It’s that time of year when we look to the future and introduce Chelsea’s class of 2012-13; the schoolboys who have earned academy scholarship deals.
As we enter a new era in youth development within the English game, the Blues do so with their biggest first-year intake perhaps ever. With a revised games programme and the addition of the Under-19 NextGen series, there promises to be plenty of football on offer, but with a host of players still very much involved with Adi Viveash’s Under-18 team from last season, the academy staff will have their work cut out ensuring everybody gets sufficient playing time.
This is made even harder by the ever-increasing number of emerging schoolboy talents who deserve – and indeed require – early promotion to levels above their age groups. It’s something which has been commonplace at Cobham in recent years, and there are a select few who can expect to be called on regularly in 2012-13.
More on them later though. For now, some twenty or so youngsters will be starting full-time at the academy after being amongst the most successful teams in their age groups not only in the country, but internationally.
Eleven of them have already appeared at Under-18 level, whilst the same number (featuring some different names) have earned international representation, with one already having been capped at full senior level.
It’s arguably as strong a group as Chelsea have ever produced, and we present them below, in alphabetical order. Click on their name to view their profile on TheChels.info.
Mitchell Beeney, Goalkeeper
Mitchell is the son of former Premier League goalkeeper Mark Beeney, who now coaches stoppers of the future at Chelsea. Once a member of Gillingham’s centre of excellence, Mitchell has been with the Blues since 2008 and split youth team duties with Jamal Blackman last season. He possesses excellent size and communication, and as you might expect of a son of a former pro, has all the fundamentals in place from which to develop.
Andreas Christensen, Defender
The newest member of the group, Danish defender Christensen arrives this summer from Brondby, having agreed a deal to move back in January. He made his name and earned his move as a key part of the impressive Denmark Under-17 team which shone at the European Championships and World Cup in 2011, and chose Chelsea over a host of other interested parties including Manchester City.
George Cole, Midfielder
George made his youth team debut as an Under-15 but missed some of last season injured, reducing his chances of making further strides into the Under-18 setup as a schoolboy, but he returned to good effect in the second half of the season. An England Under-16 and Under-17 international, the Essex-born midfielder isn’t the most extroverted of characters but is a tidy and capable playmaker who has seen more time in a central role of late after first emerging as a wide player.
Dion Conroy, Defender
Dion was pressed into regular action at centre-back late in 2011-12 with injuries and internationals depriving Adi Viveash of his regular defenders but the schoolboy absolutely flourished and earned himself a regular spot in the team on merit. As the most physically developed of the defenders in this group, he can hold his own for strength and is no slouch on the turn either. Set to sign a professional deal when he turns 17, he communicates well and is very much in the ‘John Terry’ mould.
Fankaty Dabo, Defender
An England Under-16 and Under-17 international, versatile South Londoner Dabo scored on his Under-18 debut as an Under-15 and has generally been used as a utility man on his early youth team promotions, from either full-back role to a winger role further forward. Nominally a right-back, he has the skill and pace to impact the game further forward, and is an infectious character who will drive his team to play as well as they possibly can.
Islam Feruz, Forward
A schoolboy in all but name, Feruz officially becomes a first-year scholar this season but as he turns 17 very early in the campaign, he will doubtless sign a professional deal as agreed when he moved in controversial circumstances from Celtic last season. His lack of height doesn’t deter him as his prolific goalscoring record shows, and he’ll almost certainly be involved at reserve level more often than not this season.
Ambrose Gnahore, Attacking Midfielder
A wide player blessed with size and speed, Ambrose is one of the many in this group who have already tasted Under-18 football and will be seeking regular playing time as a scholar. Able to play both flanks and lead the line if needs be, his game may be less refined than others in the team but he remains gifted and able to influence proceedings.
Jordan Houghton, Defender/Midfielder
Jordan made his debut for the Under-18s whilst still at Under-15 and has long since been on the fast track for club and country. An established England Under-17 international whilst still a schoolboy, he is technically excellent and can play at centre-back or in midfield. He’s arguably more effective further forward as he can use his full passing range to better effect, and regularly gets forward to chip in with goals. He’ll also be a contender to captain the youth team, having commonly worn the armband for Chelsea and England already.
Chike Kandi, Forward
A former Birmingham City schoolboy, Chike joined Chelsea as an Under-16 after impressing in matches against the Blues at junior level and for Wales at international level. A prototypical number nine, he has the size to dominate and was prolific for Joe Edwards’ team last season. Eligible for Nigeria as well as the home nations, he attended an Under-16 training camp held by the Super Eagles in early 2012 and is open to representing them.
Ben Killip, Goalkeeper
The second goalkeeper in the group, Ben and Mitchell Beeney have progressed together throughout the academy age groups and it’s testament to the work the club has done with both of them that they are both considered good enough to earn scholarship deals. Ben is a little smaller in stature than Mitchell and is less experienced but is one to keep an eye on.
Alex Kiwomya, Forward
Signed from Rotherham United as a 14 year-old, Alex was a junior national sprint champion who could have had a top-level career in athletics if he had wanted to. However, as the son and nephew of two professional footballers, he was blessed in two fields and chose football. Explosive and arguably too good for schoolboy football, he has been a regular member of Adi Viveash’s squads since joining but has mainly been used as an effective super-sub, scoring all of his goals in 11-12 from the bench. Devastating pace and movement off the last man allows him to play wide as well as through the middle, and he also played for Dermot Drummy’s reserves as a 15 year-old.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Midfielder
Perhaps the most well-recognised name in the group, the sky appears to be the limit for Loftus-Cheek. An Under-18 debutant as an Under-15, he broke through regularly as a schoolboy last season and weighed in with his fair share of goals early in the campaign whilst captaining England to Victory Shield success. He earned rave reviews for his more publicised Three Lions outings but was sidelined for some four months after suffering a hip injury. A contender to make strides to the reserve setup before very long.
Reece Mitchell, Forward
Hailing from the same area and same school as Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling, Reece is a similar player to his one-time teammate. Short with a low centre of gravity, he has great pace and balance and can glide through defenders at full speed. At ease as a number nine or a wider forward, he has been a semi-regular feature at Under-18 level since being an Under-15 and will sign a pro deal early in the campaign.
Jonathan Muleba, Defender
London-born defender Muleba can be compared to 2011-12 first-years Sam Bangura, Nortei Nortey and Ali Gordon insomuch as he can play anywhere in the back four. Most commonly found at right-back, his athleticism and determination is best used at full-back but he can do a good job in the middle as well. He scored his first Under-18 goal late last season at home to Bristol City.
Isak Ssewankambo, Defender/Midfielder
A Swede from a footballing family (he has two older brothers who play professionally), Isak is Chelsea’s third signing from Large-Angereds after Amin Affane and Anjur Osmanovic. Whilst the first two arrivals were small, technically proficient playmakers, Isak is a big, strong and powerful defender-cum-midfielder. He has been with Chelsea since the age of 14 and as such comes into the youth team with an advantage over his predecessors, having been exposed to the elite level of coaching and development which wasn’t quite as evident in Sweden.
Jesse Starkey, Midfielder
A central midfielder with the clichéd cultured left foot, Jesse is more remarkable for his technique and passing than he is for any athletic traits. In the mould of Danny Stenning when he came through a couple of years ago, he is a set piece regular and has picked up a number of goals and assists from these very situations. His will be a competitive position but he has enough about him to hold down a regular place.
Kevin Wright, Defender
Another versatile defender like Muleba, Kevin is a full-back who, despite being a little short, can do a good job in the middle of the back four. Despite his stature, he’s strong and combative, and is a natural leader in his group.
Perhaps one of the reasons being the club being willing to keep on so many players – double the average they usually take – is that many will turn 17 early in the season. Having been 16 for much of their final years as schoolboys, they have been promoted ‘early’ by age group but not so much by age, and as such they’re making natural progressions.
A fine balance will naturally need to be found, especially with the budding next generation already clamouring to make headlines of their own. French playmaker Jeremie Boga made headlines when he joined as an eleven year-old and debuted for the reserves last season mere weeks after turning 15.
He was a regular under Viveash late last season and is expected to push on in the coming twelve months, as are England Under-16 internationals Connor Hunte and Charlie Colkett, who also made their youth team bows last season.
Hunte and Colkett have been joined on international duty by Aaron Hayden and Ola Aina, two capable defenders, and they too will hope for further exposure in their final year as schoolboys.
The vast, overwhelming majority of the players named throughout this piece are English-born and club-developed, with scarce few having been imported, continuing a reversal of the trends of six or seven years ago.
Chelsea expect success at every level and whilst they will stress that development comes before scorelines, they believe that their excellent work will naturally breed positive results. This group, like those before them and indeed those still to come, have experienced successes already and aim to go on and continue in that vein.