It’s been another memorable year for the Chelsea Football Club academy, with yet more silverware added to the trophy cabinet and a host of first-team debuts headlining a group of players bursting at the seams with quality, exhibiting itself both at Stamford Bridge and out on loan. With 2016 drawing to a close, it’s time to take a quick look back at the last twelve months and celebrate another productive year.
Things got off to a bright start when Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored his first senior goal in Chelsea’s FA Cup victory over Scunthorpe United. The powerful midfielder has endured a frustrating time of it of late but, back in January at least, things were going well.
You’ll rarely have seen anything like it. As the Blues’ Under-19s embarked upon an ultimately successful defence of their UEFA Youth League crown, they hosted Valencia at Cobham in a tense and hard-fought last sixteen encounter. It went all the way to penalties and was all square when this happened:
The officials stayed with their decision that the spot kick had been missed, and Chelsea prevailed, but not before Valencia appealed the verdict. UEFA declined to overturn affairs, and those particular goalnets haven’t been seen on the academy pitch at Cobham ever since…
The 2015-16 campaign was scarcely memorable for any positive reasons, but Bertrand Traore’s mini-breakthrough under the caretaker stewardship of Guus Hiddink was right up there. This stunner against Stoke was the highlight of the Burkinabe international’s year:
He can currently be found recovering from an injury picked up on his latest loan spell over at Ajax in the Netherlands.
Winning the FA Youth Cup and UEFA Youth League double once was impressive enough. Doing it back-to-back is a very special accomplishment, and the players, coaches, and all of the staff at the academy deserve immense credit for making it a reality once again.
The end game for everyone though, as they’ll always remind you, is to produce players for the first team, and Jake Clarke-Salter’s debut early in the month was another moment to celebrate as a boy who joined the club as a seven year-old turned out at senior level for the first time.
He wouldn’t be the last player to do that in 2015-16 either. Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori, scorers of goals in April’s Finals, went on to each make their Blues bows in end-of-season affairs against Liverpool and Leicester City respectively. It was another step towards the ultimate goal for two local boys who joined the club at the first possible age group, and was particularly deserved for Tomori, who was also named the club’s academy player of the season.
England also won the Toulon Tournament for the first time in some 25 years and did so with a quintet of Chelsea players in the squad. Ola Aina, Kasey Palmer and John Swift all played their part but Lewis Baker finished as the competition’s leading scorer whilst Ruben Loftus-Cheek was named the Best Player; both scored in the Final and marked themselves out for bigger and better things.
After some well-earned time off, a dozen youngsters came back for the new season to sign scholarship agreements to play for the Under-18s under new manager Jody Morris. They were later joined by Polish goalkeeper Marcin Bułka and striker Charlie Brown, who arrived from Ipswich Town, although defender Zech Medley would depart for Arsenal in December after not playing as much as he would have liked to.
It was the turn of England’s Under-19s to take the spotlight in July as one of the best generations of talent assembled in recent memory headed to the European Championships hopeful of building on their Under-17 success of 2014. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be as they fell at the Semi Final stage, but not before Dominic Solanke and Izzy Brown made an impact:
The new season started with a bang but arguably nobody made more noise than Tammy Abraham, who showed up at Bristol City just 48 hours before their opening fixture and proceeded to score five goals before the month was out. He’s up to 13 for the season so far and only turned 19 in October…
Of all the debuts in recent years, none were as overdue or as well-deserved as that of Nathaniel Chalobah. Six years after his first appearance in a matchday squad as a fresh-faced 15 year-old, the England Under-21 captain finally made a Chelsea appearance in a league cup tie away to Leicester City. He’s firmly established himself as Antonio Conte’s go-to midfield enforcer/closer/Aguero killer, and will hope to be in line for more minutes in 2017.
Technically, Ola Aina beat Chalobah to a debut by a good month after playing against Bristol Rovers in the previous round of the League Cup, but October saw him get Premier League playing time for the first time in the latter stages of an emphatic 3-0 win over defending champions Leicester; the game featuring Chalobah’s backheeled assist to Victor Moses.
This season saw development squads invited to compete alongside first teams in Football League competition for the first time as the revamped Checkatrade Trophy allowed for sixteen Category One clubs to test their mettle against League One and Two teams. Chelsea’s involvement lasted just three games, but they were still able to make history, as they took part in the longest penalty shootout in English football. It took thirty-four spot kicks to split the Blues and Oxford, with the former prevailing 13-12.
We’ll finish by looking forward to the New Year with the latest crop attempting to continue the club’s dominance of the FA Youth Cup. Aiming to build win the competition for a fourth year in succession, they got off to the perfect start courtesy of a 5-0 thumping of Cardiff City at Aldershot, with goals from Mason Mount, Iké Ugbo (2), Tariq Uwakwe and Jacob Maddox getting the ball rolling.
Here’s to another memorable twelve months to come!