So, where were we? It’s been a fair while since I updated people on the goings-on in the Chelsea Academy, for one reason or another, but I figure it’s time to bring it back again. It’ll all be here on CFCnet, maybe not in the same style you were used to if you frequented the Youth and Reserve site, but the content will hopefully be similar and as regular, with perhaps some greater editorial chucked in. For anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, feel free to ignore, and read on!
To sufficiently catch up, we need to go right back to the end of September of 2008. After a positive start to the Reserve and Youth campaigns, the season was about to get into full swing. It would, however, be at a different club for Jordan Hibbert. The South London-born midfielder, occasionally a captain of the Under-18s in his first two years at the club, departed on an initial three-week trial at Charlton Athletic, who are closer to his home. Unfortunately for Jordan, the Addicks didn’t take him on, but he has settled at Barnsley.
Hibbert’s departure left a space in central midfield to fill, one taken with both hands by schoolboy Josh MacEachran. More on him later. The Under-18s were the team to watch if you wanted goals, beating Ipswich 7-2 (including a goal of the season candidate from Conor Clifford), and Fabio Borini and Frank Nouble both in scintillating goalscoring form. For Borini, this extended to the Reserves, who were beginning to look very, very good.
The Reserve fixture list is rather sparse, due to the way the Premier League structures the competition. Consequently, the club tries to arrange friendlies against high-quality opposition not only from these shores, but from abroad. One of these occasions was when AC Milan’s Primavera (Under-20) team came to Cobham and left with their tails between their legs. Brendan Rodgers’ boys ran out 4-0 winners, with two more off the woodwork and double figures a definite possibility on another day.
The same fate befell defending Reserve League Champions Liverpool, who after beating the Blues 2-0 at Anfield, lost by the same scoreline in the return fixture at Cobham. Leading the charge in both games with some outstanding football was Miroslav Stoch. The dynamic Slovakian winger has had a quite breathtaking half-season, which has so far seen him graduate to a regular place on the first team substitutes bench, an occasional Premier League appearance (and notable impact against Stoke), and a first international cap for his country.
With Stoch proving must-see at Reserve level, Borini and Nouble kept things entertaining at Youth level. The Italian, who struggled to settle in during his first season yet still found the net often enough, is enjoying his football, looking stronger and more determined now he’s maturing and settling in England. His goalscoring feats have been matched by the giant Nouble, who is refining his game full of power, pace, and flair. A hat-trick against Fulham completed a sensational comeback from 0-3 down to win 4-3.
Nouble has been at the club since he was twelve, and those of the next generation were announcing themselves to the British public. In the annual Sky Sports Victory Shield for schoolboy footballers, Chelsea were represented by team captain MacEachran, goalkeeper Jamal Blackman, and defenders Aziz Deen-Conteh and Nathaniel Chalobah. The Three Lions once again won the tournament, and with George Saville’s recent call-up to the same squad, this summer’s new crop of Under-18 footballers looks exciting.
Chelsea, contrary to what the media may have you believe, are one of the best-represented clubs in England Youth teams. Billy Knott, Jacob Mellis and Michael Woods have featured at Under-17 and Under-19 levels this season, whilst the high-profile Under-21 team has included Ryan Bertrand, Jack Cork, and Michael Mancienne. Mancienne has been a key player for Stuart Peace, but not many people – Michael included – would have expected a call-up to the full squad in November in Fabio Capello’s squad to face Germany. The centre-back didn’t get onto the pitch for a debut, but has finally made his first-team bow in Chelsea blue (or yellow, as it was on the day).
Geordie defender Carl Magnay was also called up to Under-21 level by Northern Ireland (through Grandparentage), but it was a more natural Ulsterman who made the headlines in November. Reserve manager Rodgers was offered the Watford job, and after four years of fine service to Chelsea, was allowed to leave and further what is likely to be a fantastically successful career. Following him to Vicarage Road were Fitness Coach Karl Halabi and backup goalkeeper/coach Stuart Searle, and everyone wishes them the best of success.
Rodgers’ departure meant some reshuffling of jobs. Paul Clement stepped up to the Reserve Team full time, having occasionally taken charge before, and ex-Arsenal academy coach Dermot Drummy made the jump from Under-16s to Under-18s, as Clement had done before him. Between them, they ensured the club kicked off their aim to return to the FA Youth Cup Final with a stunning third-round victory at Old Trafford. Goals from Gael Kakuta, Nouble and Borini gave the Blues a 3-2 win and a place in the fourth round. They were able to dismiss Walsall quite easily with a 5-1 victory, but met their match in Round Five against old foes Liverpool. A below-par outing saw them fall to a David Amoo goal in a 1-0 defeat.
January also saw one in, one out in the academy. Italian defender Vincenzo Camilleri, acquired in the summer to the chagrin of Reggina, returned to Calabria having failed to settle. Coming in, from Bayer Leverkusen, is winger Gokhan Tore, who is highly rated by an academy which has been producing a lot of fine talent in the last few years, including one Niclas Heimann.
As the season has gone by, no fewer than a dozen Chelsea youngsters have headed out on loan spells to further their footballing development. Ryan Bertrand (Norwich), Michael Mancienne (Wolves), Lee Sawyer (Southend and Coventry), Liam Bridcutt (Watford), Jack Cork (Southampton and Watford), Tom Taiwo (Port Vale), Carl Magnay (MK Dons), Shaun Cummings (MK Dons), Jimmy Smith (Sheffield Wednesday and Leyton Orient), Sergio Tejera (Real Mallorca), Fabio Ferreira (Oldham), and Ben Sahar (Portsmouth De Graafschaap) have all gone in search of the level to step up their game and make their case to Chelsea, with varying degrees of success.
With many in the Reserve team heading out, it typically means spaces for the younger players to come through, which leaves room in the Under-18s for schoolboys and future scholars to make an early impact. It happens every season, although MacEachran’s regular selection for most of the season (including training with the first team squad) emphasises how special a talent he is. Joining the young playmaker in making the jump early have been Rohan Ince, Billy Clifford, Aziz Deen-Conteh, Billy Knott and Milan Lalkovic, who will be making more of an impact over the next two seasons.
In the last three weeks, the club has been able to welcome back Adam Phillip from a cruciate knee ligament injury, but lost star performer Kakuta to a devastating dislocated broken ankle suffered in an innocuous challenge during a 4-1 friendly win over the Glenn Hoddle Academy. Frank Arnesen was quoted as hoping Gael would be back in training in three months but such a serious injury could have problematic effects during a key stage of the Frenchman’s development.
As the season comes to a head in March and April, players learn of their futures at the club. With new scholars coming into the fold full-time, others have to leave. Jack Saville and Jordan Tabor, both long-term academy members, have been told their contracts haven’t been renewed and will be leaving at the end of the campaign. They still maintain much professionalism though, scoring the three goals between them which beat Crystal Palace in the most recent Cobham outing.
The future has looked bright at Chelsea for some years now, and continues to. The Academy does what it can to provide the young footballers with the right education – footballing and life – from which to build a career and take the next step. Keep reading CFCnet for the most up-to-date coverage of Chelsea’s next generation.