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The Lost Boys in Never Neverland


Dorset

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Forget about Everton, consign Brum to the bin, prepare to see Naples without thoughts of dying, for in a week that verified my son-in-law’s worst fears for his team (yes, it’s official, Arsenal are going backwards under Wenger) I have only optimistic thoughts on the future for us after watching the ChelseaYouth team in action this season. Belief burns bright following performances that at times produce the type of free-flowing football the Boas can only dream of emulating as he struggles with his present motley crew of first-team disbelievers. Yet therein lies the dilemma we are all too well aware of - the transition of undoubted young talent into our first team has seemingly become a never-ending journey out of adolescence and into the real world, where pressure ages you by the second and fairy stories are nothing but a distant memory. Does it really have to be like this?

Personally, childlike in its naivety though the rejection may be, I’m not keen to see unproductive, stereotypical transition at Chelsea anymore, partly as a result of the Arnesen years exposing the inherent flaws referred to in the next few paragraphs, but mainly because of the dangers we face in paying mere lip service to youth development without reaping any rewards at first team level. Indeed, I don’t think Roman is either, which is why he employed a coach who hasn’t had a chance to grow up and get cynical and who, he hoped, would take on [if necessary] influential senior players clinging on and clogging up the process. In short, a progression into the squad, then actual first team, of [previously] lost boys out of an Academy with a fast-growing reputation as a Never Neverland, MUST materialise and thereby show tangible signs of working or there is no point in funding the system at all.

Of course, we’ve been here before and up until his hotly-debated loan move, progression for any of these kids along similar lines to that of Josh McEachran would previously have been deemed acceptable development in the eyes of most fans and our benefactor. Encouraging signs of similarity are already being seen for Nathaniel Chalobah, George Saville, Sam Walker and Aziz Deen-Conteh, all of them having been granted longer term contracts, but in Chalobah’s case familiarity might also breed contempt, as his eye-catching displays have come about whilst captaining the youth team, a situation reminiscent of, dare I remind everyone, Jeffery Bruma’s when he graced the back four with the same high level of expertise. Dilemma, doubt or déjà vu, call it what you will, but this recollection prevents me from going overboard with enthusiasm whenever I see him perform as he did last Wednesday night, coaxing and cajoling the team in its darkest moments towards a richly deserved victory when there was every possibility that they would not get their just reward.

With his heroics in mind and talking of just reward, I’m now firmly of the view that Nathaniel needs to be made aware of his talented worth to us much in the same way as Phil Jones was at Blackburn, by being thrown in at the deep end at the earliest available first team opportunity [next season] rather than, as anticipated, loaned out halfway through it to some then-relegation-haunted outfit desperate to strengthen nothing more than their bench as injuries mount up. We need to show him something other than a Ryan Bertrand hanging around watching Ashley’s lack of form and belief, yet still not getting a chance until the FA Cup comes along, something other than a flogged dead (and far from flying) horse on the left flank whilst a newly-acquired winger bogs down in some place called Genk for God knows how long and most definitely something other than witness a string of promising wingers, Messrs Sinclair, Stoch and Tore to be precise, go to fresh fields like a firm of solicitors in search of clients who would more readily appreciate their specialised skills.

Rant over in respect of one massive talent and past misgivings, worries loom large elsewhere too, none more so than between the sticks and for Jamal Blackman, who looks a mighty fine keeper in the making to me, but doubtless one who knows Thibaut Courtois waits heir-apparently in the Altletico Madrid goalmouth while Sam Walker waves his contract extension almost mockingly, both being lined up on the second grid behind Petr’s pole position for sure. Throw in, for want of a better phrase, Rhys Taylor, extended loan resident of Rotherham, plus Matej Delac, present Croatian stopper of the parish of Ceske Budejovice and you have a veritable keepers cottage industry going on behind the scenes at our club. Something tells me they’re not all going to make it in Chelsea colours because if they did, all in one match and all in one six yard area, there would have to be an FA law against it that even Phil Dowd might spot being infringed at corners.

Suffice to say, mulling over our goalkeeping cover can’t do much to inspire young Jamal in his quest to be the best behind Petr Cech any time soon, nor will it until youth makes a general sweeping inroad into our first team ranks. Fair enough, you could argue Todd Kane looks to have better prospects at right back, especially when you consider that he is already everything Bosingwa often isn’t, namely passionate to the point of good old British bull-doggedness, tough as good old Chopper’s boots and with a shot on him to match any we’ve seen a player have in that position for many a year. Yet everybody bandies Gregory van der Wiel’s name around with impunity and you kinda know that Todd’s going further down that queue in the summertime unless there is a radical change in policy.

And moving on into midfield we find John Swift, an emergent youthful talent for sure, although the man mountains he has to climb over to succeed are enough to daunt all but the most ambitious of clamberers. If ever there was a need for a player such as Swift, who has been with us since the age of fourteen, to move forward at least in parallel with the likes of Lucas Piazon it is now because the odds are the Brazilian will be fast-tracked in the future, whereas the Pompey born schoolboy international is surely destined to take the prescribed Anglo-route to career furtherance, as evidenced by every English Academy player we’ve loaned out to date. Belated though it may be to reach it, this is a key element in this topic, for up until now every Chelsea Youth player referred to in this piece is not only English, but the very type of Academy player the Media delight in telling us we don’t produce [the home grown variety] preferring instead to focus on our young overseas acquisitions, when expensive, and only deigning to mention a Brit [such as Patrick Bamford] when both cost and filch-from-Forest elements can be emphasised.

Quite frankly, this selective reporting, let alone my own scepticism, will go on unabated unless the breakthrough occurs and, whilst current circumstances dictate a delay, it shouldn’t be beyond the bounds of possibility to expect genuine reconstruction in the summer regardless of Champions League qualification, Financial Fair Play, or their joint effect upon acquiring transfer targets. Whether our very own Peter Pan of Premiership Management is given his chance to lead previously lost boys out of their Never Neverland is another matter altogether, but having provided the springboard for these players to dive into the top echelon what really is the point of delaying their entry until they grow cold and disillusioned or get shipped out to test the water elsewhere? It might only take one initially (it might even be Nathaniel Chalobah) and it might also take Roman to insist the splash is made if only to start a ripple effect of enthusiasm for the process.... but it has to happen.

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Excellent post Dorset. The youth cup has been the shining light for many of us this season. I've said previously that we are still blocking the way for our own youth, not with big signings at the peak of their powers, but now with young players, who are only perceived to be better than our own because they have had the opportunity to play first team football. Something our own never receive.

Lukaku and Borini are the perfect examples. I personally hope Fabio proves to be a cautionary tale, and we give some of these lads (agree on Todd Kane btw) a chance before going out and buying some 20 year old Bosingwa in waiting.

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