What next for Chelsea's fab five?
The end of this season signified the end of an era. Our captain, leader, legend leaves the club as the most decorated captain in the club’s history. He is also the last player to come through the youth ranks at Stamford Bridge and go on to be an established first team player in the Premier League era. That baton is eagerly waiting to be passed on, but are any of our brightest English academy graduates ready?
Step forward Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Lewis Baker, Tammy Abraham, Izzy Brown and Nathaniel Chalobah featuring at the Under-21 Championships next week, the pretenders to John Terry’s vacant crown. Initially, let us be very clear, this task is a monumental one if you look at the recent history of the Premier League, how many English players have turned up at 17/18, taken the Premier League by storm and remained a regular fixture in the side? One, Wayne Rooney, love him or hate him, in his pomp he was a generational talent. The path to the first team at an elite English European club like Chelsea is a twisting one, laden with pitfalls, but with the aforementioned cohort coming off successful seasons, could one of them rise to the challenge over the next few seasons? What next for our precocious fantastic five?
Coming off 10 appearances in 2016/17 (which would have been more but for a niggling injury at the end of the campaign) and earning himself a Premier League winners’ medal in the process, his future is at best murky. He has found himself in developmental purgatory, too valuable as a squad player for Conte to let go on loan and not yet established in the first team. There are also questions over where his natural position is, Conte appears to see him as a 10, whereas the received wisdom is that he is a silky box to box powerhouse. The truth at this stage is that he isn’t a Matic like destroyer, but with Kante alongside him, he could have the freedom to dominate games. He reminds me of Kolo Toure prior to his move to Barcelona, great, even mesmerising feet along with power, pace and an end product. What is next, I believe a one or two year loan in a top league be it the Premier or in Germany. I will go out on a limb and say over the next five years he will be the lynchpin of an athletic, technically gifted Chelsea midfield.
An academy graduate (pinched from Luton: Sorry Chris) who has benefitted from two years in Holland with Vitesse Arnhem, including being instrumental in Vitesse winning their first major trophy in their history. I will be very honest here, I watched him play years ago in a Champions League youth game against Juventus and he ran that game. He has vision, is an excellent athlete and is so two footed no one knows which one is his favoured one is. When you add to the fact that he is a dead ball expert and has spent two years in the first team in the top flight, he could be the most ready to stake a claim for a first team berth. If Fabregas is lured away for top dollar or stays for another year, both would benefit Baker. I see him as Fabregas’ understudy should he stay. It is time to welcome him back to the fold with a new contract, grateful open arms and a proper squad number!
With the departure of Dom Solanke to Liverpool and a stellar season at Bristol City under his belt, Tammy is pushing for a first team space. It is easy to see why, a bagful of goals in the Championship for the tall hitman and a threadbare striking department at the Bridge make it easy to connect the dots. However, this is an area which will see further heavy investment over the summer, any one or more of Lukaku (I have made my feelings on this very clear in a previous post), Morata, Belotti and Lacazette could be on their way in, and with Costa unable to go back to Madrid, the thin squad suddenly looks laden with talent. I believe that he can make it at Chelsea, but it is going to take a very impressive loan in the Premier League to convince Conte and the powers that be to be given the opportunity to be the man. My prediction is a loan to one of Newcastle/Huddersfield/Brighton. We will find out if he is the real deal or the next Patrick Bamford. With the likes of Ike Ugbo snapping at his heels he has no time to rest on his laurels.
He shone at first Rotherham and then Huddersfield, leading them up the mountain to the promised land. He has also probably the most difficult task when it comes to breaking through. Certainly not a wingback, he has the enviable task of displacing either Eden Hazard or Pedro/Willian in the side. This will take a huge amount of talent (which he has), hard work (which he certainly has done) patience (ummm) and luck (no idea). Chatting to a Huddersfield fan, he pointed out that he has played most of the year as a 10, which is a position at the moment that Conte very rarely uses. It could be that next season he could become something of a ‘special teams’ player being bought on as an extra central attacker in tight games. It is more likely however that he spends another season at Huddersfield in the top flight to see how he copes going up against Premier League defences.
This will be short and very sweet; I love Nate and would like to see him rewarded for his efforts with a bumper new contract. I do not know if he will become the first name on the team sheet, but he has proved this year he is a very able deputy in a number of positions, he can play either of the two central roles and deputise at centre-back if needed. He has grit and determination in spades and in my opinion his creativity is incredibly under-rated, case in point his sublime assist for Victor Moses on his league debut against Leicester. He is a modern footballer, a jack-of-all-trades that should at the very least ensure his place in the first team squad over the next few seasons.