Former Chelsea director of youth development Frank Arnesen has defended his time at the club, arguing that the overwhelming need for continual success has dictated the club’s policy which sees plenty of youngsters often overlooked in favour of more experienced players; a truly unsustainable state of affairs with all the hallmarks of the approach Real Madrid have adopted the past decade or so to their great cost both on the pitch and in terms of their bank balance.
Far too little has been made of the club’s ridiculously congested fixture list this season, which has simply proven unmanageable for such a thin squad which is dangerously overly reliant on a handful of senior players to feature every single game – the 1-0 FA Cup victory over Manchester United at the weekend was their second game in a run of 13 fixtures inside 23 days. The pursuit for silverware has locked the club in a vicious cycle from which there is no quick fix; there is no time or freedom to blood talented younger players because the pressure on the man in the dugout is so large every single year and that’s a situation that doesn’t look like changing any time soon.
Chelsea paid Tottenham £5million compensation in 2005 for the Dane’s services and he quickly set about overhauling the youth system at the club and their approach to deals, bringing in the likes of Ryan Bertrand, Daniel Sturridge, Fabio Borini, Jacob Mellis, Nemanja Matic, Miroslav Stoch, Scott Sinclair, Slobodan Rajkovic, Jeffrey Bruma, Patrick van Aanholt and Franco Di Santo. It’s an impressive list, but only Bertrand has gone on to establish himself in the senior squad, with Borini and Sturridge both transferred in the past few months to Liverpool, Matic replacing Javi Garcia to great effect at Benfica, while Mellis has done well at Barnsley and Sinclair rots on the bench after a big-money move last summer to Manchester City.
The club could and should have benefited more from these players and having just this season lost in the NextGen final, which is essentially the Champions League for youth-team players first established three years ago, to Aston Villa, it’s hardly as if the conveyor belt has stopped working altogether, but you wouldn’t bet on many of them forcing their way through at Stamford Bridge either, with other sides mopping up the talent at cheaper rates.
Arnesen defended his time at Chelsea, though, telling the Evening Standard last week: “I am very proud of what I did. I did a fantastic job. I made the club a lot of money. I bought players for small amounts and they were sold for a lot of money. I’m talking about players like [Daniel] Sturridge, [Fabio] Borini and [Miroslav] Stoch — they ended up being sold for about £30m and that pays for the Academy.
“The policy at Chelsea was to win a lot of games. When I started at Tottenham, we didn’t have the money (to make massive signings like Chelsea were able to do under Abramovich). I went for Tom Huddlestone, Aaron Lennon, Michael Dawson and Andy Reid — all players we could get who didn’t have a high salary. They had ambition and wanted to be better and they got the chance to play.
“But if I had done it with Chelsea they would not have played for two years, so this is the difference. I am happy with many of the players I signed for Chelsea. Just think, Borini and Sturridge are now at Liverpool, Stoch scored the Fifa goal of the year for Fenerbahce, Nemanja Matic is the star man at Benfica.
“Germany has been very good in developing players but also in putting them in the teams. That is the problem in England. At Chelsea, we had fantastic talent, we built up marvellous players, but they needed to be given a chance and they never were. The pressure is so big. Managers in England are going out and buying players, the level is high, and it is difficult for them because if they lose two or three games, they’re gone.”
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It’s a fair point and looking at the players the club have let go, for a side that’s been in transition for two years now, they could have been ably supplemented by some younger players on the fringes to give their senior squad some much-needed rest during an unforgiving and unrelenting schedule. Carlo Ancelotti briefly flirted with the idea in 2010, integrating van Aahnholt and McEachran a little more, before results started to go against him and back came the more experienced faces and a missed opportunity to truly rebuild for the long-term was missed.
Over in Spain, former (and possibly future) Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho has been criticised this season for his refusal to use more of the Castilla’s youth-team products before having a very public falling-out with reserve-team coach Alberto Toril. It’s been a criticism that’s dogged the Portuguese throughout his managerial career and aside from Mario Balotelli and Davide Santon at Inter Milan, he’s never really trusted younger player, preferring to bring in his own instead. It’s worked for him, but it’s an expensive route to take and with Financial Fair Play on the horizon, it’s not a path every club can afford to take in future.
A casual glance at the Real Madrid squad tells you this is a historical problem, though, rather than one born out of Mourinho-themed in-fighting. Only Iker Casillas and Alvaro Arbeloa have come through the ranks at the club, yet when you see the likes of Juan Mata, Javi Garcia, Roberto Soldado, Alvaro Negredo, Juanfran, Esteban Granero, Dani Parejo and Borja Valero all going on to move and do well elsewhere, it tells you that while the system itself may be broken, that the talent is clearly there. You could even present a case that they are just as effective at producing players as Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy, they only difference being they just fail to get the benefit of them themselves.
There is no one way to success when youth-team players are involved; Barcelona have adopted an approach of bringing back former players at great expense after seeing them poached before they turn professional, but they can comfortably field an entire starting eleven of homegrown players. Elsewhere, Manchester United have forked out significant fees for the best and brightest across the top flight these past few years, but Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley have come up through the ranks at the club. Chelsea are not alone in simply not doing enough, but they are one of the guiltiest parties.
Nevertheless, throwing away such talent, as Arnesen attests to, is a direct consequence of the trigger-happy owner Roman Abramovich and his desire for success. It was hoped that the Champions League triumph last year would have sated his reckless ways, but six months on down the line and Roberto Di Matteo was removed and the deeply unpopular Rafa Benitez was brought in on an interim basis until the end of the campaign.
It’s an impossible environment to work in and it isn’t conducive to well sustained success, which is exactly what the club are crying out for. Unfortunately for them, it seems as if they have adopted Real Madrid’s hugely wasteful model, with short-term gains and silverware the root cause of the club’s long-term decline. Throwing money at the problem, as Chelsea did again in the summer, is akin to using a plaster to cover a gaping wound and until the club’s hierarchy realises as much, they will continue to endure cyclical periods of success as opposed to the sort of dominance Barcelona and Manchester United have both established.
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