Chelsea may well be one of European football’s heavyweights, but they are not too hot on youth development. The Roman Abramovich era has brought with it its fair share of glory, with an endless list of domestic trophies and some memorable European victories however, the Russian’s hunger for success at Stamford Bridge has greatly hindered the club’s youth development. Chelsea may be taking a step in the right direction now, with the likes of Gael Kakuta and Fabio Borini breaking into the first team, but for every Kakuta and Borini, there are a handful of youngsters who never got a chance in west London.
Perfect examples of such youngsters are the former Leeds United prodigies Tom Taiwo and Michael Woods. The pair moved from the Yorkshire club to Chelsea in 2006 in a highly controversial transfer. Former Chelsea chairman Ken Bates accused Chelsea of ‘tapping up’ the youngsters as things went from bad to worse for United as they continued to lose the players that would potentially help restore the club to its former glories. Chelsea were eventually ordered to pay Leeds £5 million in compensation for the pair however, the Yorkshire club were still aggrieved at the manner in which the move took place.
Taiwo and Woods believed they had secured their ticket into the Premier League and were preparing themselves for the challenges that lay ahead, but things did not go to plan for the pair.
Taiwo, an English midfielder of Nigerian descent, failed to make any first team appearances for Chelsea during his time at Stamford Bridge. He was loaned out to League Two side Port Vale in August of 2008 yet was returned a month later as the side decided not to extend his loan. He struggled in the Chelsea youth team and failed to impress with a trial with the Seattle Sounders in March of last year. He has since turned an impressive loan spell with Carlisle United into a permanent deal and has left Stamford Bridge never having made a first team league appearance.
Woods story is less dramatic but equally as bleak. The 19 year old midfielder had spent some time in the reserves before making a string of appearances for the first team in F.A Cup. He appeared as a substitute for Frank Lampard in the tie with Macclesfield and has had a brief taste of first team football. The youngster still remains at the club and admittedly his career has been interrupted by injuries but time is running out and the midfielder does not look like breaking into the first team any time soon.
Taiwo and Woods act as a reminder that for every young prodigy that bursts onto the footballing scene, there are several who have had their dreams shattered. The pair are proof that sometimes the domestic giants are not always the way forward and the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. They will likely forever regret the day they left Elland Road.
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