In July 2014, Mourinho said this:
“My conscience tells me that if, for example, Baker, Brown, and Solanke are not national team players in a few years, I should blame myself…in this moment, we have players who will be Chelsea players. And when they become Chelsea players, they will become England players, almost for sure. This group of players – Baker, Brown, Solanke and Boga – these four are not all going to be in my squad, because I cannot have 30 in my squad, but these four are going to work with us all season and these four are going to be Chelsea players… In this moment I start to have this feeling that our Academy is bringing players to our level.”
Bringing English, Academy-bred players into the First Team, is as much part of a fan’s desires for their club as is filling the trophy cabinet. Since 1997, we have filled the trophy cabinet, but we have not filled the First Team with Academy products. Massive transfer funds and managerial instability have probably been the dominant explanations for this lack of graduations since John Terry debuted in 1998. If Ancelotti had stayed, I feel certain that players like McEachran and Kakuta would have likely become useful First Team members by now (or at least been sold profitably).
Given what Mourinho said in the above quotation, I allowed myself to speculate about what the Chelsea First Team might look like in five years time.
What struck me when gazing on my future-fantasy line-up was their ages at the start of the 2019/20 Season:
- Courtois, 27
- Azpilicueta, 30
- Zouma, 24
- Varane, 26
- Bertrand, 30
- Matic, 31
- Loftus-Cheek, 23
- Boga, 22
- Oscar, 27
- Hazard, 28
- Costa, 30
Virtually the entire team is at or approaching their theoretical peak! The matchday bench might look like this:
- Blackman, 25
- Ake, 24
- Van Ginkel, 26
- Chalobah, 24
- Fabregas, 32
- Solanke, 21
- Bamford, 25
The rest of the Premier League must be quaking in their boots to think that we will still have Hazard, Oscar and Costa in five years time. Hazard and Oscar particularly, are still young players today and if they are somehow better players in five years time…well, the prospect fills me with confident anticipation.
The future defence presented above is classy and imposing. We have Zouma and Varane (sign him up Jose!) who are both physically imposing and technically gifted, we have two full-backs who defensively and offensively are already regarded as more than effective, and we have Courtois – who is certain to win many goalkeeping accolades.
The defensive midfield positions are filled by the enormous pairing of Matic, who we all know, and Loftus-Cheek, a player with brilliant dribbling skills and defensive discipline. Those two will take turns to charge upfield, wreaking havoc on opposition formations.
In attacking midfield, we are spoilt for choice. We know Hazard and Oscar are high-class operators, but in Boga, we have another mercurial talent – some of the things he has done in the development squads are frankly astonishing.
Up front I fully expect Costa to be bullying defenders long into his dotage – it’s possible that his goal-scoring record may eventually rival Drogba’s.
Obviously in any exercise like this, glaring gaps will be spotted. Honourable mentions go to Omeruo, Kalas and Baker et al. If Mourinho keeps his word and commits to trusting our Academy stars in the near future, then I see no reason why my ‘fantasy team’, or something like it, can’t become a happy reality. If anything, this exercise has shown me that we are not going to lack for home-grown talent moving forward; and that is a heartening prospect.