Despite being a long-time supporter of the club, I will be the first to admit I have often concerned myself with purely first team affairs, and have only known the names of a handful of the younger players at the club.
However in recent times, partly due to seeing them warming up, or simply warming the bench, the successful Youth FA Cup run and the impending ‘Financial Fair Play’ regulations, the youth set up and it’s players is increasingly drawing in my, and indeed all fans attention.
When I first cut my teeth on the concrete benches that once occupied what is now Roman’s own stand, names including Myers, Sinclair, Duberry and Newton were all turning out on a regular basis having graduated through Chelsea’s youth system, and were part of the beginning of the revolution.
Part of this was due to a lack of funds; the memory of ‘Save the Bridge’ and the CPO scheme were more prevalent than attracting superstars on astronomical wages. Quite often, the kids were all we had – coach Graham Rix had to come off the bench in the Cup Winners Cup as we had run out of eligible English players!
A full 20 years on since my first game at The Bridge, the latest group of young players attempting to push Chelsea onto national and continental success include McEachran, Kakuta, Bruma, Van Aanholt and, to a lesser extent, Sturridge, Mikel and Kalou.
During the pre-match ritual of dissecting the week’s news, and Carlo’s team-talk ahead of the Blackburn game, we of Gate 17 in the MH Upper were all fairly certain that one or two of the above would be given the opportunity to prove themselves given the resounding victory against Ipswich in the FA Cup a week ago.
There were plenty of groans of dissatisfaction when the team was first announced, followed by the reasoning of why *insert name* should have made way for Josh, and how Studge deserves a chance after 7 goals in 2 games.
However, the club’s official twitter feed caught my eye: “Experienced line-up selected by Carlo”. Taking a sip of my Bovril before imparting that nugget of wisdom on those around me; of those available, we had gone with the strongest team on paper.
Ramires has been growing match by match and is a goal away from looking like a very good all-round midfielder; when in form, Essien can grab a game by the scruff of its £50 replica shirt like Gerrard used to do for Liverpool, and Frank Lampard is almost an automatic pick, especially as we are getting matches into his legs following his injury lay-off – it’s odd to think he may not get the customary 20 goals this season!
Despite all of Saturday’s forwards struggling for goals recently, Drogba, Anelka and Malouda are still our 3 top goal-scorers. So the situation was, in what most observers had deemed another ‘must win’ game, and the press speculating on Carlo’s position at the club, he picked what at the start of the season may well have been considered the best XI at the club. And we won. Only our 3rd win in 11 games.
So where does that leave the current crop of Chelsea youngsters? It is widely accepted that Josh will get his chance, though the speculation linking us with Pienaar may see him slip a place down the pecking order. My worry is, with Benayoun and Zhirkov both due back from injury as well, is he soon to be behind seven international players for one of three midfield places?
I for one hope not, as he genuinely looks to me to be a star of the future, he was one of the few positives from this seasons trek to Eastlands! Gael Kakuta, who was bought to the club amidst a wave of controversy, is not getting minutes in the first team, and with all the promise he shows, it will be unsurprising to see us lose the latest ‘new Zidane’ out on loan to get a chance of first team football. Disappointing when he appears to hold the ability to unlock defences, something we have been lacking in recent weeks.
Another who is being linked with a loan move away is Van Aanholt. Hopefully the days of Paolo having to fill in at left back in Ash’s absence are gone, as PVA looks like he may well have been cloned from Mr Cole himself; quick, dangerous going forward and just as good defensively, it is a shame for the young Dutchman that our current number 3 is the best left-back in the world.
A little patience will be required by PVA, as with Jeffrey Bruma. If PVA was moulded on Ashley Cole, Bruma appears to have cross-bred between the leader, captain, legend himself and his Brazilian colleague, Alex.
There was a sense of genuine disbelief against Sunderland when Bruma was overlooked for Paolo at centre-half, we were told in the summer we could afford to let Carvalho go as Bruma was ready to step up when needed! With niggling injuries to JT and Alex’s knee problem, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bruma be the 1st to get a run of games in the team, and I for one won’t be unhappy with that.
As is often highlighted, our starting 11 has several players at or over 30 – 6 for United against Tottenham means they have ‘experience to deal with any situation’ according to Mr Gray – but with our own 6 key players aged 30 or over; Ash, Lamps, Drogba, Malouda, JT and Nico, and with niggles and injuries becoming more common, there will be chances, not only for the youth players, but for players like Sturridge, Kalou and Mikel to cement themselves in the team.
It remains to be seen if we are fully committed to self-sustenance, meaning youth players will have to be given a chance, or whether we will look to compliment the current squad with more established players bought in at a high price, but with the club being strongly linked with transfer window moves for a full-back, centre half, central midfielder and winger, it begs the question; won’t somebody think of the children?!