Chelsea are often praised for having one of the best and most talented academy setups in English football, even if they’re still struggling to bring talent through to first-team level, but that hasn’t always been the case.
Indeed, the Blues’ only real academy success story for the best part of a decade was John Terry, who made his debut for the west London club before the turn of the millennium.
The real turning point was in 2010, when Chelsea’s academy won its first major honour since 1994 – the FA Youth Cup. Since, the Premier League champions in waiting have lapped up a further four, alongside three Development League titles, a Premier Reserve League title and two UEFA Youth Cup titles.
But what happened to those eleven men who started the trend by beating Aston Villa over two legs in the 2010 FA Youth Cup final? Did they hit the big-time or fade into anonymity? Football FanCast takes a look…
Sam Walker had all the makings of a top-class ‘keeper, measuring in at 6 foot 6 and earning decent reviews throughout his seven years at Stamford Bridge after being plucked from Millwall. But the glovesman never came close to contesting Petr Cech and spent the majority of his Blues spell out on loan.
After stints with Barnet, Northampton, Yeovil and Colchester, he joined the latter club permanently in 2014. He’s still their first-choice goalkeeper, making 112 appearances across all competitions – including 40 in League Two this season.
After lifting the FA Youth Cup in 2010, Billy Clifford even made it onto the bench for a Champions League clash with Spartak Moscow, but wasn’t brought on. He’s perhaps better known to Chelsea fans for a prank-gone-wrong that forced Cobham to be evacuated and later saw accomplice Jacob Mellis sacked.
The now-midfielder was given another chance but ultimately failed to prove himself in west London and after spells with Walsall and Boreham Wood now finds himself at Crawley Town.
Rohan Ince developed the stature of a senior footballer at an incredibly early age and was often tipped for a bright future due to his ability to play out of the back. He joined Chelsea’s academy at the age of seven but could never quite break through and after an injury-stricken loan spell with Yeovil decided upon a permanent switch to Brighton.
He’s made almost 100 appearances for the Championship outfit, now lining up in defensive midfield, but has spent the current campaign on loan at Swindon in the third tier.
Perhaps an indication of the relative success he’d later go on to enjoy at senior level, Jeffrey Bruma netted Chelsea’s opening goal of the final in the first leg at Villa Park. He’d joined the club as a 15-year-old, was playing for the reserves a year later and had even made his senior debut before the 2010 FA Youth Cup final.
The Netherlands call him up to their senior squad just a matter of months later and Bruma’s gone on to represent his country on 25 occasions. However, chances at Stamford Bridge dried up following the departure of Carlo Ancelotti and after winning back-to-back titles at PSV, the centre-back signed for Wolfsburg last summer.
Probably the most unique career of any player involved in Chelsea’s 2010 side, left-back Aziz Deen-Conteh was included in the Blues’ 2012/13 Champions League squad but didn’t make a single appearance and was released at the end of the season. He struggled to find another club in England and signed for Greek side Ergotelis, only for the financial crisis to force him to return to England a year later.
He’d been stuck behind the club captain in the pecking order and found the same problem at new employers Port Vale, resulting in him being released in January 2016 without making a single first-team appearance. He then underwent stints in Moldova and Georgia, but has been without a club since Zugdid failed to pay his wages. However, Deen-Conteh has managed to represent Sierra Leone twice since 2015.
Jacopo Sala was one of Chelsea’s more potent attacking threats at youth level, scoring twice past Blackburn Rovers in the 2010 semi-final. But the midfielder’s senior career is still yet to truly get off the ground; although he’s represented some recognisable clubs in Hamburg, Hellas Verona and Sampdoria, he’s made just 92 league appearances – scoring only four goals – at the age of 25. 17 of them, however, have come this season, with the former winger now deployed at right-back.
Conor Clifford captained Chelsea throughout their 2010 FA Youth Cup campaign and even scored the decisive goal in the final against Villa. He then went on loan to Plymouth Argyle and former Sunderland boss Peter Reid revealed how he’d become a leader for the side when the Football League blocked a loan extension due to financial difficulties.
That could well have been the break Clifford needed, because the rest of his career has been a largely downward trajectory consisting of nine clubs, the most recent being Dundalk in his native Ireland following two years at Boreham Wood.
Otherwise known as Kaby, Aliu Djalo was a regular for Portugal at youth level and had been brought to Chelsea’s academy from Boavista. After failing to make the grade at Stamford Bridge and winning the Cypriot first division with Limassol in 2012, the midfielder returned to his boyhood club but didn’t make a single appearance and left a year later. Spells in Romania, Poland and Finland followed, but the 24-year-old is now on the books at Crawley Town with former team-mate Billy Clifford.
Gokhan Tore was always tipped for big things but hasn’t quite reached the levels many expected. He left Stamford Bridge in 2011 after failing to make his mark but has gone on to represent Hamburg and Besiktas, winning the Super Lig with the latter club last season, and claim 26 caps for Turkey in the space of six years.
This season, the winger is on loan at West Ham – but hasn’t been heard of since an injury at the start of October.
Billed as the future of not only the Chelsea first-team but also English football, Josh McEachrin made his senior debut as a teenager and represented England 38 times across the junior levels. The midfielder’s playmaking qualities have never been in doubt but he’s always struggled to prove its effectiveness at top level and remains the case study for immensely talented youngsters being hyped up too soon.
After five loan spells, he left Chelsea permanently for Brentford in summer 2015, going on to make 41 appearances in the Championship. Most expect to see the 24-year-old back in the Premier League again at some point in his career.
With the name of a Football Manager free transfer, Marko Mitrovic has fittingly faded into relative obscurity.
The striker netted for Chelsea in the second leg against Villa – in fact, he was the youth side’s top scorer that season – and produced an incredible 10 goals in 11 appearances for Sweden at U17 level, but couldn’t carry that potency to first-team football. Indeed, after scoring three goals in two years at second-tier Brescia, Mitrovic joined PSV’s lesser-known neighbours FC Eindhoven but couldn’t find much goalscoring luck there either, netting just once before being moved on.
He’s since played for Randers and SonderjyskE in Denmark, but is yet to hit the onion bag. Overall, Mitrovic’s scored just four senior goals at the age of 24.