Big-game hunter Arnesen on scent of the future Terrys

As part of that commitment, the club have linked with Sky TV to produce Football Icon (starting tonight on Sky One at 7pm), a kind of Pop Idol for footballers, with the prize of a professional contract with Chelsea for the winner.

What is intriguing about the club's mission statement is that, by 2014, Chelsea intend to become not just internationally recognised as the most successful club in the world but have established "a financial target of break-even" by 2009.

They can only achieve that by nurturing their own young players. Their captain, John Terry, is the man they parade as one who has progressed through the youth ranks. Yet the prospect of emulating him and contesting a place with expensively purchased, proven talent is a daunting one.

"As the level gets higher and higher, of course it will be difficult," agrees Arnesen, the former Ajax player who, before joining Tottenham, was technical director for a decade at PSV Eindhoven. "You have to be very good to come through. That's the challenge."

Arnesen has long been a big- game hunter. He took Ronaldo from Brazil to Eindhoven, and saw the potential in Ruud van Nistelrooy and Arjen Robben, among others. But, if he was 16 again (as he was when he signed for Ajax), would he come to Chelsea? "Of course. I think it would be fantastic," says the Dane. "In 1975, I got involved in negotiations with Ajax. They had won the European Cup in 1971, '72 and '73. There had been interest elsewhere, from Belgium, from Germany. But I trained hard, and after a year and a half I came into the first team."

I put it to him that the market in young talent could be unscrupulous, exploitative even, particularly when it came to enticing African players to Europe. "I see it in another way," he replied. "When I started at PSV, I would never take a player under 15 years old from abroad. But I went down to Africa one time, and I saw a player who was about 14 years old. He was living with a lot of brothers and sisters, and the mother was desperate to get him out. One less mouth to feed, you see, and maybe get a little money. That day, my philosophy changed. Sometimes there are possibilities where you really can help a family. I didn't sign him, but it made me feel a little bit different."

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments