For the better part of the last decade, Chelsea have earned a reputation as a club which does not give youth a fair chance at senior level.
Whatever the merits of that argument, it typically leads to the suggestion that players of sufficient quality are not being produced.
Again, that much can be debated, but what is certain is that an ever-growing number of Blues academy products are making an impact at notable levels of the game.
In the first of an irregular series of articles (of which there is an indeterminate number), we’ll take a look at some of the headline-makers making strides in their post-Chelsea careers.
Chief amongst those, this season at least, is Fabio Borini. The Italian striker departed Stamford Bridge last summer as a free agent after a contract dispute, and quickly signed a permanent deal with Parma in Italy’s Serie A.
However, a few weeks later, Roma purchased 50% of his playing rights and paid some €2m to take him on loan and acquire the right to sign him permanently at the end of the season. This despite having already splashed out extravagantly on Spanish forward Bojan Krkic.
Bojan was Luis Enrique’s first choice ‘second striker’ for the early weeks of the season but Borini got his opportunity and has not looked back. He leads the Giallorossi with ten goals in all competitions, has earned his first senior cap for his country, and is adored by the club’s supporters for his relentless work-ethic and running in pursuit of success.
You can see much of his best work here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHDffd4eEhA , and whilst it’s an impressive video for the most part, it doesn’t come close to the spectacular highlights provided by Miroslav Stoch.
Stoch left Chelsea in 2010 and secured a big-money move to Fenerbahce in Turkey. He was rarely first choice in his first season at the club but has exploded this season, scoring ridiculous goals almost every week and becoming one of the most dynamic players of his type perhaps in Europe.
Scoring at a rate of one in two – and in sensational style as you can see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSv5ZTkQpTQ – he has left many Blues fans wondering ‘what if?’
Gokhan Töre has been doing the same. He was one of the ‘Arnesen acolytes’ that made the move to Hamburg last year when the Dane became the club’s new Sporting Director, and it’s safe to say he’s been a big success with exceptional dribbling and creativity being the order of the day.
Jacopo Sala scored on his debut against Bayern Munich after missing half the season through injury and has looked the part, whilst Slobodan Rajkovic and Michael Mancienne have been less consistent but still flashed potential on occasion.
Töre is one of six players who signed for Arnesen whilst at Chelsea who have since become full internationals. One of the few who did that whilst contracted to the club was Ben Sahar, who is yet to really kick on since departing in 2009.
Spells at Espanyol and Hapoel Tel-Aviv precluded a move to Auxerre for the 2011-12 season, but as the Burgundy side have struggled, so has Sahar, with just three goals from his eighteen appearances this campaign.
Sahar remains contracted to Espanyol, but whilst he rarely found an opportunity in La Liga, former team-mate Sergio Tejera has fared much better. The playmaker-turned-box-to-box midfielder (hyphenation overload!) has played thirteen times this season, missing four months through injury, and is at the very worst a solid rotational option for Mallorca.
It’s players of Tejera’s ilk that Chelsea have been producing in great quantity since the academy overhaul was started in 2005. There’s been the odd high-end performer but by and large, those that have moved on and forged their own path have done so as professional, dutiful performers who are very good at what they do.
Liam Bridcutt is integral to Brighton’s success as their midfield anchorman. Carlton Cole is a regular contributor to West Ham’s promotion push. Scott Sinclair has been a regular for Swansea as they seek to secure Premier League safety and Jack Cork is pushing hard to join them as a part of Southampton’s first choice eleven. Dean Furman captains Oldham whilst Danny Hollands is striving for promotion with Charlton.
Nana Ofori-Twumasi started well at Northampton having secured a permanent deal at the club but damaged his cruciate ligaments at the start of the season and is on the long road to recovery.
Lee Sawyer has found a comfortable home at Southend United and Tom Taiwo has been a regular since moving to Carlisle United permanent a couple of years ago. His contract is up at the end of the season and he will be hoping to show he can play at a higher level.
At the younger end of the scale, Billy Knott has been exceptional for AFC Wimbledon whilst on loan from Sunderland, whilst Bobby Devyne is currently on trial at the New York Red Bulls after being released from the academy last season.
The veterans are still getting the job done as well though, with Jody Morris still a fine performer for St. Johnstone in the Scottish Premier League and Michael Duberry partnering Harry Worley – himself a former Blue – at the heart of Oxford United’s defence.
Everywhere you look, there’s a former Chelsea player doing something every matchday. There’s opportunities out there and the Blues have produced players who are able to make an impact. They’re continuing to do so and to an extent understand that this is part of their remit, as Neil Bath revealed to the Guardian last year:
“We know, the boys know and the parents know that it’s going to be very difficult to get into our first-team,” Bath says. “However, I would be confident that in years to come there will be a lot of Chelsea graduates out there making a living from professional football and that a select number will have gone into our first-team. And that is the ultimate aim.”
And hey, if things don’t work out, the club are very accommodating and forward-thinking in bringing the boys back to become academy coaches. Ed Brand, James Simmonds and James Russell are all in their early 20s and are shaping the Blues of tomorrow.
You can keep right up to date with how various former Blues are doing throughout the season by following @chelseayouth on Twitter, and by keeping an eye on the #formerblue(s) hashtag.