With almost half of all players used this season still at school, Chelsea are looking to the future like never before.
No fewer than nineteen Under-16s or Under-15s appeared for Dermot Drummy this season as players pushed on through the ranks.
The Blues may have finished a lowly ninth in Premier Academy League Group A, but followers would be wise to heed Drummy’s words and explanations as to the aims of the campaign just gone and direction going forward.
For whilst it’s always nice to win, the development of the individual is paramount. As long as he challenges himself, plays the game in the right way, and puts in the required effort, the coaching staff are satisfied.
That wasn’t always the case, but in many performances the mentality improved as the game went on, often led by two ‘senior’ players who would likely have known they would be moving on at the end of the season.
Bobby Devyne and Ben Sampayo have been released at the end of their two-year scholarship contracts but both deserve huge credit for the exemplary manner in which they approached this season.
Sampayo captained the team for the most part, and led with encouragement and determination, whilst forward Devyne showed his younger colleagues the way ahead with endless running, a positive attitude and an improved end product.
The winger-cum-striker chalked up eight goals and five assists, tallies which ranked top in both fields, and with 32 appearances played more games than anyone else.
Just behind him was Jamal Blackman. The giant goalkeeper had a stupendous season, putting in a number of man of the match displays and was a very close second to Todd Kane in the club’s Scholar of the Year voting.
Kane’s eight youth team goals – many spectacular long range efforts – saw a rapid ascension into the reserve setup, where he was joined by the likes of Milan Lalkovic, George Saville, and Aziz Deen-Conteh.
With more senior players moving onwards and upwards, the Under-18 team took on a younger look with each passing week.
Adam Nditi completed 27 outings at either left back or on the left wing and showed poise and technique throughout, whilst Lewis Baker proved one of Drummy’s revelations.
The manager was constantly effusive in his praise of the creative midfielder, clearly impressed at his composed manner and the way he seeks out possession before using the ball intelligently.
With both having almost a full season of academy football under their belts, they too may move up to join Steve Holland’s group early next season, but a healthy intake of a dozen or so individuals means the youth team is still well stocked.
Norwegian midfielder Henrik Breimyr arrived at the turn of the year on a six week period of work experience from Aldershot, and he was impressive in spells before returning to the Shots, where he signed a professional contract.
Reece Loudon and Portuguese forward Mesca both suffered with injuries for much of the season, as did diminutive playmaker Amin Affane. The trio will look forward to next season with relish as they attempt to make up for lost time.
Another who will be on that particular train is James Ashton. The talented central midfielder has been limited to just three appearances in two years since signing scholarship terms as he suffered injury woe after injury woe.
Now nearing the end of rehab, he is aiming to be able to join in with pre-season from day one, and hopefully kick start his career.
Danny Stenning, however, will likely miss the entireity of next season after suffering a devastating knee injury in March which is set to require a year on the sidelines. He was sidelined for a long period before Christmas, but had returned and was in form before tragedy struck again.
He’ll receive the support and treatment he deserves, whilst the likes of Alex Davey, Walter Figueira, Ali Gordon, Ismail Seremba and others start on the road to professional football.
Unfortunately, the club were unable to successfully defend their FA Youth Cup crown, falling at the Semi Final stage. An oft-rescheduled third round tie away to Sunderland was eventually played at their training ground and proved a tough match, with the hosts dominant for long first half spells.
Goals from Chalobah and Saville saw the Blues through, and the former would certainly make his mark on the competition.
Dramatic late wins at home to Arsenal, Barnsley and Watford followed, all with a 2-1 scoreline having gone behind very early in the match only to turn the game on its head.
A two-legged Semi Final match against Manchester United started promisingly enough when two first-half goals from Chalobah secured a 3-2 home victory before the wheels fell off at Old Trafford.
In truth the real advantage had been lost when Paul Pogba reduced the deficit to just one goal at Stamford Bridge, but after a strong first half performance away from home, two goals in the space of five minutes before the break handed United the advantage.
The eventual winners pushed on late in the game and Will Keane’s second half brace completed a hat-trick for him and a 4-0 final score, taking Paul McGuinness’ boys through 6-3 on aggregate.
Drummy has since said that his biggest regret of the season was not going with his instinct with regards to team selection ahead of the return leg, but he should nonetheless take great pride and credit from another entertaining cup run where his young charges showed that they can undoubtedly compete with the best in the country at this age group.
Coming up tomorrow on TheChels…we check up on international representation amongst Chelsea’s junior ranks in 2010-11.