In Their Own Words: Chelsea’s 2016 UEFA Youth League Winners

Five years ago this week, Chelsea became the first English club to win the UEFA Youth League, beating Shakhtar Donetsk 3-2 in the Final. Four years ago today, they retained it – becoming the first and only title holder to successfully defend their crown – in a dramatic 2-1 win over a much-fancied Paris Saint-Germain team. Here, with thanks to and Chelsea TV, is how they did it, in their own words.

There were a handful of minor rule changes for the competition, as it expanded from 32 to 64 teams to accommodate the domestic champions from the top-ranked European nations, part of an effort to include better academies that previously missed out because their first team wasn’t Champions League-worthy. The age limit was also slightly lifted in that the Under-19 competition now allowed three over-age players to be included in both the overall and matchday squads.

Adi Viveash, Manager: “You can have three over-age players this year, so three under-20s, and it’s going to add fierce competition. Some teams will put their most powerful, physical players in; whatever they do is down to them. It adds to our pool, it means that we can have three players that are UEFA Youth League winners, and that’s quite a big statement for us.”

Heading into the 2015-16 campaign as defending champions, Chelsea were given a generally favourable group draw – mirroring the first team’s Champions League path – that saw them face tricky home and away ties with FC Porto, but also paired against Maccabi Tel-Aviv and Dynamo Kyiv, two teams they would fancy themselves against more often than not. The matches themselves played out as expected; Porto became just the second team in competition history to avoid defeat against the Blues, sharing draws in Portugal and England, but Chelsea were four-for-four the rest of the way and sailed into the knockout rounds as top seeds.

A home draw against Valencia looked challenging yet winnable, but Viveash’s youngsters struggled to assert themselves properly, and were pegged back by a Carlos Soler spot kick moments after Jay Dasilva had given them the lead on the stroke of half time. Going straight to penalties after the stalemate lasted the rest of the way, controversy reigned supreme when Antonio Gil’s penalty crossed the line but bounced back off the stanchion at the inside foot of the goalpost. Referee Adrien Jaccottet adjudged it to have hit the post itself, and therefore decided it was a miss, and Tammy Abraham completed a perfect fifth penalty to see the Blues through.

Viveash: “You obviously want the game to end differently to that but we can only do our job and I was really proud with how we conducted ourselves in the shoot-out. We took five great, calm penalties and they all looked like they were going to score. Mason Mount handled it brilliantly; he had to wait for three or four minutes before his kick but he just looked so in control and I never doubted him.”

Valencia president Lay Hoon Chan: “We all feel immensely proud of the performance and fighting spirit shown today. I am sure that the experience gained in this competition will help you to be even stronger as professional players. Do not lose your confidence and your faith in football because of this incident.”

Valencia appealed to UEFA over the decision, requesting that the shootout be replayed, but the governing body ruled that the result should stand. It meant Ajax were next up at Cobham in the last eight for the right to book a trip to Nyon.

Viveash: “Their record of bringing through players is exceptional and they are recognised for that around the world. They’ve certainly got some good players in this team and they have been free-flowing in terms of scoring goals in the competition, especially away from home where they’ve won all their games.

Saying that, I don’t think they’ve played a team as good as us yet. We know that we’re going to need to produce our best performance of the competition so far; what we do with the ball and how quickly we win it back will be so important but it certainly has all the ingredients to be a really good game of football.”

Trevoh Chalobah, Defender: “I didn’t expect to be involved as much as I have but I feel like I’ve done well in the games that I’ve played in. It’s much different playing against foreign teams; when we were younger we used to play a lot of tournaments abroad but this competition is more professional and has a more first team feel to it, especially when you mirror the group stage and get to travel with the first team players.”

In keeping with the nature of their progress throughout the competition, Chelsea won 1-0 courtesy of an early goal from Kyle Scott, owing much to impressive approach play by Abraham and Kasey Palmer. They were forced to defend for long stretches of the second half and relied on the outstanding Jake Clarke-Salter in particular to help them over the line.

Kyle Scott, Midfielder: “I saw Kasey get on the ball and saw a big space open up in front of me to run into,’ he explained. ‘I’ve been working hard on scoring more goals so it was great for me to get into that position and I felt I took the finish well.

We had a couple of chances early in the second half but we stuck together and dug in. It’s a great achievement to get back to the semi-finals for a second year in a row. We’ll work hard now for the next few weeks but I’m sure everyone will be buzzing when it comes round next month. We’ll continue to take it a game at a time but I think we have a good chance of winning it again.”

Viveash: “We had to produce our best performance of this campaign so far and we did. We’ve beaten a very good team and we showed all the characteristics you need to be a top side.

We look forward to going (to Nyon), and we’ll be going there to win it. I do like this group being talked about because they’re young, they have a vibrancy, they play in a different way and we’re seeing a few more potential stars emerge.”

The trip to Nyon set up a thrilling finale to the season where, in the space of 12 days, Chelsea faced Semi Final and Final matches in Switzerland, along with a two-legged FA Youth Cup Final against Manchester City.

Viveash: “This group of players doesn’t lose many games. We’re coming into a massive part of the season now, with a European semi-final, hopefully a final on Monday and then two legs of the FA Youth Cup final within the next fortnight. These are defining moments but this is what the boys have worked so hard for all season.

It says a lot about our winning mentality; the players are used to winning, they enjoy winning and I think they expect to win as well, which is quite a nice trait to have. But most importantly, they will work extremely hard to win.

We have to be careful that we don’t get sucked into a false sense of security because they let you have a lot of the ball but then hit quickly on the break.

We can relate to that from our experience last year, when we conceded a goal in the final where we were overly expansive and got caught on the counter-attack. We’ve mentioned that to the players so hopefully we can take that on board and learn from it.

We’ve produced some very good tactical performances in the competition this season and we know we will need another big display to overcome Anderlecht. The group has a different dynamic this season; we are quite difficult to break down and that was evident in the quarter-final against Ajax. We’ve had a solid look about us throughout the competition and our work defensively in our own half has been very impressive.”

Jacob Maddox, Midfielder: “It’s going to be great to experience an occasion this big, in the Semis and hopefully the Final of the Youth League, it doesn’t get much bigger than that at my age. Just to be a part of it – if I start, if I don’t – it’s going to be great. We’ve got a young team, we’re very ambitious, and I think the further we go in the competition the more we believe in ourselves. We’ve got a lot of confidence.”

Charlie Colkett, Captain: “It’s great to play opposition from different countries but the Ajax game was particularly tough. We had to show how good we can be defensively so if we can show that once more against Anderlecht, and also show our quality on the ball, then we have a great chance to make the final.

A few of the squad from last season are still involved. Players like myself, Ola Aina, Jake Clarke-Salter, Jay Dasilva and Brad Collins all started the final last year and so it is up to us to bring the experience of that to help some of the younger players. I love being captain of this team, especially for this tournament, so hopefully I can bring that experience and the quality that we need.

It’s been a really up-and-down season for me. The injuries have been frustrating but I try to see them as little obstacles which I need to overcome to make me stronger. It has been difficult mentally but it’s also just part of the game and something you need to be able to deal with. I’ve been playing and training a lot more lately so I’m hoping to build on that and finish the season strongly.

With the difficulties I’ve had this year, being involved with the first team was a big boost for me. It was a wonderful experience to travel with the senior players, see what goes on in their team meetings and watch how people conduct themselves in that environment. Warming up on the pitch and then in front of the travelling fans during the game was an amazing experience.

I always keep my feet on the floor but things like that give me that extra incentive to keep working hard and hopefully push myself towards that main goal of being over there full-time one day.”

Chelsea’s opponents in the Semi Finals were Anderlecht, who themselves were exceptionally fortunate to be at the finals weekend in the first place. Defeated 2-0 by Dinamo Zagreb in the Quarter Finals, they were reinstated when it was determined that the Croatians had fielded an ineligible player. Instead of preparing to play a team that would go on to produce senior internationals in Filip Benkovic, Josip Brekalo and Dani Olmo, Chelsea were up against a side that had come through the domestic champions path without posing the same level of threat. Palmer, Colkett and Abraham all scored in a comprehensive 3-0 win.

Andy Myers, Assistant Manager: “The mood is really good and the players have enjoyed the moment but, obviously, they know it’s only halfway. We’ve got another game to come and hopefully we get the result we need in that. The boys are pretty relaxed; a lot of them have been here last year but they’re not taking it for granted, they’re not overconfident, they’re just ready to go for the next game.

I think there’s a hell of a winning mentality within the squad, not just because of what they won last year or the year before, but I think from the ages of 12 or 13 when you get introduced to Nike Cups, Premier League Cups, and you go all the way through. If you go back through those years, the players that are here now have all been involved in winning teams and won big tournaments. Obviously, last year was a big thing winning (the UEFA Youth League), the FA Youth Cup, and their focus has been unbelievable.”

Colkett: “I love being captain of the group. I’m one of the older players as well, I’ve got the experience, and it’s nice to be able to pass that on. To be able to get this far again is a great achievement. We have to deal with the big games and the pressures; we’ve won Youth Cups back to back, and hopefully we’ll be the first team ever to win the UEFA Youth League back to back.

I think big players have to try to perform, it’s just part of football. You have to handle the pressure and turn up. To be able to lift the trophy as captain, I’d be over the moon; this is what we work hard for.”

Tore Andre Flo, Technical Loan Coach: “They played some brilliant football (in the Semi Final); a competition like this is great for the players, that they get a different kind of experience and they get that feel of being in important games. It’s an exceptional experience to have.”

The Final. Chelsea were very slight favourites against a formidable Paris Saint-Germain team full of French youth internationals that had topped a group also including Real Madrid before beating Middlesbrough, Roma and Real again en route to the showpiece occasion. Manager Francois Rodrigues had Christophe Nkunku, Odsonne Edouard, Jean-Kevin Augustin, Mamadou Doucoure and Yakou Meite at his disposal, while future stars Jonathan Ikone and Dan-Axel Zagadou had to make do with places on the bench.

Fikayo Tomori headed Chelsea into a 9th-minute lead, but that advantage was almost wiped out immediately when the same player conceded a penalty moments later. Goalkeeper Collins was the hero of the hour, though, saving Augustin’s low spot kick. PSG piled on the pressure though, and it eventually told two minutes before the hour when Meite cut inside from the right and thundered an unstoppable strike past Collins and into the far corner. The fightback was instant; Mukhtar Ali played a through ball to Palmer, who capped a terrific individual season with a neatly clipped finish beyond Remy Descamps. Backs to the wall, Chelsea defended their goal like their lives depended on it and outlasted their foes to claim back-to-back UEFA Youth League titles.

Viveash: “It’s very special, isn’t it? Again, it’s a much younger group, there were obviously key moments like the penalty straight after the first goal was scored, a brilliant big save from Brad, and then for us to get the second so quickly after the equaliser sort of deflated (PSG) a bit really. Then their desire was incredible; blocking shots, physically we were on empty for the last 25 minutes. Defensively this group have been outstanding throughout the competition and they were again today. They’re worthy champions and I’m delighted for them.

The fact that we have won this trophy again with a full complement of England-eligible players is a testament to the work that has gone on for over a decade or more in the Academy. It probably means a little bit more because of that.

When they equalised, you’re looking for our character to come out from a young squad and they responded brilliantly. Kasey scored an outstanding goal and then in the last 20 minutes it was backs-to-the-wall defending, getting in blocks and headers. People always talk about attacking players who can change games but they never really talk about the players at the back that change games.”

It’s satisfying for everyone who works in development at Chelsea to see. Now we just hope some of the boys who’ve played in the final get an opportunity to show the manager what they can do at first-team level. What they have achieved this weekend can only help them towards that next goal.”

Colkett: “To score so early into the game was great, it settled us down, but the game is so long, and Brad deserves a lot of credit for saving the penalty, then Kasey does what he does. All the staff deserve a lot of credit, but Adi especially, that’s two trophies in two years now.

Today we showed how much belief and togetherness there is in the squad and I think that was really important. The older boys dug in with the young boys, and it’s been amazing, to win it back to back and to create history. What a day it’s been.”

Kasey Palmer, Attacking Midfielder: “It was quite a difficult weekend for me going into this game carrying a little knock but I just wanted to help the team as much as I could. To score the winning goal in a European final means a lot to me and I’m just delighted for everyone involved because the players and staff have worked so hard to achieve this again.

It was quite a young team compared to last year and we’ve lost some important players from the group. The young players that have come in – I’ve come in off the bench – it’s an unbelievable achievement to win the Youth League two years in a row. It’s probably one of the best moments I’ve had in football, to score the winning goal, I can’t really explain it. Nobody’s going to talk about Brad saving the penalty, everyone’s going to talk about Kasey scoring the winning goal, but Bradley’s kept us in the game.”

Brad Collins, Goalkeeper: “In my room at the hotel at about 1pm (four hours before kick-off) I said to Kyle (Scott) that someone was going to give away a penalty today and that I’m gonna dive to my left to save it. When we gave away a penalty he said to me ‘remember what you said in the room’, so I dived to my left and saved it.”

Mukhtar Ali, Midfielder: “It means a lot, the occasion was big, but we dug in deep and we deserve it. Over the course of the tournament we played some good football and we defended as a team. I wasn’t involved a lot last year but I’m proud of the fact I’ve played in every game this time, and I feel I’ve done well and contributed to the team.”

Viveash: “This was a fantastic team effort from all 21 players that are here – Josi Quintero’s at home, bless him – and you know, it’s a big, big effort. They all deserve as much praise as the ones who played every game.

It’s going to take a very good team to emulate this – I said it was going to take a good team to beat us and (PSG) are a very good team. They nearly did, they just didn’t quite do it, but it was a fantastic final.”

Fikayo Tomori, Defender: “To win this again is a special achievement,’ he said. ‘We expected PSG to come on to us, especially in the second half, but I felt we were good enough to win. We’ve been solid and consistent all season at the back and it’s been quite an important factor for us. We know that if we keep clean sheets and keep goals out then we’re definitely capable of scoring at the other end.

This season has been a bit different for me because I didn’t score at all last year. It’s even more special to score in a final; a great personal feeling for me.

To win the trophy two years in a row is an amazing achievement for any club so we’re very proud. We’ve been together as a group for a long time now and have a good togetherness which helps us get through certain situations. PSG were a physical team, probably the toughest we’ve played in that sense, but I thought our defence and the whole team matched them.”

The legacy of the second team to bring the Lennart Johansson Trophy back to Cobham is rather different to the 2015 team. Despite Andreas Christensen and Ruben Loftus-Cheek ‘making it’, they have each experienced uncertain times this season, while Dominic Solanke, Charly Musonda, Izzy Brown and Colkett are widely seen as ‘what could have beens?. As Viveash and Neil Bath later pointed out after the FA Youth Cup Final a week after the triumph in Switzerland, the class 2016 won everything with every single player being eligible to represent England, the majority of them brought through from the ground up at Chelsea, and in Tomori, Mount and Abraham have produced senior England internationals who have made a massive impact under Frank Lampard.

Neil Bath, Academy Manager: “When you start winning a few trophies at those younger ages, you start to create a culture – people talk about a winning mentality but we break that down into behaviour and we have set of behaviours that are on and off the field. This is a winning mentality – from blocking, chasing, tackling, running to behaving appropriately on and off the pitch. That is what we do, we drive one another.

Every player in this team is qualified for England and, not only that, the majority of them are London boys who have been with us since the age of between seven to eleven. That shows it is very much a team effort.

When you have success the older teams get the limelight but I am always full of praise for everyone involved, and of course for Adi Viveash and Andy Myers for winning two UEFA Youth Leagues on the trot and the same with Joe Edwards with the support of Jody Morris. They deserve a big pat on the back.

I think the fans really enjoy these occasions. I am local lad, a Battersea boy, and I know scores of people who were coming to this final to give the lads their full support and I know they find the games interesting and exciting. I am extremely proud of everyone involved.”