The 2022-23 season has been a strange old time at Chelsea Football Club in all departments, with rapid change and general uncertainty underpinning a period of succession planning and building a platform for the future. The loan department, once a huge operation led by Eddie Newton and staffed abundantly, is now somewhat scaled back with Carlo Cudicini in charge, yet the development of some twenty-odd players remains as important now as it did in every previous campaign where more than double the number temporarily plied their trade away from Cobham.
On The Rise
Truth be told, it hasn’t been a vintage year for the loan group as a collective but, where there have been positives, they have been rather exciting. Callum Hudson-Odoi has been a regular for Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga and the Champions League, where he has played a keen role in them qualifying for the last sixteen, and he has been able to play regularly for the first time in a while and recapture much of the verve and swagger he displayed at his dominant best in the academy. Chelsea do hold an option to recall him during the winter transfer window but all signs point towards him staying in Germany and making the most of a situation that only serves to benefit his game right now.
Levi Colwill had to wait a long time to show Brighton fans what he was capable of; perhaps ironically not getting that chance until Graham Potter left the South Coast for Chelsea, but then when Roberto De Zerbi did find room for him in his starting eleven, the World Cup break brought an abrupt halt to that momentum. He picked up right where he left off in the League Cup last week, a competition most of his minutes have come in so far, and when he has been on the pitch, he’s been able to remind everyone why he’s such a tremendous prospect. More, please.
— followtssvid (@followtssvid) December 22, 2022
Ian Maatsen, meanwhile, is in his second season in the Championship (England’s second tier) and, after a good showing at Coventry last term, has gone on to prove himself as one of the division’s standout performers in every regard. A growing influence in a promotion-chasing Burnley side, he is a force of nature on the left side of the pitch, a consistent contributor in attacking situations, while improving defensively with every appearance.
— Hatim Timbelsi (@HTimbelsi) December 21, 2022
Sam McClelland’s maiden loan spell at fourth-tier Barrow had been just as successful until he was sidelined by a hernia injury in mid-October but, until then, he was an imperious presence at centre-back for the upstart Cumbrians. He’s expected back in mid to late January.
Finding Their Way
Lucas Bergström went straight into professional football in League One at Peterborough United and immediately found himself in a competition for the gloves with fellow loanee goalkeeper Harvey Cartwright. Despite his rival arriving at Posh with more experience, the lanky Finn won the starting job and has held onto it ever since, and his general play has been a continuation of what regular academy watchers will have seen at Chelsea. He’s made some highlight-reel saves that have earned Grant McCann’s team points, but he has also made mistakes that have cost them dearly. That’s the life of any goalkeeper, particularly a young one, and as the season stretches into its second half, this is the time for him to refine his game and continue to make positive progress.
just a reminder that we’re still only midway through august and lucas bergstrom has already made all of these unbelievable saves pic.twitter.com/oOEJUmfkaG
— joe (@jfgpufc) August 17, 2022
Jamie Cumming was arguably the best goalkeeper in the same league last season across two loan spells, firstly with struggling Gillingham before moving on to promotion hopefuls Milton Keynes. He returned to Stadium MK in the summer and was joined by Henry Lawrence, who had a solid debut run of senior football at Wimbledon in 21-22. Together, they were part of a squad expected to mount a title challenge, but instead they find themselves embroiled in a relegation scrap that saw manager Liam Manning sacked shortly before Christmas. Mark Jackson comes in to replace him, fresh from a successful rise through the Leeds United academy ranks, and both young Blues can lead the turnaround. They’ve played well at times but, like everyone at the club, there is room for improvement, which started promisingly for Cumming with a Man of the Match performance on Boxing Day in a win versus Bryan Fiabema’s Forest Green Rovers.
Fiabema has mostly been a rotational piece at The New Lawn, grabbing one goal so far in the EFL Trophy group stages against Newport County. Jayden Wareham scored twice in the same competition for Leyton Orient against Sutton before then featuring against Chelsea but has largely had to settle for a backup role so far despite being sharp in front of goal when given a chance. Orient are seven points clear at the top of League Two, however, so it’s hard to argue against what Richie Wellens is doing.
Dujon Sterling‘s third straight foray into the Championship started as well as anyone would have expected, in sparking form for Stoke carrying the lessons learned from previous ventures with Wigan and Blackpool, but he has been out injured since just before the World Cup and is back at Chelsea rehabbing. It’s a shame in many ways that his absence has coincided with that of Reece James, meaning he can’t be viewed as a viable cover option in the short-term despite possessing many of the attributes required.
Ethan Ampadu’s return to Italy saw him join up with Spezia, who are a better team than the eclectic Venezia outfit he was with last year in Serie A, but not by much. He once again finds himself in a relegation scrap (for the third time in succession after spending 20-21 with Sheffield United), switching between central midfield and central defence, and generally doing quite well without being put in the sort of position that would showcase the full range of his talents more appropriately. Even his three World Cup outings for Wales followed a similar pattern.
Unfortunately, roughly a quarter of the loan army have had their progress stunted by injury and illness, and nobody more so than Tino Anjorin. Having spent last winter recovering from a broken foot suffered on loan at Huddersfield, he hit the ground running back at the John Smith’s Stadium this summer and scored a pair of beautiful goals against West Brom in August, quickly racking up the minutes into the autumn before he was forced out of the line-up once more. Seemingly set to return just before Christmas, he suffered an ankle injury that required surgery and that will keep his prodigious talents out for a while longer.
Heading East down the M62 to Hull, three more young Blues have endured their own share of frustration. Harvey Vale is the reigning Academy Player of the Year at Chelsea but has managed just two appearances for the Tigers after a groin problem picked up on international duty kept him out for all of October and into November, before a subsequent change of manager in a tumultuous time at the MKM Stadium brought about more uncertainty.
Xavier Simons has seen just eight minutes of playing time there, although he hasn’t spent very long on the treatment table himself, while Nathan Baxter returned for a second stint at the club – this time with an option for the deal to be made permanent – and had to wait until Matchday 11 for his first league action of 22-23. He played right up to early December before picking up an ankle issue he has since recovered from but is yet to return to the starting eleven. New boss Liam Rosenior hasn’t exactly offered much reason for encouragement when talking about the trio as he inherits a real mess of a squad either.
Joe Haigh has spent the first half of the season with Derby County’s Under-21s and scored twice early in his stay with the Rams, but hasn’t played since the end of September through injury.
…and the rest
Ethan Wady has so far been Craig Ross’ backup in goal at Woking, while four big-money first-team signings find themselves in makeshift situations in lieu of being able to secure a permanent exit. Romelu Lukaku’s return to Inter has been injury-hit, which also affected his ability to take part in the World Cup, where Baba Rahman was on duty for Ghana in taking a break from a second spell at Reading. Malang Sarr hasn’t managed to play very much since moving to Monaco, the former home of Tiémoué Bakayoko, who hasn’t played a single minute for Milan in the second year of a two-season stay at San Siro. The four of them combined for almost £200m of transfer fees and are extremely unlikely ever to represent Chelsea again.
Gaga Slonina finished his responsibilities with Chicago Fire at the conclusion of MLS 2022 in November before reporting for winter training camp duty at Chelsea. The immediate future for both Edou Mendy and Kepa Arrizabalaga is far from clear, so he could end up in the first-team picture much sooner than perhaps many envisaged, but a loan until the end of the European season could be in store for the 18 year-old who already has almost 50 senior appearances to his name.
His signing back in August heralded the start of the second era of ‘network deals’, which was initially ushered in by Michael Emenalo that saw everyone from Patrick Bamford and Mario Pašalić to Uli Dávila and Joao Rodriguez put pen to paper in the 2010s. With deals arranged for David Datro Fofana and Andrey Santos, and explorations still ongoing for the acquisition of a partner club in Europe, the future of the loan army is perhaps becoming clearer by the week. And, with Mark Robinson’s Development Squad in fine fettle towards the end of 2022, the likes of Josh Brooking, Mason Burstow, Cesare Casadei, Ben Elliott, Lewis Hall, Bashir Humphreys, Omari Hutchinson, Dion Rankine and Dylan Williams might all be considering a first loan move away from Stamford Bridge in what promises to be a busy month ahead.