Chelsea Don’t Need an Academy - It Doesn’t Fit The Club.
Against Cardiff City this past weekend, Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri “rested” Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante and much to the chagrin of supporters did not start either Ruben Loftus Cheek or Callum Hudson Odoi, two bright youngsters who have proven themselves worthy in limited opportunities this year.
Loftus Cheek came on as a sub and took full advantage of a rare chance by scoring the winner in stoppage time. Hudson Odoi though was not as lucky and never even got on the pitch.
Chelsea infamously doesn’t give many opportunities to academy players to become first team mainstays, with John Terry the last graduate two decades ago. So why then does Chelsea even have an academy if they don’t promote young players to the first team?
There’s no clear answer other than that’s what football clubs do.
Honestly tough? The club should save the hassle, spare the players, and scrap it.
The purpose of the academy is for youth players to embody the philosophy of the club as well as learn a style of play that hopefully is the same, or at least very similar, at all levels so when they do get called up to the first team, they can seamlessly mix in and succeed.
Since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003, he has appointed 10 different managers witch Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink twice each taking over. Among all of them, only one manager finished three full seasons - Mourinho in his first stint from 2004-07 - with most getting sacked in a year or less.
This is the biggest obstacle for academy players. Every time a new manager comes in, players needs to earn their spot again. Maybe not an established player like Eden Hazard, but most others do. Take Gary Cahill.
He started and won both the 2012 Champions League Final and 2013 Europa League Final for the Blues. He then became Chelsea’s captain in the 2016/17 season under manager Antonio Conte as age caught up to then captain John Terry. In his final game,Terry himself give the armband as a passing of the torch to Cahill who subsequently became the full time captain.
In 2018, manager Maurizio Sarri came in and what happened to Cahill? A measly 7 appearances with only 1 in the league. Cahill of course lost the captaincy too.
If the club captain, a Champions League and Europa League winner, and full England international couldn’t prove his worth to a new manager, what chance does a fringe academy player have?
Slim to none.
And it’s not for a lack of youth talent at Chelsea.
The Youth Team has won the Youth FA Cup 5 years in a row and 7 times in the past 9 years on top of winning the UEFA Youth League two years in a row in 2015 and 2016.
In the past 15+ years, Chelsea’s academy hasn’t produced a graduate because trigger happy Abramovich is always bringing in a new manager who changes the system, brings in his own players, and must succeed quickly to avoid getting fired, leaving no room for academy players.
Andreas Christensen came close. After going on loan in Germany for two years, he started regularly under Conte for a year in a back three only to then lose his place when Sarri eliminated a defender’s spot switching to a back four.
Although not a youth player, Sarri also rendered Victor Moses useless, who had finally excelled at Chelsea as a right wing back under Conte. With the new system though, Moses left on loan.
Hiring a new manager means turnover in a squad of senior players. Academy players on the edge go straight to the back of the line.
With the way Abramovich runs the club new managers shake things up so often and wildly that academy players have no shot of every making to the first team.
Now, this isn’t the first time anyone has questioned the purpose of a Premier League club’s academy, although usually people mention the cost of the academy (£6 million by some accounts and €10 million by others a year for Chelsea) as a reason to shut it down if it’s not producing players.
A valid point. Just not the most important one.
First of all, £6 million doesn’t make a dent in Chelsea’s balance sheet so the cost shouldn’t concern the board. Secondly, if the players don’t make it to the first team and instead get sold like Nathan Ake, Nathaniel Chalobah, Domenic Solanke, and others for £10, £20, £30, or £40 million, the club more than recoups the investment.
The cost isn’t the reason to shut down the academy, but the value the academy provides, or lack thereof really, especially for players who get trapped in cruel, perpetual anguish.
The way that Chelsea hires and fires managers, players like Callum Hudson Odoi and Ruben Loftus Cheek are simply wasting their time at Chelsea. They could get regular minutes at other clubs, whether on loan like Loftus Cheek did with Crystal Palace over the past couple years, or transferring out as Hudson Odoi tried this past January, only to have Chelsea block it, and become stars.
Ruben Loftus Cheek made three appearances at the World Cup, with two starts. Callum Hudson Odoi made his international debut for the Three Lions less than two weeks ago against the Czech Republic and started against Montenegro in European Championships Qualifiers. They clearly have the talent.
Unfortunately for them and other youth players, Chelsea is a terrible place for players trying to make it from the academy to the first team.
For the sake of these young players and with the purpose and usage of the academy diametrically opposed to the way the club operates, Chelsea should shut down the academy.