The floodgates aren’t open quite yet, but the water is beginning to flow. At Portsmouth last night, Patrick van Aanholt became the fifth recent Chelsea academy product to feature in the first team this season (John Terry aside), and the fourth to debut. Whilst there’s clearly still a lot more to come, Carlo Ancelotti has shown signs of being more like Mourinho than Grant, Scolari and Hiddink, and is willing to give youth its chance.
Van Aanholt, of course, follows Jeffrey Bruma, Fabio Borini and Gael Kakuta as debutants this season, along with Sam Hutchinson, who played for the first time in two and a half injury-riddled years. Now sure, it was away to a turgid Portsmouth team bereft of confidence and already a handful of goals down, but the Dutchman was given a healthy twenty minutes and looked at home alongside more illustrious names. He was only a poor Didier Drogba finish away from notching an assist, providing a sumptuous ball across the face of goal which the Ivorian hitman really should have converted.
With five club-produced players getting playing time already plus Rhys Taylor, Jan Sebek and Daniel Philliskirk serving as substitutes, out of circumstance or otherwise, it’s as positive a time for young players making the step up since the middle of Mourinho’s reign. Back then, Scott Sinclair, Ben Sahar, Nuno Morais, Lenny Pidgeley, Jimmy Smith, Robert Huth, Anthony Grant, Michael Woods and Lee Sawyer all had involvement in one way or another, yet the Portuguese manager was often labelled as someone not willing to give opportunity where it was warranted.
Naturally, one can only work with the tools available, and by looking back through that list, you would struggle to argue against them not having been good enough to make that next step. Whilst the same applies to the current bunch of burgeoning talents, they are the products of a refocused academy, of greater investment and developed under state of the art facilities. They are Arnesen products; a much maligned association, but one which may yet completely alter the perception of somebody who most pundits and indeed Chelsea fans have a dim view of.
So what next? Obviously, the first step is for every one of them to keep up their hard work and earn further opportunities. Injuries in defence have given Van Aanholt and especially Bruma the opportunity to be involved with the first team squad on a regular basis, as it did for Borini earlier in the season when the striking options were weakened. Youth Cup stars Josh McEachran and Jacopo Sala both have first team squad numbers and Gokhan Tore has been involved with the senior team as well, giving an indication into the next group to make their way through.
Don’t read this as an over-the-top reaction to a decent cameo debut against poor opposition – it’s not. However, it’s gratifying to see the first results of seeds laid four or five years ago, however early in bloom they may be. These boys may be the future of the club, they may not be – but they’re contributing at an early age, and those signs are very promising.