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King Kante

Youth Team Production

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Just read that of the last 21 players to make their debut for England, 9 of the players have been from the Chelsea academy and of those players all joined the club between the ages of 6-10 years old: 

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2019/11/18/new-boy-fikayo-tomori-proud-emerge-chelseas-crazy-talent-factory/amp/

Now what is so unusual about this is the age of the boys when they joined. Both Barca and Utd when they had their great youth teams break through got a number of their players when they were in their teens which means that a lot of their development happened at other places. 

Hence, the purpose of this post is to both outline how outragous this is but to also ask the questions of how do posters think this has happened? And do people expect it to continue? 

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Sciatika   

I sometimes wonder whether this happens as a consequence of the competition between players. It is like there is a critical mass of talent that creates a chain reaction that accelerates the development of all the players involved in it. I think the Barca and United ones were the same albeit a little older. Of course, it is hard to say that this has something to do with joining at an early age. After all, it happens in adulthood too. However, it seems more exceptional in teenage. Maybe there is some physiological or psychological reason it happens or maybe, because it is rare, we notice it more.

I think it will continue provided the club is able to (and wants to) keep priming the pumps. Of course, the club has to consider whether it is cost-effective. However, it may not be in their hands. Increasing competition for the best young players will dilute the talent available in a single academy.

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I tried to bring this topic up on the reserve/youth thread - it is interesting.
How did it happen?
Taking on players at 6, 7 or 8 was not new when Arnesen did it with us, but I think as a suddenly famous club we put a big budget into it and got the best young players with the most ambitious parents from all over the south for a brief while.  I suspect previously it had mostly been a local PR thing for clubs.  Other clubs only matched us on budget and effort a few years later.

2 theories
I suggest that Either:  Identifying talent very early is the key factor.  We got a head start and Arsenal and other clubs will catch up soon. 

or:  Coaching players well at a very early age is the key factor, but again other clubs will catch up.  

What next?
Both theories explain why we have a sudden burst of truly great players but had nothing much before.  Either way, I don't think our current lead lasts long.  I note we did not win last years U16 cup. 
The test of the 2 theories is not the success of Us relative to Arsenal/Liverpool/Man U etc in producing the next great players.  The test is whether multiple club top coaching at 6-10 produces a vastly superior England team over other countries in next few years or whether it was just a brief funnelling of talent through Cobham.

I'd be curious to hear from anyone who knows a lot about how youth training goes on.  I have the impression that once upon a time, a 13 year old might play a bit for his school, a bit for his county, Sunday football at some amateur/youth club, the occasional England squad and from time to time train at a Professional club.  Whereas now much more of it is concentrated at one pro club.  But that is just my guess - anyone able to tell us more? 

Quote

Chelsea's Class of 2008 - Where Are They Now?  (click for details of these 15)

 The Chelsea Academy eight-year-olds in 2008

The Chelsea Academy eight-year-olds in 2008

 

On 9/27/2019 at 4:03 PM, Droy was my hero said:
On 9/27/2019 at 3:20 PM, LeBoeufsGolfBall said:

^ After all these years of being dismissive of our youth players......don’t tell me you are getting all starry eyed about them now 😃

The current kids are certainly a lot better than anyone we have had before (Christensen I discount as he came in at 16).  So yes I have been dismissive of some of the kids others have raved about - Josh McEachran is a good example.  Though my only doubts about Tammy have been when, not if.  Generally I think of all the kids as individual lottery tickets not certainties.

It is funny, I spent all those years moaning about what a waste of effort Frank Arnesen was and it turns out that the only smart thing he ever did was to beef up training for Under 8 year olds. I know U-8 training existed before FA, but it seems to me that Chelsea really boosted it to a much higher level and others caught up later.

This was probably the only thing he got right, and we have had to wait until Tammy for a real player to come though.  Hudson Odoi was 6 when he started at Chelsea.  James is there in the U-8s.  Guehi too.  Mason Mount was 6.

(strange fact - no player who started at Chelsea between 9 & 15 has broken through)

.......

Training or early selection of best talent?

.........

Edited by Droy was my hero

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chara   

Interesting posts and viewpoints....crossed my mind a short while back that the "kids" all have a very high skill range on the ball and seems to me that coaching at 8 must be responsible..or at a young age...instilled over a long period..of course the basic talent had to be there but ball control or whatever it's called now seems very ingrained.

I used to watch the "juniors" on a Saturday morning at the old Welsh Harp ground and it was still organised afterall Doc's diamonds were from the youth setup...the modern setup is way ahead but the talent still has to be there,,and the desire....and has to be spotted early....is there still a "local" requirement..in a radius etc for signing?

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Juni   

There isn't a requirement; as a Category One academy, Chelsea (and 23 other clubs) have the freedom of the UK to recruit into. The majority of their work is still done locally though, in London and the South East, which typically means they try to dominate all of the boroughs south of the Thames as well as Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire. Part of that is achieved by having Development Centres stationed around these areas - they have more than a dozen of them now I think, and there's some background on how they work here: https://www.chelseafc.com/en/news/2016/01/21/the-young-generation--centring-on-development.

They're a necessity because pre-academy recruitment is a real arms race now; you can't formally sign anyone until the U9 age group, so families are free to take their boys to as many clubs as they want to before settling on a two-year contract with one of them. If you get them early and get them feeling a part of Chelsea, the hard work is done, but there also has to be high-quality coaching done in these development centres, and it's where a lot of the coaching staff started out as well (even going back as far as Neil Bath in the mid-90s when the equivalents were running in South London). If you've got good coaching and good recruitment, you've put yourself in a good position to succeed, but the old adage that you can never be sure of anything in youth football still rings true (a coach at a rival club once described it to me as 'Talent Identifiction'), so all you can do is put best practices into place, build a sustainable culture, and see what happens. The finer details of exactly what they coach likely don't matter as much - how many ways can you skin a cat etc - but the mentality they instil and develop matters a whole lot more to me.

Chelsea have definitely done that better than anyone else for the last decade; yes, there's been some money involved - there has to be if you want to have a large and diverse staff who you want to develop alongside the players - but show me an equivalent club where that isn't the case. Bath's latest with the official website this week (https://www.chelseafc.com/en/news/2019/11/19/neil-bath-exclusive---when-you-ve-known-the-players-since-they-w) is also instructive (when he speaks, we have to listen) in term of how they go about sustaining such high quality.

Most clubs will always look for the same sort of traits; in Chelsea's case they want someone who has an obvious comfort with the ball (ideally on both feet), shows a personality on the pitch, and has some sort of definable athletic ability. When you're going in as young as that, you're literally looking for raw material you can mould. It's genuinely staggering that they producued four senior internationals from one U8 intake in the mid 2000s (Solanke, Abraham, Tomori, Chris Mepham) and continue to be as prolific in a wide range of ways of defining production.

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chara   

Thank you Juni..as ever such a depth of information and relevant views.

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3 hours ago, Juni said:

It's genuinely staggering that they producued four senior internationals from one U8 intake in the mid 2000s (Solanke, Abraham, Tomori, Chris Mepham) and continue to be as prolific in a wide range of ways of defining production.

It's a great post and answered a lot of my questions.
I'm curious though:

  • Why is it that no player has ever broken through at Chelsea who arrived aged 9-15?
  • Christensen, Tomori, Mount, Tammy are the only players to my mind who have really made an impression on the first team since Huth.  Hopefully CHO and James and even RLC to follow.  Is that really a fluke and a credit to the U9 coaching?  Or was there something seriously wrong with player development prior to last 3 or 4 years?
  • Does high level coaching at U10 really make a difference or are we just experience the bonus of having been the first to aggressively chase young talent 13 or so years ago?
  • And either way does our current lead over rivals disappear soon?

I'm also remembering that there used to be clubs like Senrab where JT and a bunch of other future stars (and Ray Wilkins) started playing football before joining clubs.  Have these clubs been replaced by professional clubs nowadays, or do kids play at both and schools at same time?

Edited by Droy was my hero

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chara   

I think timing is everything...no ban maybe longer loans for the "kids" and a fade into lower leagues...past is littered with talented kids who faded for the lack of opportunity.

Granted we have a group who have been ably nursed through the system ..as was Courtios....and due to circumstances are thriving ..a combination of talent luck and shrewd judgement.

I await with interest answers to Droys questions.

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Juni   

Up to the age of 14 they'll play for their schools and county representative teams, but it's at that age that Cat 1 clubs are permitted to take charge of a player's education themselves, and Chelsea have been slowly increasing the numbers they have on-site full-time. There are maybe between 15-20 across Years 9, 10 and 11 at Chelsea right now, so those boys are in every day, but the rest of their teammates are at normal schools, doing day-release programmes, and still playing for school and county sides where allowed. It definitely tapers off the older they get though.

Why has nobody who arrived between 9 and 15 'made it'? I think it's a bit of a freak circumstance tbh; (Nathaniel) Chalobah arrived at 10 and could easily have done had the club not wasted £70m on Drinkwater and Bakayoko, Ola Aina probably could have too, and there are doubtless others you can make a case for. Naturally, you'd argue that the longer you're in an elite system, the better your chance of developing to a high level of talent is, so while it might only be a year or two at a formative age, the foundations laid early on could be argued to produce significantly better results, especially as the academy itself grows stronger and stronger each year. I think the youth coaching (in an all-round sense, especially the mentality) has to make a difference, otherwise you'd ask what the point of trying is, and instead go down a Brentford route of just signing 17-21yos (something nobody has proven to make work yet).

I'm also drawn to the fact that the bulk of academy recruitment per age group is done at U9 and U16 levels, and they touch it up in between. You bring in a full set of players at the youngest age and decide whether to keep or release them every two years. If you're releasing a majority of any one intake then you're already sort of resigning yourself to the suggestion that group isn't going to be a particularly successful one, and recruiting from elsewhere is harder (you're taking everyone else's released players, or poaching their better ones (harder to do en masse), or relying on grass roots (quite hard)). At U16 level you can legally then recruit from across Europe, opening the door to a much larger talent pool.

I don't think anyone at the club will pretend they've not made mistakes either. That's part of the day-to-day work; to discover why players haven't developed as well as initially hoped, work out where those originate from, and try to implement fixes. There's been a move toward younger coaches (younger staff all-round really) over the last few years that I think is to ensure people are seeing the game as it's played in 2019, not how it used to be played, and little things like that can have a big impact (both ways; if you get it wrong, you've wasted your time).

Does our advantage disappear soon? I don't think so, and I think it all comes back to Neil Bath. I don't mistake stability for staleness, because change is often good, but in Neil you have someone who's been at Chelsea for 25 years and in his current job for 15. No other Academy Manager in the PL/Cat 2 has been in charge for anywhere near as long, and I genuinely believe it's his ability to move with the times, raise the bar and be at the forefront of youth development in this country that keeps Chelsea ahead. The academy now isn't the same as it was in 2017, nor the same as it was in 2012 or 2005. Everyone else has chopped and changed at the very top trying to take a shortcut or to catch up and, while that's admirable, it means you end up with a rather itinerant youth development policy that might last no more than two to three years before someone else comes in to influence it.

For as long as Chelsea give the academy full autonomy to operate as it sees fit, Chelsea will be one of the country's leading youth systems. I know it's quite easy to say that now because it's become ultra-productive, but those of you who've been around here long enough know I've said it for a while with full conviction, and I genuinely believe there have been talents wasted by the club because they didn't employ a manager who cared enough to use them. We now have one, and long may that last.

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4 minutes ago, Juni said:

Up to the age of 14 they'll play for their schools and county representative teams, but it's at that age that Cat 1 clubs are permitted to take charge of a player's education themselves, and Chelsea have been slowly increasing the numbers they have on-site full-time. There are maybe between 15-20 across Years 9, 10 and 11 at Chelsea right now, so those boys are in every day, but the rest of their teammates are at normal schools, doing day-release programmes, and still playing for school and county sides where allowed. It definitely tapers off the older they get though.

Why has nobody who arrived between 9 and 15 'made it'? I think it's a bit of a freak circumstance tbh; (Nathaniel) Chalobah arrived at 10 and could easily have done had the club not wasted £70m on Drinkwater and Bakayoko, Ola Aina probably could have too, and there are doubtless others you can make a case for. Naturally, you'd argue that the longer you're in an elite system, the better your chance of developing to a high level of talent is, so while it might only be a year or two at a formative age, the foundations laid early on could be argued to produce significantly better results, especially as the academy itself grows stronger and stronger each year. I think the youth coaching (in an all-round sense, especially the mentality) has to make a difference, otherwise you'd ask what the point of trying is, and instead go down a Brentford route of just signing 17-21yos (something nobody has proven to make work yet).

I'm also drawn to the fact that the bulk of academy recruitment per age group is done at U9 and U16 levels, and they touch it up in between. You bring in a full set of players at the youngest age and decide whether to keep or release them every two years. If you're releasing a majority of any one intake then you're already sort of resigning yourself to the suggestion that group isn't going to be a particularly successful one, and recruiting from elsewhere is harder (you're taking everyone else's released players, or poaching their better ones (harder to do en masse), or relying on grass roots (quite hard)). At U16 level you can legally then recruit from across Europe, opening the door to a much larger talent pool.

I don't think anyone at the club will pretend they've not made mistakes either. That's part of the day-to-day work; to discover why players haven't developed as well as initially hoped, work out where those originate from, and try to implement fixes. There's been a move toward younger coaches (younger staff all-round really) over the last few years that I think is to ensure people are seeing the game as it's played in 2019, not how it used to be played, and little things like that can have a big impact (both ways; if you get it wrong, you've wasted your time).

Does our advantage disappear soon? I don't think so, and I think it all comes back to Neil Bath. I don't mistake stability for staleness, because change is often good, but in Neil you have someone who's been at Chelsea for 25 years and in his current job for 15. No other Academy Manager in the PL/Cat 2 has been in charge for anywhere near as long, and I genuinely believe it's his ability to move with the times, raise the bar and be at the forefront of youth development in this country that keeps Chelsea ahead. The academy now isn't the same as it was in 2017, nor the same as it was in 2012 or 2005. Everyone else has chopped and changed at the very top trying to take a shortcut or to catch up and, while that's admirable, it means you end up with a rather itinerant youth development policy that might last no more than two to three years before someone else comes in to influence it.

For as long as Chelsea give the academy full autonomy to operate as it sees fit, Chelsea will be one of the country's leading youth systems. I know it's quite easy to say that now because it's become ultra-productive, but those of you who've been around here long enough know I've said it for a while with full conviction, and I genuinely believe there have been talents wasted by the club because they didn't employ a manager who cared enough to use them. We now have one, and long may that last.

Yes, yes and YES! Spot on with other players we have had. I have had this argument with many. This current crop are very good, but we have had others who just didn’t get the opportunity, for a number of reasons.

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