless provides stability and assurance to the team.
Walter Figueira (forward, England): A diminutive forward with an eye-catching hairstyle, Walter stepped into Under-18 football as a schoolboy and scored four goals in 2010-11, displaying good movement and finishing ability despite giving up so much in size to bigger defenders. Blessed with flair, skill and pace, he will cause opponents many a tough morning next season.
Alastair Gordon (defender, England): Another newcomer who can play across the back four or in a defensive midfield capacity, England Under-16 international Alastair has come through the ranks at Chelsea as a leader and a strong, physically capable defender. He has a tough streak to his game and is a relentless competitor, and a contender to wear the captain’s armband for the youth team.
Tom Howard (midfielder, England): A local lad who has come through the club’s ranks and made his Under-18 bow at the back end of last season. Plays a mature, intelligent game and offers versatility in midfield.
Dominik Masek (forward, Czech Republic): Left-footed wizard Masek signed for Chelsea in March of this year after a successful trial period in the previous November. A prolific forward for his club and for the Czech Under-17 national team, Dominik has quick feet and is a threat from outside the box. Was voted his country’s brightest young talent in 2010 and featured at the 2011 Under-17 World Cup, where FIFA.com confirmed his move.
Nortei Nortey (defender, England/Ghana): An athletic full back who arrived to Chelsea later than most of his team-mates, Nortei was on the verge of featuring regularly in the Under-18 team as a schoolboy until he suffered a serious knee injury which wiped out most of his 2010-11 season. Now back to full fitness, he will be motoring up and down the flank from defence on a regular basis.
Adam Nditi (defender/winger, Tanzania/England): The most prolific of schoolboys in terms of 2010-11 appearances, the Tanzanian-born Nditi has progressed very nicely in the last twelve months. A regular winger until being ‘converted’ to an attacking full back for much of last season, Adam’s commitment and desire to learn has helped him develop into a more rounded individual. At his best running with the ball at pace, he’ll be a threat to most opponents next season.
Anjur Osmanovic (midfielder, Sweden): After signing Amin Affane from Swedish club Larje-Angereds last summer, Chelsea returned to take compatriot Osmanovic a few months later. Having arrived in November, Anjur featured for the club’s Under-16 team before a handful of Under-18 outings at the season’s end, and is a confident individual, claiming he will be in the club’s first team plans within two years. Creative and with an eye for goal, he has exciting potential.
Ismail Seremba (midfielder, England): A London-born winger of Ugandan heritage, Ismail scored twice as a schoolboy for the Under-18s in 2010-11 and displayed the ability to lead the line in attack as well as play in his natural role wide in a 4-3-3. Strong and quick, he is almost the prototype player for the system Chelsea use, and is a fine product of their work at junior level.
John Swift (midfielder, England): Tall and elegant, John immediately catches the eye for his flowing locks of hair tied back with a head band. He’s also one of the most gifted players to come through the club’s ranks, with quick feet and precise passing the best of a fine array of talents he has in his locker. An England Under-16 international, he also enjoys a tackle, and after an injury-hit 2010-11 season which limited him to just five Under-18 outings, he’ll be back to show everyone what he can do.
It’s one of the largest groups of first-years the club has taken on in recent years, particularly with the lack of a goalkeeper, but with the likes of Daniel Pappoe making the progression into the reserve team on a full-time basis and a host of others now being over-age for youth team competition, it’s a much-needed influx of young talent.
Only one player may feature as a third-year according to league rules, something which will also affect James Ashton. The midfielder has played just three times since signing scholarship terms, and despite earning a professional contract last summer, missed the entire duration of the 2010-11 campaign.
His return to fitness will demand playing time, whilst second-years Todd Kane, Tomas Kalas, Archange Nkumu, Reece Loudon, Danny Stenning and the aforementioned Affane will make up the rest of the youth team for this season. Some will feature more than others, as Kane and Kalas, for example, will likely push on for a permanent reserve team place.
Jamal Blackman will be expected to keep goal again, but with Mitchell Beeney waiting in the wings for a scholarship next summer, he will be one of another strong group of schoolboys keen for involvement ahead of schedule.
That includes Jordan Houghton, Reece Mitchell and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who all featured as Under-15s in academy league competition last year, whilst England Under-16 colleagues Fankaty Dabo and George Cole will harbour ambitions of their own. Talented forwards Joel Witele-Tamina and Alex Kiwomya (the latter of whom made his Under-18 debut late last season) may come into play later in the campaign too.
All in all, it makes for another exciting campaign of youth football. The club’s ranks continue to impress, with great success in recent years for the age group which now graduates and gets to have a crack at the academy league title and the prestigious FA Youth Cup.
You can keep up to date with everything possible from the club’s youth and reserve team all season on TheChels.net, and on Twitter by following @chelseayouth.