Chelsea’s approach to youth development and the denigration of Jamie Vardy’s Premier League record feature in Mark Holmes’ weekend review.
CHELSEA MISSING A TRICK WITH YOUNG STARS
Chelsea’s technical director Michael Emenalo gave an interview with the Sunday Telegraph in which he discussed the possibility of one of the club’s Academy players finally breaking into Jose Mourinho’s first team.
“No freebies” was Emenalo’s summary of Chelsea’s approach to blooding young players. They will not give chances to anyone unless certain they are better than a player already in possession of a shirt.
With justifiable concerns about the usefulness of the Under-21 league in preparing youngsters for the rigours of first-team football, Chelsea have therefore committed to sending as many as possible of their promising starlets out on loan – the Premier League champions currently have 33 players plying their trade elsewhere.
Referring to 18-year-old Dominic Solanke, who is on loan at Vitesse Arnhem, Emenalo said: “Do you leave him here to play another year of Under-21s when he is clearly too good for it? Do you have him train with the first team and get minimal minutes?
“Do you send him to a Championship team and have him deal with balls in the air? With 35-year-olds much stronger than him in a system that does not suit the cerebral type of player we want here?
“Or do you send him to a place you know he will get minutes and will be educated the right way?”
Emenalo said of another 18-year-old, Tammy Abraham: “Should I keep him back next season just so you guys don’t criticise us for having 35 players on loan or should I allow Tammy to go somewhere and develop?
Emenalo has a point. It might keep the press off their backs, but would Chelsea really be doing their young players a favour in retaining them for under-age football or for the odd cup appearance as a substitute?
Take Ruben Loftus-Cheek for an example. Mourinho said in the summer that he would not loan out the midfielder because “the best way for him to improve is to be working with us every day”, but the 19-year-old has started only one Premier League game so far this season – and was withdrawn at half-time. It’s hard not to believe he might have developed more playing regularly elsewhere.
Either way, there is a big flaw in Chelsea’s policy.
Clearly, they look at their young players out on loan in the same way as they would a potential signing, i.e. ‘is this player good enough for our first team?’ It might sound like a sensible policy, but sooner or later Chelsea will surely have to consider the possibility that they could actually bring through players of the quality of John Stones without having to spend in excess of £40million to sign them from elsewhere.
Kevin De Bruyne is the obvious example of a player who could have saved them a lot of money had they afforded him more first-team opportunities, while Romelu Lukaku might have made a huge difference to the Blues this season had they not been quite so keen to cash in on the Belgium while still raw. Then there is Nemanja Matic, who they sold only to buy back after he had gained experience playing for Benfica.
Mourinho said when he returned to Stamford Bridge that he wanted to develop young players and give Chelsea a true identity, but neither he nor Emenalo provide much hope that the club will not continue to rue ‘ones that got away’ in the years to come.
VARDY RECORD UNFAIRLY DENIGRATED
With Jamie Vardy on Saturday equalling Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record of scoring in 10 straight Premier League games, journalists have been rushing to point out that football did in fact exist prior to 1992 and that the record of scoring in consecutive top-flight games remains unparalleled for now.
Normally I would welcome such reminders, but the cynic in me wonders why so many journalists have jumped on the bandwagon regarding this particular record.
Martin Samuel, for example, wrote a lengthy article before Vardy’s goal at Newcastle about Jimmy Dunne’s all-time record and was keen to point out again on Sunday Supplement that the Leicester City striker had not equalled the ‘real’ record.
Yet, when the conversation turned to Everton, Samuel did not feel the need to argue against Romelu Lukaku’s achievement in becoming only the fifth player to score 50 Premier League goals before the age of 23.
On the Daily Telegraph’s website, meanwhile, on the Everton page, directly above an article entitled, ‘Jamie Vardy seeks Premier League history – but what is the all-time record he should really be chasing?’ is the report of the Toffees’ 4-0 win over Aston Villa which mentions Lukaku as ‘joining an elite group’ following his brace in the game.
It does not take much searching to further highlight the hypocrisy. Rightly or wrongly, ‘Premier League records’ are written and spoken about every weekend, yet only now regarding this Vardy record are high-profile journalists seeking to remind everyone of football prior to 1992.
Nobody can say whether there would have been the same downplaying of the achievement were it, say, Daniel Sturridge or Wayne Rooney equalling Van Nistelrooy’s record, but Vardy’s run is an incredible feat regardless of what parameters you care to set and does not deserve the denigration it has received over the past seven days.
LEICESTER CITY NOT TOP-SIX CONTENDERS
Sticking with Leicester City, there is no need to patronise Claudio Ranieri’s side in discussing them as title or even top-four contenders.
After 13 games, it can certainly cannot be described as a fluke that they sit atop the Premier League – and the Foxes will for a few weeks at least be included in every poll about England’s likely Champions League representatives.
However, while they deserve all the praise they get for an exceptional start to the season, there needs to be realism about what the East Midlands side can achieve ahead of an extremely difficult run of games.
Leicester have so far played only four of last season’s top nine and in those games have picked up only three draws, against Tottenham, Southampton and Stoke City. In their one game to date against one of last season’s top four, they were beaten 5-2 by Arsenal.
That is not meant to take anything away from what they have achieved so far but rather to temper expectations ahead of fixtures against Manchester United, Swansea City, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool and Manchester City before the end of the year.
There is nothing to say, of course, that the Foxes cannot take points from a good number of those six games, but any claims of a burst bubble should their momentum be halted can be ignored. Irrespective of what happens between now and the New Year, Leicester have already proven themselves as challengers for the ‘best of the rest’ eighth place – and are currently seven points clear in the race.