For a bit of fun, it’s time to take a look at the best of the best in the 2009/10 Youth and Reserve season with a handful of end-of-year awards. It goes without saying that every player deserves great credit for their work throughout the season and each and every one of them has developed their game from where it was twelve months ago, but it’s always nice to look back at the best moments, and also unveil who you have voted as your Players of the Season.
Over the last week there has been a three-part review of the campaign here on CFCnet, so it makes no sense to repeat that in some preamble before things get going. Therefore, we’ll dive straight in, and remain positive throughout. These are all personal choices – if people disagree, please feel free to weigh in with comments!
RESERVE TEAM PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON – CHELSEA RES 4-1 WEST HAM RES
Early in the season the Blues were in some decent form, racking up 5-2 wins over Portsmouth and Ipswich, the latter in friendly action, but no better performance was seen than that of the 4-1 demolition of West Ham in mid-October. Against a Hammers side featuring full internationals in Manuel Da Costa and Luis Jimenez alongside and experienced hand in Nigel Quashie and young talents Nouble and Stanislas, a youthful Blues team including Alex turned on the style. The Brazilian opened the scoring with a free kick early in the match, and although it took until the 70th minute to add to the tally, Daniel Sturridge’s goal set off a late flurry which was combined with some silky football. A glorious counter-attack led to Fabio Borini scoring the first of a late brace, and even Nouble’s stoppage time goal was spectacular. Captain Jeffrey Bruma was outstanding at the heart of the defence and in a league which is often bereft of attacking excellence or notable action, this night was full of it.
RESERVE TEAM GOAL OF THE SEASON – GAEL KAKUTA VS WOLVES (H)
There are some fine goals to pick from here, including long-range efforts from Conor Clifford away to both Stoke and Wolves, and Borini’s aforementioned counter-attack finish at home to West Ham, but for sheer brilliance the award goes to Gael Kakuta’s strike on a cold January night at Cobham. Holding a 1-0 lead late in the game, Chelsea looked to seal the result and attacked through Jacob Mellis. The midfielder spread the play wide to Kakuta on the right, and with a quick drop of the shoulder he came inside and unleashed a missile of an effort into the top corner. Done with an incredible air of nonchalence, it encapsulated a player in a moment, and is a deserving winner.
RESERVE TEAM BEST NEWCOMER – CONOR CLIFFORD
A hard award to choose from because of the lack of actual transfers into the team, therefore meaning it goes to somebody who truly began to establish themselves in the team this season. It therefore goes to Irishman Clifford, who progressed from Under-18 football to become a regular in the side, playing in a number of different midfield roles and chipping in with some spectacular goals. His ascent coincided with his captaincy of the Youth Cup winning team, which featured a few reserve team players, but in playing over half of the reserve calendar, he has most certainly made the step up.
RESERVE TEAM MOST IMPROVED PLAYER – KENNY STRICKLAND
A hard award to consider when everybody has impressed at one time or another, but it’s perhaps fitting for Strickland to win this one. After being released by Manchester United last summer, he failed to earn a professional contract at another club and instead came to Chelsea for another year in the junior ranks, with the aim of developing sufficiently to prove his worth to another team. After excelling at Under-18 level he moved into Holland’s reserves, scoring his maiden goal at Aston Villa and generally looking comfortable in his role at centre-back. He is almost sure to move on, but undoubtedly with his pre-season aim having been met, and with interest.
RESERVE TEAM UNSUNG HERO – BEN GORDON
In what might turn out to be his last year at the club (something which remains unclear right now), Ben played eleven reserve fixtures this season, and put in a solid effort at both ends of the pitch in every single outing. Only Fabio Borini featured more for Steve Holland’s team, and following in the footsteps of some talented players in his position in recent years, he showed enough progress to earn a loan move to Tranmere Rovers late in the season. Rarely as flashy as some of his team-mates, he remained dependable and consistent all season, in a position key to the 4-4-2 diamond formation.
RESERVE TEAM PLAYER OF THE SEASON – DANIEL STURRIDGE
The votes have been counted and you have voted Daniel Sturridge as your Reserve Team Player of the Season. The new signing may have only played six times but often appeared to be a cut above those he was playing alongside, and his five goals were testament to that. The vote was incredibly close, with Nemanja Matic just two votes behind him. The Serbian would have been a deserving choice but Sturridge takes it.
Daniel Sturridge – 37.93%
Nemanja Matic – 35.63%
Fabio Borini – 21.84%
Rhys Taylor – 4.6%
Onto the youth team…
UNDER-18 PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON – CHELSEA U18 4-0 BLACKBURN U18 (FAYC SEMI 2ND LEG)
This could have gone to any number of outings, particularly in the cup, but at Stamford Bridge in the Semi Final it was one way traffic almost from the off, and was the moment when the dream of winning the competition started to become very much a vivid possibility. Holding a 1-0 lead from the first leg, Dermot Drummy’s boys swamped their opponents, battering at the door and eventually breaking it down. Marko Mitrovic, Gokhan Tore and a brace from Jacopo Sala put the seal on a fantastic night in front of 3500 fans and signalled their intent to win the competition.
UNDER-18 GOAL OF THE SEASON – BILLY KNOTT VS CHARLTON (H)
In another year, Mitrovic’s stonking volley away to Coventry may have won this award. Or Conor Clifford’s cup-clinching blockbuster. Or Sala’s turn and hit against Birmingham. Even Knott’s right-footed effort away to Ipswich might have taken it, but instead his goal at home to Charlton walks it. Kicking off the second half, the Blues played the ball from left to right, and back again, piecing together thirteen passes involving eight of the ten outfield players. It all culminated in left-back Knott taking Mitrovic’s layoff and arrowing an unstoppable drive into the top corner, leaving Connor Gough helpless. Boring, boring Chelsea eh?
UNDER-18 BEST NEWCOMER – DANIEL MILLS PAPPOE
With Philipp Prosenik the only overseas newcomer, this award was always likely to come from the crop of first-years, but instead went to a player who was still a schoolboy for the season. Nonetheless, Daniel played the entire campaign, showing a great deal of development at centre-back after becoming rather dominant against junior opponents for three seasons in the Under-16s. He was a key part of the run to the Final but unfortunately missed out on the occasion with an injury, yet made his reserve team bow and grabbed his first goal at Stoke. A very fine season indeed.
UNDER-18 MOST IMPROVED PLAYER – KABY
It wasn’t that Kaby had a poor 2008/09, but quite simply he has reinvented himself this season in a way few imagined possible. The once dribble-happy attacking playmaker who was often on the periphery of games is now a heart-and-soul, dogged terrier of a midfielder with three red cards to his name this season. His temper may be as short as his stature but what he makes up for in size, he certainly makes up for in effort and talent. His first Under-18 goal came in superb fashion against Watford, and he would score against them en route to the cup final later in the season too. A key part of the youth team and regular captain, he deserves a great deal of praise for his accomplishments this season.
UNDER-18 UNSUNG HERO – BEN SAMPAYO
Ben came into his first season as a full-time scholar as a backup player with ideas of playing at either right or centre-back, but clearly behind the incumbents in those positions. Nine months and 25 appearances later, he is a regular in the team at either full-back position, and one of the players you can depend on for a solid, hard-working ninety minutes. He gets forward well, defends well, and communicates with his team-mates effectively, understanding the tendencies of his opponents and reacting accordingly.
UNDER-18 PLAYER OF THE SEASON – CONOR CLIFFORD
If the Reserve award was tight to the finish, Conor ran away with the Under-18 one, taking home 65% of the vote. It’s not hard to see why you’ve voted him as your Player of the Season, after all, his 85th minute scorcher to clinch the FA Youth Cup was the stuff dreams are made of. The Chelsea fan captained the youth team for most of the season, moving into the reserves but never leaving the academy side behind, he played eighteen times in all at youth level, grabbing three crucial goals in the cup run, and is quite clearly a popular figure amongst Chelsea followers.
Conor Clifford – 65.43%
Marko Mitrovic – 20.99%
Aziz Deen-Conteh – 7.41%
Sam Walker – 6.17%
That really concludes the awards, and the bulk of the youth and reserve coverage for the 2009/10 season. There will still be pieces going up on the site, as the world of youth football never stops, but for the best of the day-by-day updates, particularly concerning Chelsea involvement in youth international competitions starting this week, follow @chelseayouth on Twitter.