It’s July, which means it’s time for the annual new youth scholarship intake. For a brief background, clubs across England offer players scholarship deals when they leave school, which means 16 year-olds who will turn 17 during the course of the season. It’s these players which make up the bulk of the Under-18 squad at a club, and whilst scholarship deals tend to last two years with the option of a third year, players are eligible to sign a professional contract when they turn 17.
Last year, Chelsea took on ten new scholars, and have in the last few years introduced a vast intake more often than not. The class of 2009 outdoes anything previously seen though, with a remarkable fourteen newcomers. The majority of them are local and have been with the club for many, many years, and together they have formed a successful and exciting Under-16 team, one which reached the Cobham Cup Final last August. Without further ado, here’s this year’s selection.
Click on a player’s name for an accompanying photograph.
James Ashton – DoB Unknown, Central Midfield
– A player who has really begun to flourish in his latter schoolboy years, Ashton featured mainly as a right back for Chelsea’s younger age groups but when he really began to shine, it was as a dynamic box-to-box midfielder. He has a good touch and understanding of the game, keeping it flowing with vision and ability off both feet. He’s really best served as the link player in the midfield three – playing between the holding player and the attacking, creative outlet. Of course, he’s got creativity himself, and defensive ability from his time at right-back, but he’s starting to really show his talent in the middle of the pitch. He can occasionally be overrun and chase himself out of position, and his tackling can improve, but has been making fine progress.
Billy Clifford – 18/10/1992, Right Back/ Midfielder
– Billy is the original Clifford at Chelsea. Being from Slough, he is of no relation to Irish team-mate Conor Clifford, and is a completely different player. His natural pace and flair lends itself to him being a winger or an attacking midfielder, where he displayed good crossing and a decent goalscoring trait. Over the last twelve months he’s been playing at right back, a position Chelsea have often tried to convert an athletic forward-minded player to (Nikki Ahmed and Shaun Cummings most recently). He’s doing well there, showing good understanding of the position and improving discipline. His versatility will always be beneficial, as will his natural athleticism.
Aziz Deen-Conteh – 14/01/1993, Left Back/Left Wing
– Aziz has been a regular squad member for England’s Under-16s over the last twelve months, which represents his growing reputation at Chelsea. A strong, robust and physical left sided player with great pace, Aziz has pushed into the Under-18s already and scored his first goal against Ipswich late last season. He has often played in a more advanced left wing role where he can combine his pace with crossing ability, and he’s often found taking wide set pieces or corners, with a deft left foot. Tactically he’s still quite raw and has a lot to learn defensively, but that comes with the territory at this age. Will be expected to feature along the left side all season.
Bobby Devyne – DoB Unknown, Striker
– Bobby first came to the attentions of most Chelsea fans during the 2007 Northern Ireland Milk Cup, where his dazzling boots matched his dynamic trickery on the wing. Similarly at home in a striker’s role, he has the pace and skill to worry defenders, and the finishing ability that Chelsea have at times lacked at this level. He’s a little on the short side, but knows where the goal is and will continue to develop, perhaps in a similar fashion to Adam Phillip. He’ll get more opportunities out wide than through the middle, and it may well be that he eventually settles out in a position where he can be most effective.
Rohan Ince – 08/11/1992, Centre Back/Defensive Midfield
– Look at Rohan from a distance and you could mistake him for a younger John Obi Mikel. His tall, gangly stature and his head of spiky black hair brings about the comparison, and although he’s a centre-back by trade, his laid-back and composed style is very much in the mould of the Nigerian international. Ince has most often played in the heart of the Under 16s defence alongside Danny Mills, especially in 2007/08. Previously he could also have been found in defensive midfield when Jack Saville was a regular in the Under 16s team, and it’s in that position where he might be at his best. Much taller and stronger than most opponents his age, he can bring the ball out in the style of the much sought after footballing centre-back. At centre back his somewhat lethargic style can result in a loss of possession, and he is often found to hit a long pass rather than pick out a shorter option. In midfield he has more options and more freedom, but as a regular in the Under-18s already, he’s honing his craft.
Billy Knott – 28/11/1991, Left Wing
– A real heart and soul player, Billy has often been the Under-16 captain, and led the team to the Final of the Cobham Cup as much through his technical ability as his leadership. He can play either flank in a 4-3-3 formation and is good off both feet, but is predominantly left-footed. He’s not the tallest but uses his low centre of gravity and quick acceleration to beat his man then maintain that gap with his pace. His skill level is above average and he has a keen eye for goal, especially from set pieces. Injury beset his 08/09 season, where he made an Under-18 breakthrough only to see injuries prevent him from playing more often. A regular in the Chelsea Under-16 team despite only being 14 at the time, he earned a place in the England Under 16s squad during the Victory Shield, and has since been named in the national Under-17 setup
Milan Lalkovic – 09/12/1992, Winger
– Milan is another signing for Chelsea’s academy that received more than its fair share of mainstream press, something not so common for youth signings. After the relative success experienced by compatriot Miroslav Stoch, a scholar a year earlier, Chelsea went back to Slovakia to find the slightly taller but super slick Lalkovic, who could soon be considered just as much of a talent as Stoch. After a number of successful trials with the Blues (including a four goal game), the 14 year-old signed a multi-year deal with the club to include a standard youth scholarship when he turned 16. His first real action for Chelsea came in the Northern Ireland Milk Cup tournament, where Chelsea sent a younger team than in previous years. He stunned the watching crowds by earning rave reviews in the Irish press as the standout star performer in Chelsea’s team, finding the net to boot. He can play in attacking midfield or lead the line, but is best out wide on the wing where his great pace and trickery comes into play. His dribbling is his best asset and is a potential threat off either foot. Making an impact at the end of the 08/09 season (9 starts, 3 goals), he’s well set for next year.
Josh McEachran – 01/03/1993, Central Midfield
– A cultured central midfielder with a wonderfully crafted left foot, Chelsea’s academy staff are rightfully expecting big things from Josh McEachran. He will have come to greater prominence than many players his age with a call-up to England’s Victory Shield Squad for 2007, and despite injury limiting his time on the field, he retained his place in a competitive Three Lions party for the 2008 Montaigu Tournament. That will be because he really is a gifted playmaker. Equally at home in the middle of the park or on the left, he has exceptional touch and vision, and his deftness allows him to bring his team-mates into play in dangerous positions. He made the jump to Under-18 level whilst still at school, making 19 appearances and scoring four goals, whilst also captaining England’s Under 16 team. Chelsea have a number of creative midfield talents, Josh has the ability in him to become another key one.
Danny Mills – 08/01/1993, Centre Back
– Danny Mills, or Daniel Mills Pappoe to give him his full name, is an extremely tall and strong centre-back of Ghanaian origin, and a regular captain of Chelsea’s Under 16 team. He stands somewhere in the region of 6’4″ and with the physical strength to back up that height, he bullies opponents at his level. In his defensive capacities, it’s quite hard to judge him at times, because he was so much bigger than 90% of Under 16 opponents he could get away with more, but in general he’s a clean and tidy defender who doesn’t make big mistakes and (as you’d expect) dominates in the air. When he gets to go forward for set-pieces though, he absolutely dominates. In the 2007 Marveld Toernooi youth competition in Holland, his 5 goals won him the Top Goalscorer Award despite being a defender. Unfortunately for Danny, he suffered a horrendous knee injury in early 2008 which left him sidelined for a year. He returned and looked his usual self, but time will tell how bad the injury was, and whether he can be a prospect for Chelsea.
Jhon Pirez – 20/02/1993, Striker
– Chelsea signed this Uruguayan striker last summer after a successful trial with the Under-18s, and after a good season goalscoring in the Under-16s he steps up for his scholarship. He represents Chelsea’s new scouting scheme in South America, headed up by Victor de los Santos and Jorge Alvial, who are very active in looking in specific regions for players suited to England and players who have the potential to develop into world class footballers. Pirez was the first to make the step, and he won’t be the last. He’s tall, agile, strong and quick, can finish well off either foot and with his head. Naturally, he can improve everywhere, especially in consistency, and that’s what he’ll work on as he develops.
Philipp Prosenik – 03/03/1993, Striker
– Chelsea’s first outside signing of the summer, and only to date, interested some of Europe’s elite. Whilst Bayern Munich were too late to the party, AC Milan were very keen to sign the son of former Austrian international Christian Prosenik, but Chelsea’s all-round package, including education and accomodation, was enough for young Philipp to come to England. A prolific goalscorer at youth level for club and country, he describes himself as a good targetman with strong off the ball skills and a dangerous left foot finish. He sounds, at least, rather similar to Marko Mitrovic, who has shown some promise despite injuries, and if Prosenik can be prolific for the youth team, he can make a big splash.
Anton Rodgers – 26/01/1993, Central Midfield
– Anton is the son of Brendan Rodgers, Chelsea’s former Reserve Team Manager, who was born in Northern Ireland. He has England and Republic of Ireland eligibility too, and has appeared for the Eire Under-15 team. When Brendan joined Chelsea in 2004 from Reading, he took his son from Reading’s academy with him, and he became a fairly regular fixture in the Blues’ Under 16 side. A tenacious and combative midfielder slightly in the mould of Lee Sawyer, he can get back and forward with equal measure and can score goals. He can occasionally get hot-headed and into trouble with his tackling but much like Sawyer, a maturity should come with age. Whilst nepotism isn’t necessarily a factor in his future, he got his chance at Chelsea because of his Dad, but any progress he’s made since and will make in the future is down to him. He’s a good talent with room to improve everywhere.
Ben Sampayo – December 1992, Defender
– Ben’s not exceptionally tall or broad yet, but has a good understanding of the game and is a calm and assured presence in the centre of defence. He can also play at full-back with some effect. He has been at the club since a very young age and is a good athlete with stamina and decent pace. He’ll initially be a utility defender with the potential to become a regular at one particular position, where he will eventually need to settle down and hone his craft.
George Saville – 31/05/1993, Left Back
– George made his way into the Chelsea Under-16s team aged just 14 in the late stages of the 2007/08 season, having made the odd appearance for them in other competitions throughout the season. Very short and slight, he’s played at left-back and in midfield, the former being his more preferred position. He gets forward well and dribbles usefully but naturally, for a boy his height, he needs to grow quickly. He has begun to attract the attention of England Under-16s and was named in a recent squad.
It promises to be another exciting and hectic Youth season, and with a new team in effect, it acts as a fine opportunity for anyone considering watching the team more regularly to begin doing so. As ever, you can be assured that CFCnet will carry the most comprehensive coverage of Chelsea’s Youth and Reserve teams on the internet, both on the main website and the forums.