The future is bright at Stamford Bridge, or at least it should be.
A 2-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain in Monday’s final in Nyon saw Chelsea win the UEFA Youth League for the second successive season.
The Blues reached the final of the Under-19 event by beating Dynamo Kyiv, Porto, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Valencia, Ajax and Anderlecht.
It is clear that Chelsea have some of the best teenage footballers in Europe among their ranks, but do they have a successful youth system, or is their procedure failing them?
Judging by the lack of homegrown talent that has made a splash at first-team level for Chelsea in the past decade, it seems clear that the club are not making the most of their many wonderkids.
Dominic Solanke took this competition by storm last season, ending up as topscorer with 12 strikes. This season, Solanke has been loaned out to Chelsea’s Dutch feeder club, Vitesse.
Solanke is still only 18, so it is perhaps too soon to complain about his lack of first-team opportunities at Chelsea – his only senior Blues appearance to date was a 20-minute cameo in a 6-0 win over NK Maribor in October 2014.
However, his temporary move to Vitesse seems ominous. He is one of five Blues youngsters currently on loan at the Eredivisie outfit, along with Lewis Baker, Isaiah Brown, Nathan and Danilo Pantic.
Last season, Josh McEachran, Wallace and Bertrand Traore were sent to Vitesse. McEachran has since been offloaded to Brentford, Wallace is now on loan at Gremio, while Traore has played 13 times for Chelsea this season, rewarding the faith with four goals.
Frustratingly, Traore is the exception – an anomaly among a long list of Chelsea starlets who have been shipped out to Holland as a job lot and disappeared off the radar.
Patrick van Aanholt, Cristian Cuevas, Lucas Piazon, Christian Atsu, Tomas Kalas, Gael Kakuta, Ulises Davila, Slobodan Rajkovic. All these players have been sent to Vitesse to rot. And that’s not even mentioning the players who have been sent to other locations on equally futile loan missions. This season alone, Chelsea have sanctioned 33 loan departures.
‘Sometimes these deals work’, you say? ‘After all, Nemanja Matic spent the 2010-11 season on loan at Vitesse and he’s turned out alright.’
Matic has indeed developed into a top-class midfielder, but the scary truth is that he had to leave Chelsea and make his name at another big club – Benfica – before the Blues bigwigs sat up and took notice, eventually buying him back for much more than what they sold him for.
Midfielder Matic earned rave reviews at Vitesse, but evidently excelling in the Dutch league doesn’t convince Chelsea’s decision-makers that a player is right or ready to be given a go in England’s top tier.
So what’s the point?
In fairness, things have changed in recent months. Relieved of pressure as a result of his side’s mid-table obscurity, Guus Hiddink has been able to give significant first-team exposure to the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Kenedy and Traore.
Let’s just hope that policy continues – and expands – next season, because Antonio Conte and Roman Abramovich would be foolish to ignore the young talent that – after being crowned back-to-back champions of Europe – is staring them right in the face.