One thing that Chelsea and all the usual top 6 clubs get criticised for is not affording younger players from their respective academies opportunities in the first team. It’s all very well rotating the side of the early rounds of the League Cup, where if you get knocked out, no one is really that disappointed. But, unless injuries make it a necessity, the top clubs are not regularly bringing players from their academy into the first team.
The last academy graduate who went on to have a meaningful career at Chelsea was of course John Terry. He made his first team debut in 1998. I was two at the time. No one else has emerged to nail down a starting place. Manchester United had the Class of ’92 and Marcus Rashford more recently but they are rarities now. Who was the last Arsenal academy graduate to nail down regular football at the club? Probably Cesc Fabregas and he started his early football education at Barcelona. Same with Manchester City. Harry Kane and Harry Winks are the headliners for Tottenham’s academy. Liverpool have Trent Alexander-Arnold coming through and making the right-back starting berth his own, but for the top six that is it.
But now, Chelsea have two players who I think should really be getting more of a look in. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi. Both are academy produced players. who have been on the club books since they were eight. Ruben Loftus-Cheek especially is at the age where he needs to be playing regularly in the first team and he’s been making an extremely strong case to be given more first team football in the Premier League. He’s been a standout performer in the Europa League side, scoring a hattrick at home to BATE Borisov, and has impressed when he has come on in the Premier League. He now has two goals in two games after last night’s 2-1 defeat to Wolves. For me, he has earned a place in the starting line-up for Saturday’s game with Manchester City. He is far more direct than someone like Mateo Kovacic, is able to drive at defences, is very difficult to knock off the ball and knows where the goal is. He is a serious talent in my eyes.
Callum Hudson-Odoi is a different matter. For one, he’s only just turned 18, whereas Loftus-Cheek is 22 and has that much more experience and maturity that goes with it. But Hudson-Odoi was without a doubt Chelsea’s best player in pre-season, even impressing against a nearly full-strength Arsenal defence where he gave Hector Bellerin a torrid time down the Chelsea left. And given how poor Willian has been in recent games, having an extra player available in the wide positions without having to go into the transfer market could be incredibly beneficial to Maurizio Sarri going forward. Not to mention the fact that young players are far more willing to move abroad early if they think it will benefit their development as a player. Jaden Sancho is the main example of this and he is now a regular in Borussia Dortmund starting line-up and had made his full England debut before turning 20. If Callum Hudson-Odoi decides to move away from Chelsea for more first team opportunities, we may have just let a major talent slip through our fingers.
In the end, it’s all a matter of timing. For Ruben Loftus-Cheek, I would say show some faith in a very talented young Englishman, from our own academy, and play him from the start against Manchester City on Saturday. Callum Hudson-Odoi represents a slightly trickier problem. It may not be wise to throw a teenager in at the deep end and start him in the Premier League, but if the other first team players aren’t performing, why not give a chance to someone who didn’t cost an arm and leg to get and may be just as good?