The list of players to have left Chelsea prematurely before becoming superstars elsewhere already contains some significant names; Manchester United front-man Romelu Lukaku, Manchester City’s chief playmaker Kevin De Bruyne and Liverpool’s relentless forward Mohamed Salah.
If Chelsea still employed all three, alongside the team’s current key players, they’d be a completely different side and possibly the most dominant in Europe.
Concerningly for the Blues, we’ve already seen some of the next generation follow a similar path. Without making more than a handful of starts for the west Londoners, Dominic Solanke left for Liverpool on a free transfer, Nathaniel Chalobah sealed a move to Watford, Nathan Ake joined Bournemouth and Bertrand Traore signed for Lyon last summer.
Chelsea managed to hang onto the highly-rated Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the 21-year-old agreeing a year-long loan at Crystal Palace rather than a permanent departure, but an England debut against Germany that saw him steadily grow in confidence and eventually claim the Man of the Match award highlighted how detrimental that exodus of his former youth team-mates may well prove to be.
Indeed, Loftus-Cheek’s senior career thus far has consisted of only 41 appearances in all competitions, translating to just 1260 minutes, and yet he managed to produce England’s best individual performance against reigning world champions, one that saw his power, his creative intelligence and his technical qualities – most memorably nutmegging Marcel Halstenberg – truly stand out.
While that’s positive news for Chelsea in theory, it also shows the problems with their development strategy. It’s clear these young players are good enough for the chance to earn first-team football at Stamford Bridge, but they’re just not getting the opportunities. Loftus-Cheek’s dazzling debut makes you wonder how many equally talented youngsters Chelsea have passed up down the years, and how many of Solanke, Chalobah, Ake and Traore will soon go on to reach the top of the game elsewhere.
Of course, we’ve known about this problem in west London for some time, but Loftus-Cheek’s impressive display amplified how significant it really is. Chelsea are producing young players who can make an impact on the international stage against teams of Germany’s quality, but can’t get anywhere near the starting XI at their parent club. Something has to give, or Chelsea will continue to be an inadvertent recruitment pool for their rivals.