The Todd Boehly era is well and truly upon us all at Chelsea, including the academy, and as we start a new season there’s an air of both excitement and trepidation that comes with great upheaval. For the time being, at least, expect business as usual down at Cobham, and that means welcoming a new class of first-year scholars inducted into their youth team careers down at the academy this week. It’s a sizeable intake, the joint-largest in the club’s modern history, matching the class of 2012 that yielded Andreas Christensen and Ruben Loftus-Cheek among many distinguished future professionals, and it provides a huge injection of talent into Ed Brand’s Under-18 squad. With essentially the entire squad moving up from Under-16 level, academy staff rate this group very highly on a collective and individual level, so let’s meet the sixteen newcomers.
Josh Acheampong, Defender
A right-sided defender equally comfortable in a range of roles, Josh earned his first England youth representation late in the 2021-22 season when he was selected for the Montaigu Tournament in France, and he showed he was as good as any other 2006-born options in the country with a series of influential performances. He made his club Under-18 debut on the final day of the same campaign at Southampton, where he acquitted himself nicely. Does a number of things very well.
Travis Akomeah, Defender
Travis joined from Watford midway through last season shortly after making his England Under-16 debut and represents the sort of deal Chelsea have been trying to get through for some time. With a general lack of natural centre-backs, let alone those fitting their preferred in-house style, the Blues had long been in the market for a player like Akomeah, who bears some resemblance to a young Levi Colwill in the way he moves and goes about his business (though Travis is right-sided to Levi’s preferred left). Such comparisons carry plenty of weight, though, and if he can make half the progress of his predecessor, the academy will be very happy.
Ato Ampah, Wing Back/Winger
As a younger academy player, watching Ato Ampah play was sometimes like watching a re-run of Tariq Lamptey’s best bits. Filling out physically over the last couple of years, however, he retains much of that natural skill, flair and athleticism but he does it all with a more robust presence that allows him to be impactful in every area of the pitch. He put in half a dozen promising Under-18 outings last term and his versatility to operate on either flank mark him out as a very typical Chelsea academy product.
Somto Boniface, Full/Wing Back
Somto is something of a left-sided version of Acheampong, in that they can both perform a wide variety of duties and have represented England to acclaim. Indeed, he was one of a small number of 2006s to step up and play with the 2005s at international level this season, honouring the progress he made on and off the pitch. After a couple of years in which the youth team has lacked natural left-sided options, he’s a welcome addition to the group in that regard, and there is plenty of scope for quick progress through the age groups.
Luke Campbell, Goalkeeper
While Ted Curd and Max Merrick have already made waves at a higher level, Luke is yet to get a taste of that beyond serving as backup goalkeeper on occasion last season. However, being awarded a scholarship in such a large intake and with his two team-mates already getting one is an indication of the talent and potential he possesses. Competition will be rife but that will be nothing new to a tall and rangy stopper with plenty to offer.
Chinonso Chibueze, Forward
The younger brother of former Chelsea goalkeeper Kelechi Chibueze, ‘Chi-Chi’ as he is affectionately known does his work at the other end of the pitch, combining a lanky frame with a heads-up style, creativity in and around the box, and being a persistent nuisance to opponents in the final third.
Ted Curd, Goalkeeper
Few goalkeepers come into their scholarship with any real youth team experience under their belt but, not only does Ted buck that trend, he has been near-enough a regular over the last two years. In an injury and pandemic-hit 20-21 campaign he made nine starts as an Under-15, before sharing duties between the posts with Prince Adegoke last term. He comes incredibly highly rated, with outstanding goalkeeping fundamentals and a confidence and authority that belies his tender age. With two fellow custodians in this intake and his prior experience, don’t be surprised if he makes a push for Development Squad time before the season is out.
Tyrique George, Forward
Tyrique is one of the most interesting players in an incredibly interesting group because of the variety of ways in which you can use him. Conventionally a wide forward of some denomination, you can also line him up effectively as a central presence either in the nine or ten role, or you can drop him deeper into midfield as a box to box eight or a deeper playmaker. He’s even seen time at wing-back, all of which is testament to his outstanding technique and feel for the game. He also takes a mean free kick.
Michael Golding, Midfielder
Talked about in those hushed tones reserved for very promising talents for a while now, Michael steps up into full-time youth team football after getting his feet wet as a schoolboy last season. A very modern central midfielder who loves to assume the responsibility for the build-up phase, he possesses excellent technique and passing range, and is the middle of three footballing brothers, with James in Oxford’s first-team picture and Aidan in Chelsea’s younger age groups. Much is expected of him.
Noah Hay, Defender
A stocky, muscular right-sided defender who can switch between centre-back and wing-back seamlessly? You have to be very careful indeed if you mention Reece James’ name in any sort of comparison and, indeed, Noah is probably a bit more athletically developed than Reece was at the same age, but he’s another who broke into Ed Brand’s team late last term and more than held his own among older company. Aggressive and determined, he’ll be an asset this season.
Max Merrick, Goalkeeper
In any group where three goalkeepers come through the age groups together and are all awarded scholarships, competition can go one of two ways. It can sort the wheat from the chaff, leaving some behind, or it can spur everyone on to new heights. The latter would seem to be true at Chelsea, where Max completes the stoppers in this intake, and in his single Under-18 appearance to date he overcame one or two uncertain moments to make some crucial saves in a league win. Against Tottenham. Which is always nice.
Donnell McNeilly, Forward
Donnell takes you back a few years to the rich production line of strikers coming through at Cobham. You can see a little of each of Dom Solanke, Tammy Abraham and Iké Ugbo in his game from time to time, while there are easy parallels to draw between him and Michail Antonio in their aggressive, uncompromising approach to centre-forward play. He bagged more than 40 goals last season and is the sort of striker who will always find himself in position to rack up big numbers.
Harrison McMahon, Midfielder
Signed from West Ham at the end of his Under-14 season, Harrison is small in stature but makes up for it in all the ways some of the world game’s undersized midfielders do it best. A talented futsal player in his formative years, his development reflects those skills honed on the indoor courts, with exceptional ball control, vision and creativity the hallmarks of his game.
Harrison Murray-Campbell, Defender
Working his way into the Under-18 team on a regular basis at the end of his Under-16 year, former midfielder Murray-Campbell has been with the club since the foundation stage as an Under-7 and more recently transitioned into a centre-back role that continues to build on his technical prowess while favouring his ability to read the game in front of him and be decisive.
Reiss Russell-Denny, Midfielder
Left-footed schemers are always easy to like and Reiss is no different. A silky-smooth operator in the middle of the park, he is very comfortable on the ball, controlling the build-up phase and progressing play through the thirds into attacking areas. A teased early-season breakthrough into the Under-18s was halted by injury, otherwise he could very well have pushed on even further by now.
Kaiden Wilson, Defender
An Under-14 arrival from a Bristol grass roots development organisation, Kaiden has already blossomed into a towering centre-half who, while still a leggy 16 year-old, will eventually develop into a properly imposing presence. Throw in his impressive agility and ability to eat up ground combined with his on-ball talent, and Chelsea can be rightly excited about the player they have on their hands.
With almost the entire group receiving scholarship offers, best wishes are extended to Logan Coles and Yussif Moro Owusu on their next steps, while players previously a part of this group have once again secured deals at other notable clubs. Congratulations also go to Kerron Samuels (Liverpool), Denim Nnamudi (Reading), Kamarni Ryan (Arsenal), Chibby Nwoko (Fulham) and Archie Baptiste-Chaplin (Tottenham) among others.
And, as always, there will be a healthy competition among the Under-16 crop to join this sizeable new group of scholars, and repeat their collective feats of playing significant minutes at a higher age group ahead of schedule. Kiano Dyer managed that last season, scoring away to Birmingham City in April, and is one of a clutch of players brought in over the last two years to bolster the home-grown talent. Leo Cardoso joined Dyer in switching to Chelsea from West Brom and the creative midfielder has represented both England and Portugal at Under-16 level, while Shaun Wade arrived from Bristol City and has been involved with both England and Ireland, the latter more recently at Under-16 level. Of the club-grown options, Frankie Runham is a goalscoring attacking midfielder who played under Brand in the Under-17 Cup last term and England Under-15 international Marcell Washington has shown promise as an option all along the left side.
The focus, though, will be placed heavily on this group and those that preceded them, many of whom were involved in May’s Under-18 Premier League Cup triumph over Fulham, clinching their first major trophy in four years. They‘re scheduled to begin their pre-season fixture slate later this month against Bournemouth, with fixtures against Coventry and Leeds to follow, before the league campaign gets underway on the second weekend in August. As always, you can keep right up to date with everything here at TheChels and on Twitter and Instagram @chelseayouth.