Chelsea to reap rewards of youth spending after being crowned U21 Premier League champions
Coach Dermot Drummy believes that this is one of the most talented groups of players to have come through the club's well funded academy
Chelsea believe that manager Jose Mourinho will buy into their plan to bring through the current all-conquering crop of Under-21s and academy players into the first-team squad over the next few years, following the youngsters' latest triumph on Wednesday night.
Chelsea were crowned the Under-21 Premier League champions at Old Trafford, beating their Manchester United counterparts 2-1 in the play-off final with a goal from Lewis Baker, a Luton-born 19-year-old who has been at the club since he was 10. This month they also won the Under-18 FA Youth Cup for the third time in five years.
In spite of the millions Chelsea spent signing promising teenagers from all over the world for their academy, most notably under former director of football Frank Arnesen between 2005 and 2010, it has yielded no first-team regulars in recent years.
This time the club are confident that Mourinho will bring young players through, having committed to that approach when he returned to Stamford Bridge last summer. He has already promoted Nathan Ake, the Under-21s captain, and goalkeeper Jamal Blackman to the first team at times last season. John Swift made his first-team debut against Cardiff on Sunday and he, Andreas Christensen and Baker have all regularly trained with the first team recently.
Chelsea's strength in depth in the Under-21s – they finished top of the 21-team league as well as winning the play-off – is underlined by the players that were absent from the competition because they were out on loan – the likes of Nat Chalobah, Kenneth Omeruo (on loan at Middlesbrough); Josh McEachran (Wigan); Lucas Piazon, Bertrand Traoré (Vitesse Arnhem); Thorgan Hazard (Zulte Waregem) and Wallace (Internazionale).
On Wednesday their first goal was scored by Charly Musonda, a Belgium Under-17 international acquired from Anderlecht. He is part of a group of academy boys aged 18 and under, who represent the next batch of players developed and/or acquired by the club, including Ola Aina, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Isak Ssewankambo and Charlie Colkett. All featured at Old Trafford.
In addition, Wednesday's squad was without Dominic Solanke and Isaiah Brown, the latter signed from West Bromwich Albion's academy, who both played for England Under-17s in the 2-0 defeat to the Netherlands.
Under the Chelsea Under-21s coach Dermot Drummy, himself recruited from Arsenal, there is no question that this is one of the most talented groups of players to have come through an academy the club have focused resources on throughout the Roman Abramovich years. Neil Bath is the academy manager and Michael Emenalo, the technical director, takes a special interest in the development teams.
When he arrived one year ago, Mourinho said he was ready to bring through younger players. "We're happy to show that the investment Chelsea made in recent seasons, by putting young players on loan, was a good decision, especially with FFP [Financial Fair Play] arriving," he explained. "You can say we bought 15 young players and not all of them are good enough for Chelsea. That's football [but] we want to go in this direction."
Last summer, Mourinho brought Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Tomas Kalas back from loan. Lukaku went out again and De Bruyne was sold to make room in the first-team squad for Nemanja Matic, a former academy player. This summer the club expect to buy Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa but are limited by FFP. Their dwindling number of home-grown players should Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard leave, reduces the size of their squad from the maximum 25.
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