Chelsea are not a club known for developing young players. Particularly young English players. With the exception of John Terry, Chelsea’s first team consists of experienced foreigners brought in on massive transfer fees, (the likes of Michael Essien, Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba) and English players bought for big money from other Premiership clubs (Frank Lampard and Joe Cole from West Ham, Ashley Cole from Arsenal). Rarely do you see a young player come through the ranks and establish himself in Chelsea’s first team. Youngsters with big potential are either signed for big money (Jon Obi Mikel) or loaned out to other clubs to gain first team experience (Michael Mancienne).
The last few transfer windows have proved that Chelsea would rather still spend big than invest in youth. Deco, Jose Bosingwa and Yuri Zhirkov have all arrived at Stamford Bridge with big price tags in the last 18 months. One young player who is beginning to impress for Chelsea though is Daniel Sturridge. After a disappointing start to his Chelsea career, where Sturridge received mixed reviews from his performances in the Carling Cup and the Premier league and drew criticsm over rumours about his negative attitude in training, the 20 year old striker is impressing in the FA Cup. Scoring Chelsea’s second goal against Preston last Saturday, to go with the two goals he scored in the third round demolition of Watford, Sturridge is helping to fill the void left by Didier Drogba, while he is at the African Cup of Nations.
Blessed with an abundance of pace and a knack for being in the right place at the right time, Sturridge burst onto the scene for Man City in 2008, scoring against Sheffield United in the FA Cup and on his full debut against Derby. The striker was voted Man City’s young player of the season last year, and scored 4 goals in 16 appearances for City in the Premier league. Chelsea snapped up the youngster last summer when his contract expired at City expired, signing the striker on a four year deal.
He may be performing well in the FA Cup, but can Sturridge excel at Chelsea where so many young strikers failed? Franco Di Santo, Ben Sahar and Carlton Cole are some of the youngsters who had bags of potential but had to leave Stamford Bridge because of the lack of first team opportunities. Cole has since flourished at West Ham but when at Chelsea, was loaned out to Charlton, Aston Villa and Wolves, and had to compete with the likes of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Adrian Mutu for a first team place. Sahar was dubbed as one of the Israel’s brightest talents when he signed for Chelsea, but only made 4 appearances and is now in Spain with Espanyol. Di Santo made 8 appearances for Chelsea last season and failed to score, and is now on loan at Blackburn, where he has scored once in 15 appearances this season.
Sturridge will undoubtedly see his first team opportunities decrease when Drogba and Solomon Kalou return from the African Cup of Nations, and will be Chelsea’s fourth choice striker behind Nicolas Anelka as well. But with the possibility of Chelsea facing a transfer ban over the “illegal” signing of Gael Kakuta, Sturridge could see a lot more playing time in the next year as Chelsea would not be able to buy another big name striker. This season, at least in the FA Cup, Sturridge should have a real chance to start some games and excel where so many young strikers have failed at Stamford Bridge.