Chelsea's sporting director Frank Arnesen last night declared that spending money was the only way to win trophies and suggested, comparing his club with Arsenal, that investing in youth alone was a strategy for clubs who "don't want to win trophies but want to be involved in the Champions League".
Arnesen, who will leave Stamford Bridge at the end of the season, has presided over Roman Abramovich's £60m plan to build Chelsea through youth development but the club's vast January outlay on Fernando Torres and David Luiz suggests the Russian has reverted to spending his way to success. Arnesen told BBC Radio 5 Live his pledge to Abramovich had been to deliver one genuine first team player by 2010, but said the overriding Abramovich philosophy was winning, which meant spending.
"The most important people are the people at the top of the club, who own it," Arnesen said. "They have the philosophy. Arsenal have their philosophy and we have ours and we stick to it. [Abramovich] believes in [youth]. But he demands that you will win so you have to sign players from outside. If you want to be top you need to hire the best players from outside. If you go with the youth you will probably not win a lot of trophies. If [you] don't want to win trophies and want to be involved in the Champions League, then OK, you go with youth."
Reports last night suggested that Abramovich is lining up Guus Hiddink to move from the Turkey national side and take over Arnesen's position. Though Arnesen has been behind the establishment of an academy which saw Chelsea win the FA Youth Cup for the first time in 49 years last season, question marks remain about the number of players who have the ability to play regularly for Carlo Ancelotti. The club captain John Terry remains the last player to emerge fully from the youth ranks.
Arnesen last night listed the five who were in Chelsea's 25-man squad for this season: Josh McEachran, Gaël Kakuta, Patrick van Aanholt, Jeffrey Bruma and Daniel Sturridge. But only McEachran is currently at Stamford Bridge. Kakuta – whose acrimonious move from Lens cost Chelsea a £100,000 fine and a transfer window embargo – is on loan at Fulham and Van Aanholt at Leicester. Serbian centre-half Slobodan Rajkovic (a £3.8m purchase as a 16-year-old) is on loan at Vitesse Arnhem while Sturridge (who is on £60,000 a week at the age of 20) is at Bolton Wanderers.
Other expensive academy recruits have also moved on. Franco di Santo, who cost £3m, went to Wigan for £1m, Miroslav Stoch went to Fenerbahce while Nemanja Matic is off to Benfica this summer as part of the deal that took £23m David Luiz to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have certainly developed far fewer established Premier League players than Arsenal and spent immeasurably more.
Wenger last week accused Chelsea, who spent £75m on Torres and David Luiz on the day they announced £70m losses, of backtracking on the their pledge to conform with Uefa Financial Fair Play regulations which means clubs must move towards break-even by 2013. Manchester United continue to believe that investment in youth is the way ahead, though they will spend this summer.
Manchester City's refusal to put targets on the number of academy recruits to make the first team also reflects the size of the challenge. Arnesen, who moved to Stamford Bridge from Tottenham in 2005, insisted that he had told Abramovich that he would deliver one proven Premier League player by 2010. "When we sat down with Roman I said what do you want from me?" Arnesen said. "I [said] I would see that by 2010 if we can get a player into the first team squad I would be satisfied. This season there were obviously five coming into the first team squad."
McEachran is getting closer to that. But Arnesen, who pointed out that Chelsea had six internationals when he arrived while all but six academy players are internationals now, said the 17-year-old may need a spell out on loan within six months.