Abramovich’s investment in youth has seen its first tangible return in Ryan Bertrand but who else can step up?
When Roman Abramovich bought a pauperised Chelsea back in 2003, the club had its dilapidated training facilities in Harlington with its only distinguishable feature the sights and sounds of airplanes flying to and from nearby Heathrow. A year later Chelsea received permission for a new state-of-the-art training complex in Cobham that would house all teams across all ages of Chelsea Football Club.
The facilities for the youth development section of Cobham is reported to have cost £20m alone, but along with such infrastructural investment, Abramovich has funded moves over the years for the hottest prospects in the world of football in the hope of unearthing and nurturing world-class talent. Simultaneously, though, Abramovich bank rolled moves for world-class talent that would saturate the first-team squad. The argument has been that even if a promising player could have the potential to play for Chelsea, they would never be afforded the opportunity to improve in a first-team environment because of the continuous abundance of purchased talent.
News of Ryan Bertrand’s new five-year contract have somewhat tempered such an argument, proving that a player of an appropriate calibre can make the transition to first-team football at Chelsea. Bertrand joined Chelsea in 2005 from Gillingham for an approximate £150,000 and his breakthrough last season renders him the first Chelsea trainee to graduate into regular first-team football since Abramovich’s arrival. The announcement of a new deal also demonstrated Chelsea’s financial reward for Bertrand considering the left-back only signed a new deal last summer. His progress should be encouraging for other Chelsea youngsters but who else can parallel the 23-year-old’s rise?
Lucas Piazon seems the most likely of Chelsea’s Under-21 players to next step up. The Brazilian 18-year-old joined Chelsea last season and was awarded Chelsea’s Young Player of the Year award. Andre Villas-Boas singled out the attacker as a player for whom the club had high hopes and it appears Di Matteo holds him in the same esteem by naming him in the club’s Champions League squad. With Torres, Moses and Sturridge as the only recognisable forwards, there could be opportunities for the diminutive Brazilian to make further first-team appearances this season after appearing up front for the Blues on their pre-season tour in America.
19-year-old striker Patrick Bamford made the move to Stamford Bridge last January on a £1.5m deal after making appearances for Nottingham Forest’s first-team at a tender age of 18. Bamford made an England Under-19 appearance the following match and has been training with the first-team on occasions. Similar to Lucas Piazon, that Bamford plays up front could accelerate his progress into the first-team pending injuries and suspensions.
17-year-old Nathaniel Chalobah sealed a six-month loan move to Watford during the transfer window and Chelsea will hope the young central defender can gain some first-team experience with the Championship side. Chalobah captained the Reserves side last season and led the youth team to the FA Youth cup. Chelsea have high hopes for the player who has already appeared on the substitutes bench for a first-team game and at such a young age time is on his side to break into the first team.
Much has been made about the stagnation of Josh McEachran’s career but he has made the most first-team appearances out of the names on this list. The midfielder has dropped down a tier to Middlesbrough but was impressive in his first start for the side in a 3-2 win against Burnley and the 19-year-old hopes he can help Boro to promotion. Could a breakout season in the Championship help kick start his own Chelsea career? Will he be able to carve out a role for himself in the talent laden Chelsea midfield?
image: © Ben Sutherland