In today’s second part of our academy season preview, we take a look at the ten other teams Chelsea will face in 2011-12.
The 28-game fixture list comprises 18 matches against the nine other teams in Group A, and ten fixtures against other academies in what are termed as ‘long-distance’ fixtures. Five of these are played at Cobham, and five of them will be played away from home. They tend to bookend the season, limiting travel commitments during the winter months.
Last Season: National Semi Finalists
Last Meeting: 2010-11, lost 0-2
Always a force to be reckoned with in youth football, the coming twelve months could be particularly special for Aston Villa, who welcome a crop of exceptionally talented players into their ranks on a regular basis for 2011-12. Full of pace and flair, winger Jack Grealish and forward Callum Robinson have already made their mark at international level and will be set on an early promotion to reserve team football.
Key Man: Jordan Graham – Joining Robinson and Grealish in terrorising opposition defenders is winger Graham, who only turned 16 in May. Blessed with quick feet and exceptional pace, he is also robust enough to compete and is a threat every time he gets the ball.
Last Season: 6th in Group B
Last Meeting: 2010-11, drew 1-1
Birmingham’s relegation from the Premier League has, inevitably, resulted in a cull of their first team squad as the financial realities of Championship football well and truly kick in. Fortunately, they’ll be able to call upon the potential of a couple of players from an academy which hasn’t been at all bad in recent years. Nathan Redmond and Jack Butland are good prospects who have made an impact for England, and the Blues will be hoping there’s more where they came from.
Key Man: Will Packwood – the American impressed for his country at the Under-17 World Cup in Mexico and brings drive and class to the centre of midfield.
Last Season: 7th in Group B
Last Meeting: 2010-11, won 2-1
Bristol City tend to do a quiet but tidy job of developing young footballers and are usually a tricky match-up for opponents. In recent years they’ve enjoyed quite a strong relationship with Chelsea due to the presence of David Lee as their academy director but ‘Rodney’ has moved on to Northampton Town.
Key Man: Lewis Carey – the former Blues schoolboy has developed into a fine young goalkeeper and has been rewarded with a professional contract. He’ll continue to work on his game in the hope of eventually succeeding veteran David James in the first team.
Last Season: 9th in Group B
Last Meeting: 2010-11, won 1-0
As you may expect, Cardiff’s academy tends to supply a healthy number of players to the Welsh national junior setup and their representation amongst the various age groups stands many in good stead. In recent years the Bluebirds have seen a number of starlets flourish in their teens, most notably Aaron Ramsey, now of Arsenal.
Key Man: Declan John – the forward terrorised England in the 2010 Sky Sports Victory Shield, scoring twice in a 4-0 victory whilst showing poise and instinct in front of goal. Now 16, he goes into his first year as a scholar with a burgeoning reputation.
Last Season: 8th in Group B
Last Meeting: 2010-11, drew 1-1
Coventry are a weird club. Seemingly forever entrenched in England’s second tier with little by way of promotion or relegation involvement, they often blood their younger players into league action but many fall by the wayside having not convinced. Jordan Clarke appears set to buck that trend with a regular place in their back four this season though, and Greg Rioch’s work in the youth setup seems to be as steady as ever.
Key Man: Jemal Wiseman – picked up from Arsenal, who released him, Jemal is a talented central midfielder who simply got lost in the numbers shuffle at Hale End. City could be onto a winner with their former Gunner.
Last Season: 9th in Group C
Last Meeting: 2008-09, drew 2-2
Crewe sent three players to this summer’s Under-17 World Cup and it’s testament to the exceptional work being done at Gresty Road that all three are set for first team places this season. Nick Powell and Max Clayton were amongst England’s best performers whilst Ben Garratt and Danny Smith have been involved with the Three Lions in 2011 as well.
Key Man: Ollie Turton – the 18 year-old has impressed with the first team in pre-season but Dario Gradi isn’t keen on exposing the young defender to the rigour of a full season just yet, so he’ll continue to learn whilst getting the odd call-up to the big boys.
Last Season: 4th in Group D
Last Meeting: 2008-09, lost 0-1
In recent years, Newcastle have had an Under-15 and Under-16 team of some repute, as Steve Stone’s boys swept all before them and even trumped Chelsea to success at the 2010 Nike Cup UK Regional Finals. Many of that team are now becoming first year scholars and will be a team to be reckoned with in the northern sections this year.
Key Man: Adam Campbell – he may be exceptionally short and exceptionally ginger but Campbell is a livewire forward who can also do a job out wide. Was voted MVP at the 2010 Nike Cup Finals tournament in Manchester and has already played for his club’s Under-18 team and England’s Under-16s.
Last Season: 5th in Group B
Last Meeting: 2008-09, won 4-3
Reading’s academy continues to not only bear fruit for the first team, but provide a strong financial backdrop to the club’s overall health. Whilst losing Gylfi Sigurdsson last summer will have stung, the Royals racked up a record sale and were a game away from promotion to the Premier League without him. Sigurdsson also represented the versatile and sometimes international nature of the way the club works at youth level; something which was extended last season with the loans of teenagers to Dutch team Telstar.
Key Man: Jordan Obita – the England Under-19 international has already been involved with the first team squad but doesn’t turn 18 until December and will surely still see some academy football. A tricky winger who is at his best running full speed into the attacking third, he is every inch the modern attacking forward.
Last Season: 4th in Group B
Last Meeting: 2010-11, lost 2-4
Tottenham’s academy has been surprisingly productive in recent years, for whilst the number of players breaking through at White Hart Lane has been rather low, it’s largely because of Harry Redknapp’s inability to stay out of the transfer market. Meanwhile, the football league has been littered with quality Spurs boys out on loan, with Leyton Orient being particular beneficiaries. The usual smattering of foreign imports complement a strong domestic-grown core to the group, with many having played above their age group already.
Key Man: Souleymane Coulibaly – the undoubted star forward at the 2011 FIFA Under-17 World Cup and now Tottenham’s next great hope. The Ivorian forward arrived from Siena in a blaze of publicity after exploding into prominence in Mexico with a nine goal showing including hat-tricks against Denmark and Brazil. He may see first team action in lesser competitions and will almost certainly play in the NextGen Tournament but he’s still only 16 and thus will be at home in youth team football.
Last Season: 3rd in Group B
Last Meeting: 2010-11, lost 1-2
Watford’s first team squad this season lists sixteen players who have come through their Harefield academy. It puts them up there with any team in the country and they show no signs of slowing down or changing tact. Indeed, the work being done in preparing their next generation is pioneering on these shores, for they combine scholarly education with sport and consequently gain greater access to their players and are able to have them on the pitch more. It’s a typically continental approach and the Hornets are held as a beacon of example which other clubs should be – and are – aspiring to imitate.
Key Man: Bernard Mensah – the forward is so highly rated at Harefield that he has already agreed to turn pro when he turns seventeen in December, despite only just starting his scholarship this summer. The London-born forward is the fifth player to graduate from the club’s school and was a hit in the FA Youth Cup last season.
In tomorrow’s third and final part, we’ll turn our attentions towards Chelsea and what we can expect from Adrian Viveash’s boys.