Sam Wallace: The kids are all right, but they need a show of faith by Chelsea

If the manager is going to take a kid from the academy then that kid had better be good

By mid-afternoon, Chelsea might just have one trophy left to play for this season if things go as badly at Stamford Bridge against Manchester United today in the FA Cup as they did against Southampton on Saturday. But those Chelsea supporters for whom hope springs eternal will only have to wait until 6.30 this evening for another shot at glory.

Chelsea's Under-19s play their Aston Villa counterparts this evening in the final of the NextGen series, a kind of junior Champions League that sounds like a pharmaceutical brand. A pity that the organisers have chosen a bog of a pitch near Lake Como to play the competition's latter stages but it does offer an insight into the highly competitive, cut-throat world of European elite youth development.

Three years ago, Chelsea Under-18s beat Villa's in the two-legged FA Youth Cup final and my Monday column then asked how many of those Chelsea players could expect a first-team future. The club's response was that I should stop being so negative. Sadly, it was not an idle concern. Of the XI that started both legs, seven have already left the club. All four who remain are out on loan.

Of those, the centre-back Jeffrey Bruma has followed a well-trodden path to Hamburg, where Frank Arnesen, Chelsea's former director of football, now works. Sam Walker and Billy Clifford are on loan at Colchester United. The big hope from that team, Josh McEachran, is finding his feet in the Championship at Middlesbrough. He is potentially a future Chelsea player. But there can be no certainties.

One is tempted to say, in the nicest possible way, that the 11 talented lads who play tonight will have to face up to the same realities one day, despite having reached the final of a tournament that has featured, among others, teams from Barcelona, Ajax, Juventus, Athletic Bilbao and Liverpool.

The consensus in football is that Chelsea's academy director, Neil Bath, runs an excellent operation and in Dermot Drummy, recruited from Arsenal, they have one of the country's most successful youth coaches. Their side who beat Arsenal in extra time in the NextGen semi-final featured six English-born boys, recruited from places like Welwyn Garden City, Luton and as local as Walham Green in west London.

Once prolific recruiters of foreign teenagers under Arnesen, Chelsea do less of that now, although the French Jérémie Boga is one of their leading Under-19 talents. They still poach from other English academies. But the likes of captain Lewis Baker and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have come through their system from the start. As usual, the one thing which the club that has everything cannot guarantee its boys is a chance in the first team.

On the wall in the foyer of the Chelsea academy is a version of the William Jennings Bryan quotation: "Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice." As the only man to finish second in three United States presidential elections, you might have thought that Bryan was one of those who put a little more store in chance – but I digress.

Unfortunately, for those young Chelsea players, it seems however much hard work they put into shaping their destiny, other factors beyond their control influence the outcome. Of the scores of academy players the club has developed, Ryan Bertrand is in the first-team squad. Nathaniel Chalobah, on loan at Watford, is the next great hope, but so many have got close and failed. Jack Cork, a Chelsea academy graduate, was in Southampton's side on Saturday.

The next manager this summer will be expected to achieve great things in precious little time and if he is going to take a kid from the academy then that kid had better be good.

Yet this academy has won two FA Youth Cups in the last three seasons (the club's first since 1961) and its team is in the semi-finals this year. Winning the NextGen Series, in spite of the absence of the likes of Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, would be another impressive achievement. The academy is doing its bit.

Nevertheless, an academy kid at Villa, tonight's opponents, has a much greater chance of making the first team. That policy has cost Villa dearly at times this season but it has been a brave punt. The fans have, by and large, supported it. That it is not to say that it guarantees success – none of the Villa side that lost the 2010 FA Youth Cup final have established themselves at the club yet – but without it, a player has no chance. As ever, producing young players who are good enough to play at Champions League level is hard. The Arsenal team that won the 2009 FA Youth Cup included Jack Wilshere, the best English player of his generation. He is one of five from that team still at the club, but one of only two, along with Francis Coquelin, not out on loan.

Recently, Arsenal's approach has changed. The XI that lost the NextGen semi-final to Chelsea was largely made up of boys brought in from European clubs in the last two years. Of the three Englishmen only Nico Yennaris and Chuba Akpom have been developed rather than bought in. It makes you wonder whether this policy was partly behind Liam Brady's decision to step down as academy director.

The stakes are getting higher and the level required even to be a squad player in the Premier League creeps ever upwards. But it is not impossible to get players over that final hurdle from the academy to the first team – just look at clubs like Barcelona, Ajax or even Southampton. At Chelsea, they at last seem to have everything in place, apart from that final leap of faith that every kid needs from his club.

English football owes the Old Firm no favours

It is the old story that will not go away, but now the suggestion is that Rangers and Celtic have David Cameron's support in their bid to join the Premier League. If ever there was a daft reason to do something then surely it would be to shore up the faltering career of a Prime Minister trying to gather support for his position in the Scottish independence referendum.

But there are plenty more reasons not to insert the Old Firm into English football. It is not fair on every other English club in the hierarchy for a start, and why should they be allowed to begin in the Conference Premier? There are plenty of English clubs with long histories that would love a free pass to that stage. Scottish football has its problems, but they are not for English football to resolve.

O'Neill is the man with a great future behind him

Martin O'Neill's sacking on Saturday night was a reminder of how quickly the window of opportunity closes on even the talented managers. Before facing Celtic on pre-season tour in Seattle almost 10 years ago there was an awkward moment when Sir Alex Ferguson reacted badly to being asked about the possibility of O'Neill, then Celtic manager, succeeding him at Old Trafford. O'Neill was sat next to Ferguson at the time.

Then, it seemed like a distinct possibility. He was most national newspapers' choice to succeed Sven Goran Eriksson as England manager in 2006 and was interviewed but lost out to Steve McClaren. He has done things his own way and not been afraid to leave clubs but, to men like David Moyes, O'Neill's career is a prime example that the right chance has to come along at the right time.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam