The Curious Case of Cobham: Is Chelsea’s Academy Pointless?
Every club dreams about having a starting XI full of academy stars. Players that are infused with the DNA of the club and willing to die for the badge. This is the case for everyone apart from Chelsea.
For Todd Boehly, cost is a small matter. Unfortunately, Chelsea’s academy graduates pay the price. A summer of endless spending has pushed several Blues graduates out of Cobham’s doors, much to the fury of the fans, and it’s hard to keep track of just how many they’ve let go.
Arguably the best producers of talent in England, winning the FA Youth Cup five times in a row between 2013-18, many are baffled as to why.
The new strategy (If you call it that) has been to sign some of world football’s most prestigious up-and-coming talent, seemingly by looking at their FIFA potential.
The influx of players like Mykhailo Mudryk, Axel Disasi and British record-signing Moises Caceido brought consequences.
As a result, it spelled the end of Cobham-bred Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Lewis Hall and Callum Hudson Odoi’s careers at Stamford Bridge as starman Mason Mount was willingly sold to none other than Manchester United.
There’s clearly no room for sentiment at Stamford Bridge, but why?
These issues are deep-rooted from the trophy-laden days of Roman Abramovich. Legendary captain John Terry was the only notable graduate for nearly 20 years under the old regime. Without a doubt, some have broken the mould since but under fortuitous circumstances.
Frankly No Hope
Under the stewardship of all-time club record goalscorer Frank Lampard in 2019, Chelsea faced a two-window transfer embargo due to 150 rule breaches in regards to signing underage players.
This forced Chelsea to finally look within. Having fallen to Aston Villa in the Play-Offs as Derby County boss just a few months prior, expectations lowered.
Ultimately, Lampard had the last laugh. The youthful exuberance of Mount, Fikayo Tomori, Reece James and Tammy Abraham complimented the experienced guard as Chelsea qualified for the Champions League.
Fans fell back in love with the team and the formula looked to be paying off.
Then, the embargo was lifted.
Chelsea went out into the summer only needing to add a couple of sprinkles of quality to their young side. Mount and Abraham are two of English football’s best-attacking prospects but what do Chelsea do? They went and signed two of German football’s best young prospects in Kai Havertz and Timo Werner who play the exact same positions as Mount and Abraham.
As of now, all four have left the club. This perfectly displays the mindless approach at Chelsea. Yes, it can be said that both Havertz and Werner looked like world-beaters upon signing, but to bring them in at the expense of two of your own proved incredibly harsh.
This was Chelsea’s chance to change to perception of the club and they blew it.
It sent a clear signal to Chelsea’s promising stars. Even if you’re good enough, we’ll still replace you. Lampard appeared to have little say in the matter as Abramovich splurged £250 million.
Having to shoehorn Havertz and Werner in, Lampard not only lost balance in the side but his job six months later.
Unfortunately, his replacement, Thomas Tuchel, achieved the monster feat of going on to win the Champions League which papered over the cracks that have become so evident recently.
Out of Tuch
Not even the most hopeful of Chelsea fans could’ve predicted their instant success under German mastermind Tuchel.
Appointed in January 2021 with the club sitting ninth in the league, Tuchel’s 5-2-3 revitalised Chelsea and made them extremely hard to play against.
The use of James and Ben Chilwell as marauding wingbacks provided a huge threat as they beat Manchester City 1-0 to win the Champions League.
One of the best moments after that win is the photo of Chelsea’s youth products standing with the trophy. The likes of Andreas Christensen, James and Mount played vital roles in securing a surprise win.
Heading into the summer, excitement grew with Chelsea’s squad featuring excellent young options to provide adequate depth.
In this instance though, they chose to once again sell some of these gems to fund a now infamous second move for Romelu Lukaku.
England internationals Tomori and Marc Guehi transferred to AC Milan and Crystal Palace respectively for a combined £43 million. Consequently, Chelsea fans rebelled, particularly as Tuchel deployed a back three which Tomori and Guehi are well suited to.
To add further salt to the wounds, Abraham, who was England’s second-choice striker at the time, was sold to Roma for just £40 million.
Selling these players for such moderate fees shows how little the club cared about its talent under Abramovich.
Moving into 2022, a new era arose.
Todd Boehly takes over as owner. Shortly after the start of the season, Tuchel is sacked and replaced with up-and-coming English coach Graham Potter on a long-term deal. A developer of youth at Brighton & Hove Albion, Chelsea finally got a fresh approach with a man who understands what fans want. Right?
Somehow, a year of Todd Boehly feels like 10. Signing more players than games won, to say there’s a revolving door policy is an understatement.
31 incomings, 25 departures and over $1 billion spent. Of those sales, nine came from Cobham. It’s a real shame that the new ownership hasn’t spotted the mistakes of the old regime.
As a result, Chelsea find themselves with a bloated squad. Finishing 12th in 2022/23, they’ve made their worst start to a campaign under new man Mauricio Pochettino since 1995. In this instance, it’s hard to blame the manager. The lack of control both he and Potter held over incomings leaves anyone under Boehly’s tutelage coaching a bloated and uninspired squad.
For the most part, it can be said that Chelsea’s academy is pointless in terms of the lack of conversion rate into the first XI. On the other hand, the pure profit the club generates from these players is unparalleled.
A staggering £203.5 million windfall in the last two years alone has allowed Chelsea to keep their heads above water in regards to FFP.
Home Is Where The Heart Is
They’ve always been a cutthroat club from the days of Abramovich bringing them mountains of success.
Some would argue that Boehly has brought in a young core that can grow together and challenge for the league in a few years’ time. In the meantime, they’ll have to suffer some dark days, similar to what London rivals Arsenal endured for a couple of seasons under Mikel Arteta.
However, the thing holding Chelsea fans back from investing belief in their new team is the lack of soul for the badge. In all honesty, most have moved simply for financial reasons such as the security of seven to eight year contracts at such a young age.
Above is a potential lineup Chelsea could have featured purely of Englishmen had they just kept their talent and spent a fraction of what they have already.
This doesn’t even include the likes of Cole Palmer, Lewis Hall, Trevor Chalobah, Noni Madueke or Carney Chukwuemeka. Is that line-up any worse than their new look side? I think the debate is a lot closer than some might think.
Whether or not Boehly’s long-term approach will be worth it will be answered in the next 18 months. As the likes of Paris Saint-Germain have learned, money isn’t always the answer. Cobham will continue to produce some of the most exciting talent around but let’s hope they are given the opportunity to show they are the ones who deserve to be the future of the club.
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