Over the last five years, the Chelsea youth system has sinisterly distorted itself into one of the most profiteering talent farms in world football.
Through the academy’s inadequacy in nurturing youngsters ready for the Blues first team, the financial infringement of UEFA’s FFP laws and the volatile nature of Roman Abramovich’s results-based, fire-happy ownership of the West London club, these factors have combined to transform Chelsea’s otherwise essentially redundant development system into a global-spanning money-making machine.
It seems that the overall objective of the Chelsea youth project is now to add as much value to their youngsters as possible, rather than even hint at the notion they could one day be working under Jose Mourinho in the first team squad.
There are obvious exceptions to this rule – namely Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois – but whether you were purchased for £8million from Genk, or so highly-rated the club are willing to throw themselves into the heart of a tapping up scandal for your services, the chances are that your Blues tenure will consist of various loan spells throughout Europe and beyond, before being sold for around double of what Chelsea originally paid for you a couple of years down the line.
But could there be a youngster in the West London outfit’s ranks that may soon go on to buck this almost macabre trend?
For those of you whose interest in English football spans beyond the Premier League, I’m sure the incredible campaign of Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford has already caught your attention.
The 20-year-old spent the first half of the season farmed out to MK Dons, and after churning out 14 goals in 23 League One appearances, switched his loan allegiances in the January window to Championship side Derby County. He’s since produced a sensational return of five goals in eight appearances for the Rams – a patch of form so mighty that Tottenham are now reportedly interested in the youngster’s services for next season.
So will this budding English hotshot be one of the rare anomalies in Chelsea’s loan brigade, or will his development become engulfed by the profit-driven directive of the Blues farming-out system?
Being homegrown, sourced from Nottingham Forest for just £1.5million and the kind of player that requires a ‘sink or swim’ litmus test at Premier League level, from the get-go it appears the cards are already stacked highly against Bamford.
Just to put the logistical span of Chelsea’s monolithic loan machine in perspective, Goal.com’s Liam Twomey has described it as; “a truly vast operation, overseen by technical director Michael Emenalo, involving players of 14 different nationalities playing in nine different divisions across five countries, and clearly operated with an eye on more than simply developing the future stars of Stamford Bridge.”
Including all members of Chelsea’s senior side, development squad and January signing Kurt Zouma – who has been loaned back to Saint Etienne until the end of the season – the Blues currently have 29 players out on loan.
That’s seven more players than Jose Mourinho has issued with Premier League starts this season, giving you some idea of not only how difficult it is to be noticed amongst the Blues’ farmed-out contingent, but furthermore the near impossibility of earning a place in the Portuguese’s first team.
Even Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois have had to prove themselves at the highest level first, before coming within touching distance of the Chelsea senior squad.
But there are a few factors working in Bamford’s favour; firstly, he’s English, and although I may have earlier mocked the striker’s home-grown status as a potential burden in his bid to buck the trend in West London, Jose Mourinho did hint earlier in the season that he is looking to rejuvenate the Blues’ English contingent over the next few years.
Back in October, the Portuguese told reporters; “I like that local core, not just in England but when I’ve worked in Portugal, Spain and Italy. To keep the culture of the country in your own team’s style is also very important, and you cannot lose characteristics of the local football. In three or four years’ time, if we don’t have other Englishmen to replace this nucleus of players – when Lamps is 39, John is 36 – I will be very sad. Every club needs that.”
That being said, this apparent emphasis on home-grown talent has done Nathaniel Chalobah, Ryan Bertrand or Josh McEachran any favours thus far in their Blues careers.
Secondly, the inadequacies of Chelsea’s current strike force is well-known – Samuel Eto’o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba have found just eleven Premier League goals between them this season –and rumour has it that all three could be given their marching orders in the summer. Next term’s forward cast looks set to include Romelu Lukaku and a star signing of the Diego Costa, Edinson Cavani ilk, but that could leave a place open for the 20 year-old, even if his duties are reduced to featuring mainly in the auxiliary tournaments.
And thirdly, although Bamford may not be a household name, there’s no doubting his quality. His goalscoring efforts in the English lower tiers have been prolific, donning a current average of 0.6 goals per match, but more important than the stats is the nature of the 20 year-old’s strikes.
Perhaps the old adage of ‘worldy’ isn’t quite fitting, but nonetheless, the majority of Bamford’s goals at Championship level – namely his two long-rangers from outside of the box – wouldn’t have been kept out of the net by the vast majority of Premier League goalies. I’m a firm believer that regardless of Bamford’s lack of height, power or pace, that ability can be transitioned successfully to top flight level.
But Chelsea are an elite side, and to make the grade at Stamford Bridge you need to be the total package at an incredibly young age. As we witnessed with the sale of Kevin De Bruyne, if a few ingredients of the complete player recipe are missing, the club have no hesitation in throwing even their more coveted and proven youngsters on the transfer scrapheap.
After this season’s incredible rise in stock and once again baring in mind Bamford’s home-grown status, the young poacher is probably already worth significantly more than the Blues original £1.5million investment, and resultantly could find himself sharing a similar fate as the Belgium international much sooner than expected.
Having already ripped up the lower leagues of English football, it seems inevitable that the 20 year-old will ascend to Premier League level at some point in his career. But with established internationals, £30-odd million signings, and the sheer mechanical nature of Chelsea’s engulfing loan machine to contend with, it seems incredibly unlikely Bamford will ever receive a senior debut for the Blues, let alone become a regular in the first team.
The only way that can change is if Bamford becomes worth more to the club in footballing than fiscal terms, but overcoming that burden is a near impossibility.