There appeared to be a turning of the tide at the famed Chelsea academy this summer as some of its highly-rated prospects decided to turn their back on Cobham and head elsewhere.
The Blues youth setup is the envy of many clubs around the world with a huge hit rate when it comes to producing stars.
Chelsea have won seven of the last 12 FA Youth Cups and is widely regarded as one of the best football breeding grounds on the planet but it has also come in for criticism for stockpiling the best youngsters who don’t have a realistic chance of playing for the Chelsea first team.
With a transfer ban in place and Frank Lampard at the helm, Blues academy graduates got their chance to make their breakthroughs. Mason Mount, Reece James, Fikayo Tomori, Billy Gilmour and Tammy Abraham were all handed roles in the senior side, while Callum Hudson-Odoi also stuck around having enjoyed his breakthrough under Maurizio Sarri.
The departure of Lampard in January and the arrival of Thomas Tuchel raised questions over whether those graduates – and those coming through – would be given a chance. Lampard splashed out £220million on new talent after the ban was lifted, while Tuchel spent £97.5m on Romelu Lukaku this summer.
Competition for places in the Blues first team is extremely high. That is arguably one of the major reasons Tino Livramento, who was named the Blues academy player of the year last season, opted to leave this summer.
With Reece James, Cesar Azpilicueta and Hudson-Odoi all preferred options at right wing-back by Tuchel, plus Dujon Sterling signing a new contract before heading on loan, Livramento went to Southampton in a £5m deal.
Livramento was very highly-rated and Tuchel revealed before the win over Southampton, which Livramento started for the visitors, that he wanted to keep the defender at the club but was powerless to do so with Livramento’s contract situation.
The Blues did at least cover themselves with a buy-back option if Livramento progressed as much as they expected him to do, believed to be £25m.
The defender wasn’t the only young Blues star to follow the example first set by Tariq Lamptey, who left west London to head to Brighton in January 2020.
Lewis Bate, Myles Peart-Harris, Pierre Ekwah, Marc Guehi and Fikayo Tomori all sealed moves away from the club this summer. Guehi’s switch to Crystal Palace for £18m was perhaps the biggest surprise of the lot.
After 18 months on loan at Swansea City, many had put Guehi in the frame for a regular spot with the Blues this season and he has been named England U21s captain to boot.
Palace have had an up and down start to the campaign but Guehi has been a first choice at centre-back, forming a partnership with Joachim Andersen for Patrick Vieira’s improving side.
Tomori’s move to AC Milan was more expected after a successful six-month stay at the San Siro last season.
The move didn’t include a buyback and the Blues might be regretting that already, with Tomori having earned a recall to the England squad for the World Cup qualifiers this month and earning rave reviews in Italy.
Bate moved to Leeds United for a fee believed to be around £1.5m as he saw a pathway to the first team more likely at Elland Road than at Stamford Bridge. No doubt, having to usurp the likes of N’Golo Kante and Jorginho among others would have been a tough task and that’s not taking into account those on loan such as Conor Gallagher at Crystal Palace and Gilmour at Norwich.
Bate has been playing exclusively with the Leeds U23s so far, starting every game for them so far this season.
Peart-Harris, 19, was at Chelsea for more than a decade before deciding to head to Brentford this summer for an undisclosed fee. The attacking midfielder wouldn’t have had as much competition as Bate for example, but still felt the grass was greener elsewhere.
Brentford boss Thomas Frank said of Peart-Harris’ capture: “We think there will be lots of areas where he will get better, particularly defensively, but he has some great attributes, and we believe we can maximise his potential.”
Livramento has been a star for Southampton so far, with the former Chelsea defender already forcing his way into the first team at St Mary’s under Ralph Hassenhuttl and has started all seven Premier League games so far for the winless Saints.
Another midfielder in Pierre Ekwah swapped west London for east this summer as he joined West Ham for an undisclosed fee, having spent a trial period on loan at the Hammers at the back end of last season.
He too has played exclusively for the under-23s so far but did feature in pre-season for David Moyes ahead of the new campaign.
But, there is reason perhaps to be positive for the youngsters that are at Cobham and for supporters who love to see academy graduates make the grade.
The aforementioned Sterling, Armando Broja and Levi Colwill have all committed their futures to Chelsea before heading out on loan while Gallagher is rapidly improving at Palace and will be pushing for Blues first-team honours next season.
It’s tough to break through at Chelsea from the youth ranks with the club’s financial might meaning they are able to go out and buy pretty much who they want, when they want.
While some of the youngsters have followed Lamptey’s lead and headed for pastures new, Chelsea still have some of the country’s brightest young stars on their books.