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Being Economical With The Youth

Eton Blue at the Chelsea Megastore

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An intentional and ironic play on words, the title for this piece sprang to mind when watching Sky’s Sunday Supplement a few weeks ago, on hearing Martin Samuel pass judgement on Chelsea’s youth and loan policy. His comments followed those of two other journalists, whose names escape me, but who were both scathing of the stockpiling nature of the system, whereas the Samuel assessment was typically less populist and more measured.. “It’s all to do with economics” he said without a hint of reproach. And he’s right, and his colleagues know he’s right, because the word ‘economics’ is often linked with the word ‘scale’ and because economies of scale is essentially production on a large scale to optimum advantage and, because this is a good thing, it is not a word most hacks would use when describing CFC’s approach to anything, let alone to a subject they can be scathing about.


Okay, I will hold my hands up and say that our youth and loan policy is not one I wholeheartedly agree with, but it is not abhorrent, not detrimental to individual players careers [if they make the most use of their talent] nor is it a practice carried out alone - all other clubs, albeit to a lesser degree, are doing it and not receiving anywhere near the same amount of criticism. Indeed, shot down by Samuel or not, when unjustified condemnation cannot be made directly [as in the Sunday Supplement studio] it often emerges indirectly by innuendo, as in the case of the following contrivance:-      


“ Chelsea chiefs are concerned that Jose Mourinho’s tough love approach to Ruben Loftus-Cheek will leave them facing a battle to tie the teenager down to a long-term contract. Loftus-Cheek only has just over 18 months to run on his current Chelsea deal, with Manchester United, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich among a host of top clubs at home and abroad closely monitoring his situation. Chelsea will not want Loftus-Cheek to enter the final year of his contract, but realise that convincing him to commit to a new five-year deal at the present time would be difficult.”


Matt Law (The Telegraph, 25th Nov, 2015)


Quote-free codswallop from a typically turgid Telegraph, but it is nevertheless representative of the general press pack point of view regarding Chelsea’s evolutionary struggle to establish a young [primarily English] player in the first team. The hacks love to touch this nerve whenever possible, delighting in poking vigorously at whatever tender spot lacks a home grown presence. From the very start of the season it was the galling Stones saga, then, once that had calmed down, a bad case of loaned out striker struck. And then, according to Law in Telegraph Land, after early promise of calm introduction and a regular place in our hearts and our midfield, the docile development of RLC flared up into a supposed full blown epidemic of outside interest. 


Of course, the blame for this sorry state of affairs is lain at Jose’s door (as if he didn’t have enough to worry about at the moment) and the solution is deemed a simple one - we should bring the youngsters into the first team fold and out of their cold and costly mourning for instant recognition. Critics tell us that our rivals do this with impunity and to good effect, but on closer inspection is this really happening at other clubs, and if so is it really the unqualified success the messengers [of our doom] would have us believe? After all, hasn’t Louis van Gaal done exactly this with McNair and Lingard? Granted there was a £50m or so outlay on Martial and he’s French, but what’s that amongst amis these days and, when you take into account United’s lofty league position, can there be any denial of the truth about their youth? Except, whisper it quietly, there can, and there has - expressed both in the media and in the Old Trafford stands. The Champions League game against PSV provided a typical backdrop and brickbat for LVG‘s broad shoulders, as described in the following piece:-            


“ Louis van Gaal questioned whether some of his players had the confidence to play for Manchester United last night. The United manager’s admission came as Phillip Cocu, the PSV Eindhoven coach, suggested their opponents did not look like a team who believed that they could win in the second half of a dismal goalless draw. Jesse Lingard missed a couple of chances early in the second period and Anthony Martial had a shot saved in the opening half but United created precious few opportunities and looked cowed and short of ideas for most of a disappointing match that ended in boos raining down from the stands.”


James Ducker (The Times, 26th Nov, 2015)


Not to mention (but it has) this week’s borefest against the Hammers, made ten times worse by on-loan James Wilson’s goal for Brighton and Hove Albion. And it’s not all a bed of Danny roses at WHL either, with Spurs failing, though not without the want of trying, to deliver a killer blow on us a few weeks back, the cardinal sin accurately observed and reported on in a one-liner from Henry Winter, The Times newly-acquired wordsmith:-


“Mauricio Pochettino is building a strong, fluid team at Spurs, but their youthfulness betrayed occasional naivety, headstrong behaviour or a simple refusal to let Chelsea past by fair means or foul.”


Man City have fared no better - last summer’s £12m purchase of Patrick Roberts proving uneconomic compared to Kenedy’s cost, especially after a debut in the catastrophic defeat to Spurs led to subsequent obscurity. Clearly, Arsenal didn’t want to make the same mistake, preferring to limit signings to one, an experienced 33yr old goalkeeper. Or at least that’s what I thought until I checked and found the club also spent £1.75m on Jeff Reine-Adelaide, a 17yr old winger from RC LensU19 - who knew, lost as he was at the time amongst thirteen returning loanees. Still, looking on the bright side, at least Pellegrini and Wenger wont have to worry unduly and on Patrick and Jeff’s behalf about ‘Manchester United, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich being among a host of top clubs at home and abroad closely monitoring [their] situation.’… and I have that on good authority from none other than Matt Law at The Telegraph.


So, on closer inspection and despite my own hoped-for inclusion of youths into the Chelsea first team sooner rather than later, the process does appear fraught with difficulty on implementation and, inevitably, if Jose were to bring the kids in, the unscrupulous invention of the scribes would be limitless compared to the level of his acceptance of the principle. But we have now reached the point where necessity really is the mother of invention and Jose is nothing if not a pragmatist, as evidenced by these words on Gary Neville going to Valencia…


“If he wants to be a manager, he must have a first day. He's having that first day. He was a very good player and a very good pundit. Now he must prove he can be a very good manager, which is a completely different job. But by accepting this challenge, he shows he wants to prove that. On the bench, you cannot stop the video, touch the screen and make movements happen. It's a different story.”


And first game up the different story did, indeed, unfold. Valencia survived a Barcelona onslaught to hold on to a 1-1draw. Luis Suárez struck for Barça just before the hour, but Santi Mina snatched a dramatic equaliser five minutes from time. What has all this to do with economies, youth, necessity or invention? Well, Mina is a 19yr-old who was given his chance by the Neville brothers as Valencia were without 10 first team regulars on Saturday - he duly delivered. Jose may not be getting short on players, but he is getting short on options and, whether it be on your first day or your last, the law of ever-diminishing returns is an economic principle you continue to ignore at your peril.



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Our youth policy pretty much has been buy talented youth @ a decent price, loan them out and once they get much better sell them. Use the money made by selling them on a proven star. It is a fair economic policy and I'm sure people in general will not have much to say against it, but when the player you sold (Lukaku, KDB) are performing really well while the players you own are struggling then this practice will be questioned. It is how it is. 

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