There is something special about giving your one of own a chance. No matter all the cash being splashed about in football’s modern era, a homegrown young player breaking through will always mean much more to the diehard supporter.
This season has seen plenty of academy graduates being given opportunities to shine. At Chelsea, manager Frank Lampard has been forced into calling on the youthful talent at his disposal due to the club’s transfer ban.
The Lampard effect
For many years, Chelsea have had a reputation for nurturing and developing young players who then never got the chance to become established in their first team squad.
Until recently, the last one to actually do so was John Terry. Back in 2017, the Blues skipper said: “We’ve got so many [talented young players] at Chelsea who are ready. Monaco have a couple and everybody’s saying how good they are – believe me, we’ve got better players at Chelsea.”
Finally, Chelsea have given those youngsters a chance, and to good effect. The team currently sit in fifth place in the Premier League, two points off last season’s winners Manchester City. In many instances when the London club have struggled, it’s been the older, wiser heads that have been the problem.
When Chelsea lost two games on the bounce at home to Valencia and then Liverpool, Lampard locked his players in the dressing room and blasted his experienced players. He later said: “Without a doubt, there’s a responsibility on senior players to set the tone. The young players will look up to them and follow their lead, hopefully in the right way.”
Someone believed in them and thought ‘let’s give them a chance, what have we got to lose?’
During this campaign, Lampard has integrated six former academy players, including three who had limited game time last season under former boss Maurizio Sarri – Andreas Christensen, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Already this season the Blues legend has given debuts to Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Reece James and Fikayo Tomori with Christensen and Hudson-Odoi also featuring, with a combined total of 3,370 minutes.
Another reason Lampard should be proud is that since he took over, three of those players have been called up by their national teams.
It might be too early to say that a majority of the young prospects who have come through at the Bridge this season are future stars of the international game, but they have made a real impact. Abraham has repaid Lampard’s trust by scoring nine times in 11 games for Chelsea.
Ole’s youthful plan
There is, however, a contrasting situation at Manchester United, where Ole Gunnar Solskjær has, like Lampard but for different reasons, had to lean on academy-produced talent in the early months of the season.
There has been widespread criticism of a transfer policy which is perceived to have left a lack of leadership and experience at Old Trafford, especially in the front line after Romleu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez were shipped to Italy.
This doesn’t meaning the younger players are failing, although they have so far been off the standards that United set themselves, having gone into the international break sitting 12th in the table. The youngsters have done pretty well, but their lack of experience, combined with some ineffectual displays from established stars, is hindering hopes of a Solskjær-led revival.
Playing consistently from the age of 19-22 really does put you above the rest
Before playing Leicester City, who United beat 1-0 courtesy of academy graduate Marcus Rashford scoring from the spot, Solskjær echoed the club’s message to the younger members of the league’s second-youngest squad:
“It’s a good test, it’s a great test and a great challenge for our players who want to push on. A few players are out, so the others can step up. Here’s your chance. That’s the thing here. The young kids do get chances and when they take them, it can be life-changing.”
That being said, the likes of Daniel James, who joined from Swansea City for £15m in the summer, have dovetailed nicely with Rashford, who has already played 180 times despite only turning 22 at the end of the month.
Even though there has been very little to celebrate so far this season, Red Devils supporters can at least feel happier seeing Axel Tuanzebe and Mason Greenwood turning out impressive performances despite this being what is perceived as one of the worst United sides in 20 years.
The overall benefit
For Rashford, this sort of exposure has seen him be ever-present in England manager Gareth Southgate’s plans and play at the World Cup, European Championship and in the semi-finals of the Uefa Nations League.
Ultimately, if young players are given the chance, alongside more experienced ones, to play week in week out, it really does make a difference. Playing consistently from the age of 19-22 really does put you above the rest.
With Lampard’s project in full swing, it would be a real shame – when they transfer ban ends – if Chelsea were to undo all of the hard work he has by reverting to a policy of big money signings. They have shown that using younger players alongside an experienced core can make them competitive.
Southgate must be delighted as many of the newer faces at Chelsea are English and fit his current desire for young talent ready to prove a point.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter what happens in the league if you give youth a chance. In this high pressure and constantly demanding game, diamonds will appear from the rough of indifferent form and become players to lead their teams forward in years to come.
At Chelsea it’s almost puzzling to understand why it has taken so long for a project so ambitious but forward-thinking to come to the fore. A look at that Blues squad confirms there are many young players who will potentially star at the highest level for a decade or more, and all because someone believed in them and thought ‘let’s give them a chance, what have we got to lose?’.
Feature image of Stamford Bridge courtesy of Ungry Young Man via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY 2.0