Can Chelsea develop first team players?


Each was cheered to the echo by their team-mates and the crowd. Their 3-2 victory over Shakhtar Donetsk in Nyon on Monday meant another piece of silverware for the ever-expanding cabinet at Chelsea’s academy.

It will be seen there as affirmation of the superiority of the Stamford Bridge production line. They are the defending Under 21 Premier League champions and the holders of the FA Youth Cup, which they will put on the line against Manchester City next week in their fifth final in six seasons.

And now, at Under 19 standard, they are officially the best team in Europe after their free-scoring attack found the net 36 times in 10 matches en route to victory.

But here comes the real test of Chelsea’s academy. How many of these talented tyros will graduate to Jose Mourinho’s first team in the next year or two?

Will Dominic Solanke, the England Under 18 striker whose goal in the final took his season’s Youth League tally to a tournament-best 12, be challenging Diego Costa for a place in the coming seasons?

Will Izzy Brown, given a tantalising taste of first-team involvement when named on the bench for Sunday’s match at QPR before flying back to captain the team and score twice here, be absorbed into Mourinho’s forward line?

Solanke, Brown and the elegant central midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek have all been involved in the first-team squad, grabbing minutes here and there, but we all wait and wonder whether they will become regulars. Coach Adi Viveash struck an optimistic tone: ‘Do I feel they’re getting closer? Yes. Do I feel players from this group will come through? Yes. I’m confident of that.

‘You can’t have a team that’s won as much as it has and have the different range of qualities and strengths as we have and not feel confident some will come through.

‘Ruben, Dominic and Andreas (Christensen) have got minutes this season but it is all right getting minutes, they’ve got to get to the next stage.’

And it is in getting players to that next stage that Chelsea, so far at least, have struggled. While many of their academy products have gained minutes here and there, you have to go back to John Terry to find a bona fide first-teamer who has come through the ranks.

Take a look at the side that played in the 2010 FA Youth Cup triumph over Aston Villa. Centre back Jeffrey Bruma made nine senior appearances for Chelsea before spending time on loan at Leicester City and Hamburg. He was sold to PSV in 2013. Josh McEachran, the midfielder tipped as England’s next great hope, is currently at Vitesse in Holland, his fifth loan spell in three years. Now 22, his chance at Chelsea has long passed.

Nathaniel Chalobah scored in Chelsea’s 2012 FA Youth Cup final win over Blackburn. Now 20, he is at Reading, his fifth loan spell in the last three seasons.

The Brazilian Lucas Piazon, also in that team, is now at Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany after loan spells at Malaga and Vitesse.

All of the above were tipped for Chelsea stardom and are still on the waiting list.

It now remains to be seen if Chelsea’s latest generation of talented youngsters can buck the trend and break the mould by catching Mourinho’s eye.

Wgo could bridge the gap?

Izzy Brown — the 18-year-old scored twice in this final and has been involved with the first-team squad. An England Under 19 international, he has shown leadership qualities as captain and a clinical scoring touch in this European run.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek — blessed with first-rate vision and passing skills, Loftus-Cheek made his first-team debut as a late substitute against Manchester City this season. England Under 19 international.

Dominic Solanke — the top scorer in this season’s Youth League with 12 goals. The England Under 18 international forward made his senior bow against Maribor in the Champions League in October. - Daily Mail

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