The past few months have seen Chelsea dominate football headlines for a variety of negative reasons. Last month, FIFA handed the Blues a transfer ban that would see them barred from signing players over the next two transfer windows. An appeal from the club is expected and more than likely, they’ll be able to complete signings in the upcoming summer window, but the transfer ban is still likely to go into affect after the summer window.
In addition to a ban looming, Chelsea could see star talisman Eden Hazard and prodigy Callum Hudson-Odoi, an academy product who is highly sought after by Bayern Munich, depart in the summer. Chelsea are staring a bleak future in the face unless they act smart and act fast, which means they must finally use their academy to its full potential.
Chelsea’s priority heading into the summer should be to hold onto Hazard, as it’s crucial they don’t allow their best player to depart for obvious reasons. It’s also vital that they refuse any offers for Hudson-Odoi. The young English winger is Chelsea’s most exciting academy prospect in years, and to let him leave so early in his career would be one of the club’s biggest mistakes in recent years.
The 18-year old is already the club’s second-best winger, despite lacking consistent game time in the first team. This is not equivalent to Manchester City letting Jadon Sancho go; they had Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané, and Sancho obviously wasn’t going to crack the line-up ahead of either at the time. Nor is it tantamount to Chelsea letting go of Kevin de Bruyne and Mohamed Salah; they had better players in the team at the time.
This is a special scenario. One of Chelsea’s wingers (Hazard) may leave the club this summer, and the other two (Pedro Rodríguez and Willian) are aging and declining. No matter what, Hudson-Odoi needs to be getting the game-time he deserves. If Chelsea want their academy to be taken seriously, they need to reward the best talents who rise to the top. That means giving Hudson-Odoi a chance as a starter.
With the Blues also struggling for consistency at both fullback positions, a transfer ban could see them turn to Reece James. The 19-year old has impressed in his loan spell with Wigan Athletic in his first season of professional club, and he has all the ingredients to replace the declining César Azpilicueta.
Bringing James into the first team squad and giving him opportunities would make for a far better backup option than Davide Zappacosta, before potentially making the right-back spot his own.
In midfield, Ruben Loftus-Cheek has struggled for fitness this season, but should find himself in the starting lineup before the season comes to an end. Mason Mount, who has endured an up-and-down season on loan at Derby County, has the potential to contribute at Chelsea, and with a transfer ban limiting the midfield options for the Blues, Mount should be used in the rotation to develop further.
In attack, Tammy Abraham is another Chelsea academy product that has yet to be given the first team chances that he deserves. Scoring goals for fun in the Championship helped him earn a loan spell in the Premier League, but he often found himself isolated in a dreadful Swansea team that eventually finished in the bottom three. Now, he’s playing the best football of his career at Aston Villa, proving that he at least deserves a role in the Chelsea squad as a third or second-choice striker.
Chelsea have failed miserably at using their bevy of academy talent to their advantage, but now their hand could be forced to use what is at their disposal. A club of Chelsea’s stature losing two transfer windows would see them miss out on some big names, but developing academy players would not only benefit their squad depth, but also their homegrown quota.
There has been no better time to use the academy for all the talent it possesses, especially with such a large amount of players who are aging or simply not good enough. Chelsea must act and act fast.
By: Harry Harris