The Chelsea Academy Has a New Generation of Talent on the Way
The 522 minutes that Danny Drinkwater played for Chelsea in the Premier League cost the club more than £50m over three years. At least the club’s similarly lavish investment in their academy is paying out higher dividends. During the hectic festive season, Frank Lampard again dipped into the club’s Under-23s to give a debut to local 19-year-old right-back Tariq Lamptey.
After two decades with hardly a homegrown player to keep John Terry company, a dozen Chelsea academy products have made appearances in Lampard’s team this season. Fikayo Tomori (22), Reece James (20), Mason Mount (21) and Tammy Abraham (22) have all returned from excellent seasons on loan in the Championship to play in the Premier League, reuniting with their former Under-23 teammate Callum Hudson-Odoi, still only 19 himself.
Chelsea have 26 players out on loan, including valuable assets such as Ethan Ampadu (who is struggling to play any more at RB Leipzig than he did at Chelsea), Tiémoué Bakayoko, Kenedy and Victor Moses, who is now on his fourth loan – this time at Fenerbahçe – having played just 87 league games in eight years at the club. That group of loanees now includes Under-23s captain Marc Guehi, an athletic rather than domineering center-back who was born in the Ivory Coast, joined Chelsea at the age of eight and has now graduated to the England Under-21s. Guehi signed on loan for Swansea City this week and will be given his first serious taste of senior football in the Championship.
The emergence of Chelsea’s academy players has coincided with the club’s transfer ban. With that ban now lifted, Lampard could be tempted to close the window of opportunity for academy players. But his management team is full of former academy coaches – including Jody Morris, Eddie Newton, Joe Edwards, and Chris Jones – who are fully aware of the talent at the club.
The club’s Under-23s are also in familiar hands. These youngsters are being nurtured by Andy Myers, whose own career offers a good example of how to progress at the club. Myers joined Chelsea as a boy, progressed through the academy and made more than 100 appearances for the club, winning the FA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup in the process.
His new-look Under-23s side are currently top of Premier League 2. They beat Tottenham 1-0 last week in Stevenage, where Henry Lawrence was as good as anyone on the pitch. Lawrence excelled at right-back against Spurs, getting up and down the flank impressively, sprinting back into defensive positions rapidly, making good decisions, intercepting well and tackling hard. The 18-year-old is sinewy now, but has a frame that suggests he will bulk up quickly. Naturally a midfielder, Lawrence filled in for Lamptey at right-back and looked happy to have the whole right-wing to himself when Myers changed to three at the back. Having only turned 18 in September, he has played for the Under-18s, 19s, 21s, and 23s already this season. The final step is the biggest, of course.
The first half of the game at Stevenage was anemic, typifying the worst aspects of elite academy football. Two technically sound but lightweight teams played sterile football in a dull atmosphere, watched in near silence by friends, family, and scouts. There was none of the intensity seen on the same pitch a few days earlier, when the EFL’s bottom club Stevenage battled with 10 men to win a point against Colchester, let alone the dynamism or vision needed to earn a look-in with Lampard or Spurs boss José Mourinho.
Central midfielder George McEachran, even slighter than his older brother Josh – who made 11 league appearances for Chelsea in five years and is now at Birmingham City – looked like he had no intention of touching a Spurs player, never mind making a tackle.
Myers knew the game needed a kick up the jacksy and stirred things up by bringing on Jon Russell. Taller and heavier than most of his opponents, Russell looked like a man among boys – as Ruben Loftus-Cheek did when playing for Chelsea’s second team five years ago – throwing his weight around behind the front two. His repeated fouling earned him a yellow card but that aggression brought more passion to the game and his physicality upset the Spurs midfield. Even McEachran started charging around midfield and flying into tackles.
Russell and Lawrence combined with Armando Broja – Chelsea’s most promising forward, an 18-year-old from Slough with Albanian roots – down the right for Chelsea’s late winner.
Lampard has given first-team debuts to a series of academy players, including former Rangers midfielder Billy Gilmour, England Under-19 midfielder Tino Anjorin and Dutch defender Ian Maatsen. Meanwhile, Conor Gallagher, an exciting 19-year-old midfielder is in great demand due to his excellent form on loan at Charlton. This is an extraordinarily productive period for Chelsea’s academy, going a long way to make up for two barren decades.