Who are Chelsea’s brightest hopes coming through their youth system?

It’s fair to say that Chelsea’s youth system has taken a bit of a battering in recent years. After the likes of Gael Kakuta, Jeffrey Bruma and Josh McEachran failed to make an impression under Carlo Ancelotti when the Italian was ordered by Roman Abramovich to blood youth at the expense of the old guard, new boss Roberto Di Matteo appears to have finally embarked on his owner’s younger total football vision but importantly, has been backed with the cheque book that Ancelotti wasn’t. Thus, the likes of Oscar, Eden Hazard, Cesar Azpilicueta, Kevin De Bruyne, Thorgen Hazard, Thibault Courtois and Victor Moses have all been purchased from abroad and importantly, are all under the age of 23, sounding a possible death knell to any young academy prospects at the club.

Undoubtedly, it will be difficult for any young player coming through at Chelsea but if one is going to make it, just who will it be?

NATHAN AKE – A Dutch central defender cum midfielder who is said to be very highly rated at the club. Moved him up from the academy to reserve level last season despite only being 17. Ake appears to have a bright future at international level with his presence in a Holland side who competed in both the Under-17 World and European Championships and with John Terry’s career winding down, could be given an opportunity to stake his claim in the coming years.

GEORGE SAVILLE – An older member of the youth group at 19 years of age and appears to be at the point where he must turn his successful youth career, that included Youth Cup and Reserve League victories into senior success in either a left-back and central-defensive role in the Terry mould. Vitally, Saville travelled with Roberto Di Matteo’s first team squad for their pre-season tour of the USA and looks to very much be in the Italian’s plans for the future.

NATHANIEL CHALOBAH – Possibly the most gifted of Chelsea’s home-grown academy prospects and the most likely to make the break through. Has been compared to Rio Ferdinand in the past and regularly captained both Chelsea reserve and youth teams despite his tender years. The Chelsea website reports that Chalobah made his debut for the England U-17 team at just 14 years of age and is now captaining the U-19 team. Originally born in Sierra Leone, Chalobah was also one of the travelling party to Munich for Chelsea’s historic Champions League victory. The fact that he has gone on loan to Watford for the season is perhaps testament of the big things that are expected from Chalobah when he returns next summer.

LUCAS PIAZON – It’s questionable whether we should really count Piazon into this discussion. Although technically an academy player at the age of just 18, Piazon arrived in January 2012 for a fee that reportedly could reach up to £10 million. However, Piazon remains the only academy talent to make an appearance in the first team this season having started the Blues’ 6-0 League Cup victory over Wolves in September. After arriving last season, the Brazilian immediately made an impression in the club’s youth and reserve sides with a clutch of goals and some eye-catching displays while he has also starred for his country at various youth levels. Appears to be the one certainty to make the progression into senior action.

ADAM PHILLIP – Time is certainly running out for the man from Carshalton, Surrey. Born in 1991, Phillip is one of the older players in Chelsea’s academy and has suffered two cruciate ligament injuries in the past couple of seasons that has undoubtedly stunted his progress. However, the young striker is fit again and has already shown in Under-21 games this season that he retains the pace and eye for goal that originally excited the Chelsea staff. With only Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge to choose from in the forward positions, Phillip might well find himself being called upon as the season goes on.

VERDICT: In truth, Chelsea’s ability and understandable desire to use the transfer market makes it difficult to predict if any of the mentioned above will make the grade. Phillip for example may have his eye on a first-team spot now but who’s to say that Di Matteo will not go out and purchase Radamel Falcao in the January transfer window, thus rendering Phillip negated. John Terry may be slowing down but who’s to say that Abramovich will not go out and spend big money on another centre-back, rather than give an opportunity to Ake and Chalobah?

Piazon looks certain to be given a chance but of course he is one of those big money purchases. Chelsea also have the likes of Thorgen Hazard and De Bruyne coming back from loan spells at the end of this season, so where does that leave even the likes of Josh McEachran, who was being dubbed the answer to both Chelsea’s and England’s midfield problems not so long ago but is now on loan at Middlesbrough? Therein lies the crux of the difficulties Chelsea’s academy prospects face when trying to forge a career at Stamford Bridge.

Adam Mazrani