Youth & Reserve Season Review 2011-12 – Part Five: Internationals

Chelsea continued to be extremely well represented on the international scene in 2011-12, enjoying notable performances at every age group from top to bottom.

At senior level, new signing Thibaut Courtois made his Belgium debut against France in November, becoming the youngest goalkeeper in national team history. He is almost certain to become first choice when the Red Devils begin their World Cup qualifying campaign in the Autumn.

Jeffrey Bruma has been a regular part of the Dutch setup and earned his third and fourth camps last October in decisive European Championship qualifiers against Moldova and Sweden. Unfortunately, he is not a part of their 2012 Finals squad.

Welsh goalkeeper Rhys Taylor has earned a long-awaited recall to the senior squad, having first been called up in 2008. He travels with the team to take on the United States in a friendly later this month.

Most remarkably, schoolboy winger Bertrand Traore is already a full international with Burkina Faso, making his first appearance days before his sixteenth birthday before featuring at the African Cup of Nations.

Former Blues Gökhan Töre, Miroslav Stoch and Fabio Borini continue to make a strong impression on the international stage, following on from their impressive representation whilst at the club.

A whole host of current Chelsea players aim to follow in their footsteps, and none moreso than an impressive group of Under-21 internationals.

Josh McEachran has been a regular part of Stuart Pearce’s side since the age of 17 and now, as a 19 year-old, will be relied upon even more to be a key contributor. Despite a lack of playing time at club level, he has been entrusted with a central midfield role by Pearce and continues to impress.

Milan Lalkovic and Gael Kakuta are regulars for Slovakia and France respectively, whilst Patrick van Aanholt has kissed and made up with Netherlands Under-21 boss Cor Pot and earned a recall to the squad after an impasse which lasted almost a year.

Tomas Kalas graduated from the Czech Under-19 ranks last summer as a runner-up in the European Championships and has been an excellent addition to their Under-21 team, even earning outside consideration for a place in their Euro 2012 squad.

Conor Clifford continued in his third season as an Irish Under-21 international, and Chelsea gained another representative at that level this season in the form of schoolboy Islam Feruz.

The Somali-born striker had previously featured for Scotland at Under-16 level and after taking part in European Under-17 Championship qualifiers in the early spring, he received a maiden Under-21 selection for a friendly against Italy.

He is rated extremely highly north of the border and is set to leapfrog a number of age groups in the next twelve months, taking part in an Under-20 tournament in the Netherlands this week.

The Under-20 level is one which is rarely used in Europe, but extensively so elsewhere, and last summer’s World Cup was a big draw in Colombia.

The Blues had Billy Clifford and Ben Gordon called up (alongside former Blue Billy Knott) but Clifford withdrew in order to take part in the first team’s tour of Asia, leaving Gordon to fly the flag alone. Kenneth Omeruo and Ulises Dávila were signed after strong performances in the competition.

At Under-19 level, England have been well represented, with captain Nathaniel Chalobah leading teammates Jamal Blackman, Todd Kane, Aziz Deen-Conteh and Patrick Bamford in regular selection. Bamford, who has also represented the Republic of Ireland at junior level, scored his first goal for the Three Lions against the Czech Republic in February.

Billy Clifford and George Saville have both been on standby for selection on more than one occasion but are yet to be properly involved with Noel Blake’s group. Bamford, Kane and Chalobah will this week take part in qualifiers for the Finals in July later this year.

Swedish duo Amin Affane and Anjur Osmanovic are regular faces in the Swedish Under-18 setup, but it’s at Under-17 level where the largest volume of Blues can be found, headlined by a double European champion.

Nathan Aké joined from Feyenoord last summer having won the European Under-17 Championships, and he repeated the trick as captain a year later as the Netherlands defeated Germany for the second successive year, becoming just the third team to ever retain the trophy.

The only side to defeat the Oranje throughout the entire campaign was England, who failed to qualify for the tournament after falling to the wayside in Georgia during the elite round.

John Swift, Lewis Baker, Jordan Houghton, Fankaty Dabo and Ali Gordon all played under John Peacock in 2011/12, and young striker Chike Kandi played for Wales during their unsuccessful attempts to qualify.

Hoping to follow in their footsteps are another healthy clutch of schoolboys playing for ex-Chelsea man Kenny Swain at Under-16 level. Connor Hunte, Charlie Colkett, Ola Aina, and Aaron Hayden all received their first caps this season, as did standout pair Alex Kiwomya and captain Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

Kiwomya found the scoresheet against Wales, adding to Hunte’s goal against Northern Ireland as the Chelsea boys led the way, but it was captain Loftus-Cheek who evidently stole the show in the Sky Sports televised tournament.

He also found the scoresheet against Wales and drew acclaim for his stylish, capable displays in midfield, where he looked a class apart. The incoming 2012 scholar is, of course, the latest in a long line of Chelsea academy products who have captained England at one level or another, including but not limited to Houghton, Chalobah, Ryan Bertrand, Michael Mancienne and, of course, John Terry.

The ultimate aspiration is to follow in the hugely successful footsteps of the one England captain, and many of them are doing everything right in pursuit of excellence.

Coming tomorrow…we round off the week and the review with our take on the very best of the youth and reserve season.