WHO ARE YOU KIDDING?

By Philip Rolfe
Nov 12th, 2008

Many a Chelsea fan will be spending their Wednesday morning at work reflecting on Arsenal’s latest exploits in the Carling Cup. That much is obvious – there’s probably a Gooner there right now telling you how amazing Carlos Vela is and how they’re nailed on to win the title for the next decade. You turn your attentions back to your screen or to your desk but odds are you won’t be able to escape the love-in the majority of the media will have prepared this time.

Before I get further into this, I’d like to add a disclaimer to Arsenal fans who are reading. There’s no bitterness, there’s no jealousy, and there’s no real negative attitudes towards what Wenger does. OK, actually I lie, there’s a bit of jealousy in the fact these boys are given such an opportunity. The issue lies in the proclamations that once again, Arsenal set the benchmark in youth development and that their kids are miles ahead of anyone else’s, and could easily hold their own in the Premiership.

So, Blues fans, you ask yourself, “why aren’t Chelsea doing this?”. Is the Academy in a shambles? Is Frank Arnesen doing enough to earn his wage? What needs to be done to get to Arsenal’s level? Truth is, the answers will most likely be “no”, “probably”, and “not a great deal.” First of all, we need to consider the actual eleven that destroyed Wigan on Tuesday night. It featured no less than four full internationals (and Aaron Ramsey will make that five in the very near future) and the rest was made up of the regular reserve side, not the youth team (Under 18s) as you’re probably reading.

Building a team around internationals at the core – the goalkeeper, two centre-backs and a striker – gives the rest of the youngsters a strong base on which to play, giving them the confidence to go out and play with the knowledge they’ve got real quality backing them up. Quality with Premier League experience. Consider for a moment a possible Chelsea team to face Burnley tonight;

Cudicini, Hutchinson, Terry, Ivanovic, van Aanholt, Bridcutt, Tejera, Lampard, Kakuta, Stoch, Di Santo

You’ve got the same core to the team of an experienced goalkeeper, two international centre-backs (admittedly a little better), and an experienced midfielder. The rest of the team is made up of Chelsea’s Reserves, who until last Monday were above Arsenal’s in the FA Premier Reserve League South and had inflicted an opening-game defeat on Neil Banfield’s boys on their own patch. If they’re good enough to win there, surely they’re good enough to put up comparable performances in the Carling Cup?

It’s not just the fact they beat Arsenal either. Brendan Rodgers’ team has produced some outstanding football this season, beating Reserve League Champions Liverpool and the might of the AC Milan Primavera team 4-0 each, and Portsmouth and West Ham 2-0 each in league games. Their only reverses have been to a superb Aston Villa side, and to a Stoke team featuring eleven Premiership players. They held their own there for over an hour and may easily have won on another night. Against Premiership players.

Alas, though, it appears the players have spoken. It seems Luis Felipe Scolari has been told by his senior players they wish to play against Burnley, keen to make it four Carling Cup Finals in five years, and the closest you’re likely to get to seeing one of Chelsea’s young guns is in Miroslav Stoch. It’s another disappointment to followers of the youth and reserve teams at Chelsea – of which there is an ever-growing number – and must be even more disappointing to the players themselves.

On paper, there’s not a great deal of difference between Chelsea’s proposed team and what we’ve seen from Arsenal. In practice, there probably wouldn’t be either. Burnley are a strong team in their own rights, but if the kids aren’t given a chance in games like this one, quite when will they be? The Academy staff claim to aim to be feeding the first team squad with a player a year from 2010 onwards. If they’re to make good on their claims – which are a big part of the club’s aim of becoming financially self-sufficient by the same time – then the shackles need to come off and these boys given the chance to shine.

Arsenal aren’t the only ones with bright young things. They’re just leading the way in showcasing them to the world.

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