At the heart of Chelsea’s current transitional phase are three outstanding academy products; Fikayo Tomori, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham. This is not to discredit the likes of Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi, whose talent will undoubtedly lead to regular starts in the long-term. But with injuries limiting the pair to a combined three league starts this season, they have simply not clocked up enough game time to have had the same impact as the aforementioned trio. Tomori, Mount and Abraham have started all of the club’s last nine Premier League games and are therefore at the forefront of Chelsea’s modified identity, as greater emphasis is seemingly placed on youth development.
With a transfer ban preventing manager Frank Lampard from delving into the market, it would have been easy for him to give seasoned Premier League pros like Pedro and Olivier Giroud starting berths. But his brave youth development alternative has been the hallmark of a new, emerging Chelsea identity. This does not undermine 15 years of trophy-laden success, but the club are now in a position where they can explore alternative routes to achieving their goals in domestic and European competition. Tomori, Mount and Abraham are the epitome of this exciting time for the club, filling the voids left by recent player sales, upon Lampard’s recognition of their ability to bridge the gap between Championship and Premier League.
The recent performance levels of Tomori, Mount and Abraham suggest that not just their potential, but their current ability may even surpass that of their more experienced counterparts. Bringing such quality out of players who are around ten years younger, cost less in wages and who foster a sense of pride as academy graduates, demonstrate extremely astute management from Lampard, even during the infancy of his post-playing career. He has of course only been in charge for 12 league games, with a small sample like this making it difficult to cast too much judgment on the long-term development of these players. A degree of patience should therefore be maintained when potential and probable drops in form arise, following this probationary period of excellence.
But at the present moment, the trio have, very much in inverted commas, ‘replaced’ David Luiz at centre-back, Eden Hazard as a goalscoring attacking midfielder and Alvaro Morata, positionally rather than literally, in attack. Yet at the same time, Chelsea have been able to significantly cut their wage bill, whilst also gathering over £100 million in loan and transfer fees, rising to more than £150 million, if Atletico Madrid take up their option to buy Morata permanently at the end of his loan. Finances are clearly not a scarce resource at Chelsea, but no club has a bottomless pit of funds, even Manchester City, whose failure to fund a Vincent Kompany replacement may ultimately cost them a third consecutive Premier League title. Chelsea and Lampard’s ability to save hundreds of millions and still remain competitive in achieving their goals will soon facilitate them to target key areas with expensive, potentially world-class signings. This can be achieved in a similar way to how Jurgen Klopp took an exciting Liverpool team to the next level, by capturing Alisson, Virgil Van Dijk and Fabinho, after funds became available following Philippe Coutinho’s departure to Barcelona for a reported £142 million.
But the rewards of promoting youth rather than splurging in the transfer market go beyond financial gains. In Chelsea’s case, a transfer ban forced them into this situation, but Lampard’s appointment suggests a willingness to adjust the club’s culture and philosophies. The sense of pride of bringing one of your own players through the age groups and turning them into a first-team regular has not been felt at Chelsea since John Terry’s emergence at the turn of the century. The club have had to wait two decades for the alignment of positional vacancies with genuine first-team quality youth players. It was this barren period of no first-team academy players, that Mount recently revealed resulted in his father expressing concern as to whether he could make it at Chelsea. Vehement in his reply, Mount said, ‘I told him that I’d be the first graduate to make it since John Terry’, as he has since proved. That single-minded mentality in pursuit of a goal is part of the DNA of all top players and explain exactly why he has made the leap from Chelsea academy to first-team. Neither he, Tomori or Abraham are getting games because Lampard wants to give youth a chance, they are getting them because they deserve it. All three excelled in the Championship in 2018/19, at play-off finalists Derby or Aston Villa and have taken their chance at Premier League football with aplomb. In doing so, they have marked the start of a new era at the club, both on and off the pitch.
In combination with experienced campaigners Cesar Azpilicueta, Jorginho and Willian, who have over 1500 club appearances between them, Chelsea have the perfect mix of experience and youth. Whilst Alan Hansen’s infamous 1995 remark, ‘You can’t win anything with kids’, has been met with much derision, successful teams need a balance. Chelsea have some of the best young English players at their disposal and although they cannot yet be compared with those that Manchester United’s ‘Class of ’92’ became, there are circumstantial similarities between the two teams. Jorginho in particular has been in excellent form on the pitch and influential off it too, with Mount stating after the 4-1 win over Southampton in October that, ‘He’s a massive player for us and you learn so much off a player with that experience of playing at a very, very high level.’ If Chelsea are to take the next step from Champions League hopefuls to title challengers in the coming years, they will need players like Jorginho to set an example on the pitch, guide young players through periods of poor form and mentor them off the pitch. Nevertheless, Lampard’s side have the foundations in place to provide a sustained threat to Manchester City and Liverpool’s duopoly at the top of the Premier League, in the coming years.