Chelsea defender Sam Hutchinson has been forced to call time on his playing career due to persistent injury problems. The 21 year old has had a recurrence of a knee injury that has plagued his last three seasons at the club and has decided that retiring from the game is the most sensible option in the face of the physical demands of top flight football. Following the news of Hutchinson’s decision, Chelsea have shown their class by giving the youngster an opportunity to pursue a non-playing role in football. The club have given Hutchinson the chance to stay on at the club as an academy coach/mentor while simultaneously studying sport science at university.
Hutchinson’s sudden retirement is devastating news for a hugely talented player whose promising playing career has been brought to a tragic end before it could even get started. He joined the Chelsea academy as a 9 year old and has since developed into a player with huge potential. Previous Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho touted Hutchinson as a future star at Stamford Bridge and gave him his first team debut as a substitute in the final game of the 2005-2006 season against Everton. Despite his promise, Hutchinson’s development was hampered by the occurrence of a knee injury that would ultimately prove to be terminal for his playing career. The 2007-2007 season saw Hutchinson make only 5 appearances for the reserve team due to persistent injury woes and the 2008-2009 season followed a similar path with Hutchinson featuring 6 times for the reserve side which he captained. Last season saw Hutchinson make his first start for Chelsea in an FA Cup against QPR while also coming off the bench to deliver a perfect cross for Frank Lampard’s goal against Stoke towards the tail end of last season.
With the introduction of the Premier League’s new “home-grown” quota and Hutchinson’s rising stock at the Bridge, there was every chance that Hutchinson would have featured this season had he not have called time on his playing career at Chelsea.
As a young player who has come through the ranks at Chelsea, Hutchinson is perfectly suited for his role as academy mentor to the young prospects looking to make their name at Stamford Bridge. He has already gone through the trials and tribulations of academy football and will be able to guide the youth team players in their continued development at the club.
However, Hutchinson’s retirement from football at such an early age has called into question the options for professional footballers should their playing careers be curtailed by injury. The emphasis on pace and power in the modern game has seen the number of injuries soar due to the stress and strain placed upon an athlete’s body. This problem is made even worse for young players at Premier League academies who have to attempt to match this intensity even though their bodies have yet to fully develop. This intensity at such a young age puts young players who are being groomed for Premier League football at great risk of getting a career threatening injury.
Chelsea’s example of giving Hutchinson the opportunity to coach shouldn’t be afforded as a last resort. The high probability of injury, coupled with ferocious competition for places means that many players simply won’t make it at the highest level of the game. Introducing coaching courses for academy players would introduce young players to an alternative to playing should their career be cut short by injury or if they fail to make the grade. Coaching courses would also aid the player’s development on the pitch as it would teach young players the importance of tactical awareness and increase their communication skills.
Unfortunately, injuries are part and parcel of the modern game. If clubs gave their young players a chance to learn about coaching, they would be giving their players an additional career option if they find their playing career cut short by injury or for any other reason.