A short while ago I did a video on some of the best players to have come through the Manchester City academy before either being released or sold by the reigning Premier League champions. It was the first video of its kind that I’d done, and a very many people in the comments suggested that I do a similar video for Chelsea, with the popular perception being that their academy has produced some outstanding talent that never got a chance in the first team.
Whilst that isn’t necessarily untrue, I think the extent of it is rather exaggerated, and the players some people suggested for that video included the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah. Now, those three were all young players at Chelsea, but none of them were every actually part of the Blues academy system, with Lukaku joining from Anderlecht, De Bruyne from Genk and Salah from Basel, all as full senior professionals.
I could have edited the title to something like 7 great young players that Chelsea let go to include them, but then that wouldn’t be very interesting would it. Most people already know those three and some others, whilst actual academy graduates makes the seven a little more challenging and intriguing – or I thought so at least.
Here are 7 brilliant academy graduates that Chelsea let go:
7. Patrick van Aanholt
We kick-start this seven with a full-back who is getting regular game time for a London club in the Premier League right now, something he never got at Stamford Bridge. I must admit I was a little bit shocked to discover Patrick van Aanholt is 29, I probably would have guessed that he was more like 25 or 26. Capped nine times by the Netherlands, van Aanholt spent two years in the Chelsea academy, but only ever played eight games in the first team. Following five loan moves, he was sold to Sunderland for around £2 million in 2014. Mid-way through the season in which the Black Cats were relegated, van Aanholt moved onto Crystal Palace for a potential £14 million. He has been a regular fixture at Selhurst Park ever since, scoring fairly regularly by full-back standards, and he’s a bit of a Fantasy Football favourite.
6. Neil Etheridge
You might have forgotten a little bit about Neil Etheridge, if you only follow the Premier League, since he stayed at relegated Cardiff City despite much transfer speculation this summer. Born in Enfield, Etheridge was part of the Chelsea academy from the age of 13 to 16, where he transitioned from being a forward into a goalkeeper, before making a move to near-neighbours Fulham. He never really got a chance there either, but ever since a 2015 move to Walsall, he has enjoyed a meteoric rise. The Phillipino international joined Cardiff in 2017 and won promotion in his debut campaign, and despite the Bluebirds relegation, Etheridge impressive in the top flight, even winning Cardiff’s Player of the Year award.
5. Ola Aina
Only recently departed from Stamford Bridge, Nigerian international Ola Aina left the club in a £9 million switch to Torino this summer. Aina had been with the Blues since the age of 10, now aged 22, but the two-time FA Youth Cup winner only ever made six first team appearances. Following a mixed season on-loan at Hull City as a full-back, Aina had a really impressive campaign playing as a wing-back on-loan at Torino, prompting the Serie A side to push the boat out to sign him in the summer. Aina is still young, he’s playing in a system that suits him and he appears to be growing in confidence all the time. He thoroughly deserves a place in this seven.
4. Nathaniel Chalobah
Nathaniel Chalobah is probably the trickiest player to rate out of those considered for this seven, since he is just coming back from what can only be described as a brutal injury setback. The 24-year-old, who has the second most appearances of any player in the history of England’s under-21 side, was really highly rated at Stamford Bridge. He made 15 first team appearances, all coming in the 2016-17 season as Chelsea won the Premier League title. They let him join Watford for £5 million the following summer, but not without inserting a £5.5 million buy-back clause in the deal. Watford players speak incredibly highly of Chalobah’s ability in training, but just months into his Hornets career he suffered a fractured knee cap. That basically put him out for the season, and the once-capped England international is still looking to recover from the setback.
3. Ryan Bertrand
Of all of the players in this seven, none played more games for the Chelsea first team than Ryan Bertrand, and none came closer to becoming a regular fixture at Stamford Bridge. The odds were always stacked against Bertrand when Ashley Cole was at the club, but it seems a shame that he left the club during the same summer as the Blues legend. Bertrand made 57 first team appearances in total for Chelsea, most notably the 2012 Champions League final, in which a patched up Chelsea side beat Bayern Munich in their own backyard with Bertrand playing on the left wing. He joined Southampton for a reported £10 million in 2014, where he made the PFA Team of the Year in his debut campaign. Now aged 30, Bertrand is a very good full-back, probably better defensively than Marcos Alonso and he’s been capped 19 times by England.
2. Bertrand Traore
Just how long Bertrand Traore spent in the Chelsea academy is a little bit confusing, since news first broke that he’d joined the club in August 2010, but it wasn’t until October 2013 that the club themselves claimed he had actually signed a contract with them. Either way, Traore spent at least a year officially in the Chelsea academy, and he spent one season in the Blues first team. That was the 2015-16 season, in which he scored 4 goals in 16 games, and in 2017 he joined Lyon for a reported £8.8 million plus add-ons. Quick, versatile and good on the ball, Traore had a blistering debut campaign in France, bagging 18 goals in 43 games. He was a little quieter last season, scoring 11 in 47, but following the clubs summer sales he could be a key man this term. He has been capped 51 times by Burkina Faso at the age of 24, which is remarkable, and he comes in second for me.
0. Honourable Mentions
I tried to limit this seven only to recent examples, but I would give honourable mentions to the likes of Jeffrey Bruma who now plays for Wolfsburg, Jeremie Boga who’s at Sassuolo, Bristol City’s record signing Tomas Kalas, AC Milan’s jack of all trades Fabio Borini, Middlesbrough regular George Saville, Dominic Solanke who must have something about him for Eddie Howe to pay £19 million for him, and Celtic star Scott Sinclair, who has bagged 60 goals in 153 games for the Scottish champions. That’s it for the honourable mentions, now here is your top spot…
1. Nathan Ake
The outstanding academy player to have been let go by Chelsea in my humble opinion at least, Nathan Ake is now one of the most sought after centre-backs in the Premier League. He only ever made 17 appearances in the Chelsea first team, with plenty of competition at centre-back, before a club record £20 million move to Bournemouth in 2017. That now looks to be a snip, and Ake is becoming a really commanding and confident centre-back at the Vitality Stadium. When Leicester City began sniffing around the Dutch international this summer, Bournemouth slapped a £75 million price tag on his head, the same amount that Liverpool paid for his international team mate Virgil van Dijk. That might seem crazy, but Ake is a talent, and Bournemouth certainly wouldn’t be keen to get rid of him.