Sam Wallace: Time for Chelsea to play the generation game and test out Arnesen's academy

Talking Football: The last three years Arnesen has been acquiring the most talented kids in football
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The Independent Online

If Frank Arnesen is as good at finding young players for Chelsea as people say he is then show us the evidence. On Wednesday, Chelsea play in a competition that Luiz Felipe Scolari had not heard of 12 months ago, a competition he should not care about and does not need to win. Chelsea should play the kids in the Carling Cup. Or, more specifically, Scolari should pick Chelsea's Arnesen-generation against Burnley this week.

There is no doubt that Arsène Wenger will play his brilliant young Arsenal team of academy talents against Wigan tomorrow because they have already thumped Sheffield United 6-0 in the competition. In Manchester United's win over Middlesbrough in the same competition in September, they featured five players from outside the senior first-team squad. To many at Chelsea, Arnesen is the key to the Russian enigma at the heart of the club.

He undoubtedly has the ear of Roman Abramovich and he is, bar none, the most influential man at Chelsea outside the Russian hierarchy. For the last three years Arnesen has been acquiring the most talented kids in football so that Chelsea do not have to pay a premium for them in the future, as he explained in a rare interview in a Danish newspaper last week. It is about time that we saw the fruits of the labour of Chelsea's expansively-titled and expensively-employed "chief scout and director of youth development".

The perfect opportunity is in Wednesday's instalment of the most unloved of English football competitions, the Copa Cheaplager. If Scolari really is as paranoid as Jose Mourinho and Avram Grant and believes he must pick up every available trophy to avoid the sack, then he is not the man we thought he was.

He is here for the big stuff, the Champions League and the Premier League. Let him take a risk in the Copa Cheaplager and afford us a glimpse of the future that Arnesen is supposed to have been building.

The principle behind Arnesen's appointment was sound. Yes, his defection from Tottenham was distasteful and the vast amounts he has spent on some young players (potentially more than £3m for the Argentine Franco di Santo, for example) has indicated that Chelsea's academy is not relying on scouting alone to get the best prospects. But the soul of a football club relies upon it eventually being able to produce its own great players, steeped in the tradition of the club and, to his credit, Abramovich grasped that concept early on. Chelsea's owner has given Arnesen the resources to build a breathtaking new academy HQ at the training ground in Surrey. The problem for the young players in it is that stepping up to Chelsea's first team is like trying to plan a space mission when all your expertise amounts to a GCSE in physics. Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson realise the benefit of the Carling Cup for blooding young players; the problem is that the fear that stalks Chelsea means no manager has ever been prepared to give the long-term future of the club a chance over the short-term.

Here are some young Chelsea players, many of whom were recruited by Arnesen, who would not embarrass themselves against Burnley: Gaël Kakuta, Jeffrey Bruma, Jacob Mellis, Frank Nouble, Michael Woods, Ben Gordon and Di Santo. Some, not all of them, have been given a first-team chance already. Bruma is not 17 until Thursday but the Dutch centre-half, signed from Feyenoord, is exceptional. Kakuta, 17, is a skilful winger signed from Lens. Many of them played in the side that reached last season's FA Youth Cup final. What is the worst that could happen against Burnley? The worst is that they might lose, thus leaving Chelsea's season in utter ruins with only the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup to play for.

Some might say defeat would be embarrassing but then what is embarrassing for a world-famous club such as Chelsea aspire to be? Is it going out in the Carling Cup to Burnley? Or is it giving Arnesen the resources to acquire players and then never giving those players an opportunity? From some quarters there is the suggestion that Arnesen, who has admitted that budget cuts have been made to his scouting network, is under pressure and that Abramovich's loyalty might be waning. If that is the case it would be a great sadness for the whole Chelsea project. Arnesen may not be to everyone's tastes but he is – as Spurs would reluctantly testify – a good judge of young players and he has as much a role to play in the club's future as Scolari.

You can only hope that Arnesen's young charges get a chance against Burnley, and take it. Because the difference between a club of homegrown talent and one of imported stars is as pronounced as the contrast between a glass of champagne and one filled with Wednesday's sponsors' brew.

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