Club Focus – Chelsea – Does Chelsea’s gifted youth side contain the next Chopper, Tambling or Terry?

As their senior sides renewed rivalries in their Champions League quarter-final eliminator this week, Chelsea and Manchester United youth teams locked horns on a lesser scale last weekend. On Sunday, FA Youth Cup holders Chelsea hosted United in the first leg of their semi-final at Stamford Bridge and gained the upper hand in a thrilling match in front of over 5,500 fans.

England Under-17 international captain Nathaniel Chalobah, 16, added to his increasing reputation with two goals against United, after stepping back from his usual position in midfield to play in central defence to open up a two-goal lead for the Blues at the half-time break. Despite his tender age, Chalobah has been capped 17 times at England Under-17 level, making his debut in July 2009, and was an unused substitute for the senior side last September as he was called up to the bench by Carlo Ancelotti for the Carling Cup third round defeat to Newcastle, aged just 15 at the time. He has also been a regular in Chelsea’s reserve set up, along with the exciting Josh McEachran, who has received positive reviews of his breakthrough to the first team earlier this season.

The Blues youngsters lifted the FA Youth Cup for the first time since 1961 by overcoming Aston Villa 3-2 on aggregate last season. In this year’s competition, after the visitors pulled a goal back, Dermot Drummy’s side restored Chelsea’s two-goal cushion through Bobby Devyne, before United’s highly rated French midfielder Paul Pogba headed home to end the tie 3-2. The second leg is at Old Trafford on April 20, with the Blues looking to progress to the final for the third time in four years, after missing out in 2008 to Manchester City.

Though often criticised over recent years for a failure to bring through any young talent from the academy team, Chelsea’s youth set-up has a good record of producing some of the greatest players to pull on the blue shirt. The side that won the FA Youth Cup in 1960 and 1961 brought through a number of Chelsea legends such as Bobby Tambling, still the club’s top goalscorer of all time with 202 goals, as well as the top two appearance-makers in Blues history, Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris (795) and Peter Bonetti (729). Also of that era, John Hollins, Terry Venables and Peter Osgood all came through in the 1960s, going on to become Chelsea heroes in their own right.

Where current captain John Terry ranks compared to these former Chelsea youth products is hard to say until he is no longer a Blues player, but given his leadership and drive have been key to the most consistently successful period in Chelsea’s 106-year history, it could be argued he is the best player to graduate from the club’s youth side. Since Terry’s Blues debut in 1998, a number of academy players have gone on to appear for the first time, yet none have survived long at the club or gone on to make themselves a regular in the first team. 13 years later, and with a fresh generation displaying clear underlying talent, it will be interesting to see how many of this Chelsea vintage go on to stamp their names into Blues legend and who we look back on in years to come as a successful product of the Chelsea academy.

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