Ahead of England’s fixtures against Hungary, Germany and Italy, remarkably 28 per cent of the squad have all spent part or all of their development at Chelsea’s Cobham facilities
When Gareth Southgate announced his latest England squad on Tuesday, something immediately stood out – the sheer number of players that have been developed at Chelsea’s Cobham facilities in Surrey. Marc Guehi, Mason Mount, Reece James, Fikayo Tomori, Conor Gallagher, Declan Rice and Tammy Abraham all came up through the ranks.
And in truth, there could have been many more – the likes of Trevoh Chalobah, Tariq Lamptey, Dominic Solanke, Eddie Nketiah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek might consider themselves unlucky for missing out – or at least harbor ambitions of reaching that goal. Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tino Livramento might have looked at had they not been injured.
It might be no surprise to see the England squad dominated by Chelsea youth products considering the outrageous amount of talent that has come through their academy in recent years. But Southgate’s most recent announcement shone a light on the sheer distance that has been made in recent years at Stamford Bridge.
You would not have to stretch too far back in time to see a Blues team that was completely put together with Roman Abramovich’s millions. For many years, the only real success story to come out of the youth set-up was John Terry – who made his debut in 1998.
There had been top talents that had come close but, ultimately, the fire-hire methods under the Chelsea owner meant that there was no time to bed in youngsters and immediate success was prioritized. Now, it is a very different story.
Many might denote Frank Lampard as the instigator after promoting the likes of Mount, James and Abraham to the squad when he joined as manager in 2019. But the truth is, these players would have likely made the squad regardless of who was in charge – they were too good to ignore.
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Undoubtedly, the Blues legend had an impact and it was a stark change in policy to Maurizio Sarri the season before – who did not give a single debut out to an academy player during his short spell in charge. The Italian was so uninterested in the youngsters that he failed to ever watch one Under-23 match – or even a training session.
And this was during a time of incredible success at rookie-level for the club, juxtaposed with turmoil with the seniors where over £ 100million had been frittered away on the likes of Tiemoue Bakayoko, Danny Drinkwater and Davide Zappacosta – none of whom have made more than 30 league appearances for Chelsea.
From 2013 to 2018, Chelsea won every single FA Youth Cup – beating Manchester City three times in the process and a 7-1 mauling of Arsenal for good measure too. This was a golden generation of talent rising through the ranks.
Only Manchester United have won the Premier League 2 more times than the Blues while the Red Devils have famously always been a breeding ground for top talents that go on to become England internationals. But is the tide changing?
While 28 per cent of the current squad has Cobham roots, not a single player honed their skills at United’s famous Carrington training complex. And that does not look like it will change anytime soon unless Marcus Rashford has a miraculous return to form – but he is the only one.
However, United are battling back and there are high hopes for the team that recently won the FA Youth Cup this year while the likes of Shola Shoretire, James Garner and Ethan Laird have all been tipped for stardom. But as of now, it is Chelsea that rules the roost when it comes to developing players – but how did they do it? It was not long ago that many scoffed at the lack of chances afforded to youngsters at the club.
Over the years of Abramovich’s reign – which will come to an end after the Premier League greenlit Todd Boehly’s takeover – the Blues owner turned much of his investment from the transfer window to the academy. In 2007, the club’s Cobham facilities were opened at a cost of £ 20m – with a further cash injection of nearly £ 2m in 2016.
The state-of-the-art facilities are kept as pristine as possible and the best coaches are plucked from across the land while an army of elite scouts are in action across the country hoovering up the creme de la creme of talents around. While many clubs might wait until players are reaching around 10 or 11, Chelsea make their move as early as six.
The impact of Neil Bath can also not be understated – Chelsea’s head of youth development. A die-hard Blues fan, Bath has completely revolutionized the idea of youth football at the club since his appointment in 2004, restructuring their academy program and putting a greater emphasis on a winning mentality, which translates to success at senior level and ultimately leading to Chelsea’s phenomenal Champions League victory in 2021.
Abraham described his time at the academy as the “best years of his life” while Mount called Bath “an inspiration to us all” as club legends such as Terry, Ashley Cole and Jody Morris have all taken turns coaching and passing on their knowledge.
Outside of football, Chelsea make sure that life is going as smoothly as possible and set their young players up in the best schools nearby and house their families close so that they are not traveling all the time. It also means that if a career in football cannot be forged out, they are not dumped on the side of the road, as well as keeping them grounded and installing the right mentality when others could be led astray by the glitzy world of elite-level football.
From an England point of view, having strong academies dotted around the country can only lead to better chances at the top tournaments. At this moment in time, it is hard to deny that the Blues are leading the way – but pay close attention to City, who are building their own squad of super talents at youth level – but, currently, it is Chelsea’s turn in the sun .
With Boehly pledging £ 1.6billion towards infrastructure ahead of his impending takeover in west London, it might just be theirs for a little while longer.