Chelsea Denying Themselves Best Asset: Why Fed-up Kids Could Rescue Blues

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COMMENT: Kevin de Bruyne isn't the problem at Chelsea. Sure, it's embarrassing. There's now egg on the faces of those responsible at Cobham as he leads Manchester City into a Champions League semifinal.
But the Belgian isn't the problem. His split from Blues ranks won't cut as deep as what looms on the horizon.
Michael Emenalo was flailing last week. De Bruyne's form and City's win at Stamford Bridge had Chelsea's football director scrambling, defending the loan system he had put in place and the club's development structure. But this is all cosmetic. The De Bruyne 'fiasco', as its been portrayed, is a sideshow.
For, while Emenalo words were being poured over by the media, potentially bigger stories around Chelsea's academy were breaking. Ola Aina had formally rejected terms and would be walking out on the club in June. Dominic Solanke was hesitating on committing to a new agreement and could also be moving on. And Domingos Quina had gone a step further. He had quit Chelsea, agreeing to sign with West Ham United ahead of Arsenal and Liverpool.
Aina has been with Chelsea since the U11s. Solanke since he was seven years of age. They're Chelsea through-and-through. For all the talk of where Chelsea will find leaders and develop a locker room culture, it's actually sitting under their nose.
The academy should be the source of Chelsea's culture. Joe Edwards took an all-England qualified team to Manchester City for the first-leg of the FA Youth Cup final last week. The talent inside Chelsea's youth system is local. They're Chelsea fans. They know the club. They live and breathe it. Think the Class of '92 at Manchester United - but on steroids. There's wave after wave of 'em. But they're hitting a brick wall.
In Holland, they know a thing or two about launching great careers. Romario and Ronaldo both kicked off their European success at PSV Eindhoven. Solanke is treading a similar path at Vitesse Arnhem. Such has been his form that local pundits, usually so cynical, are likening the London lad to Ronaldo.
And Lewis Baker has taken the adulation a step further, with coaches effusive over the strength of his game on both sides of the body. Dutch experts gushing over the technical quality of a young English player? Are you kiddin'? This is unheard of. But it's happening and like Solanke, Baker also is a product of Chelsea's coaching system going right back to junior teams.
The players are local. They're good enough. Solanke won't be short of offers should he choose to walk out. Aina will turn 20 this year and knows he should be playing first team football. He will have his pick of clubs when his deal expires in June. Their first choice is to stay. But where is the evidence they'll get a first team chance? Indeed, where's the evidence that even after proving themselves away on-loan, a first team opening at Chelsea will be granted?
The only success from Emenalo's loan system thus far is Thibaut Courtois. Yet, before arriving after three years away with Atletico Madrid, he'd never played for the club. Is it any wonder that at the first sign of trouble he talks up the prospect of moving on?
You could understand if Chelsea were challenging for titles, but this season they're a flagging mid-table club.
How certain can Andreas Christensen be that a place at Chelsea awaits after two seasons away with Borussia Monchengladbach? Or Mario Pasalic at AS Monaco? While their parent club has collapsed, both players have shone in European competition this term. Good enough for the biggest stage, but no guarantee of a spot in a middling Premier League team?
Aina and Solanke could be just the tip of the iceberg. Matt Miazga's arrival from the US sparked some distress amongst the Blues academy. Both Kasey Palmer and Josi Quintero hinted at dissension on Twitter as they came out in support of teammate Jake Clarke-Salter - like the American, a centre-half.
It's notable that during last week's rebuttal, Emenalo discussed the defensive talent on Chelsea's books, name-checking Clarke-Salter, Andres Christensen and the Canadian-born, England-qualified Fikayo Tomori. Miazga failed to get a mention.
Christensen's situation is particularly baffling. Having been with the club since 16, this has been his first season of senior football - and he has thrived. But not with Chelsea. Instead, with Gladbach, both in the Bundesliga and the Champions League.
The move to Gladbach was a vote of no confidence for the Dane. How could you suggest otherwise? While he was being palmed off, Emenalo was signing Michael Hector from Reading and Papy Djilobodji from Nantes during that infamous deadline day last summer. That Christensen is now reluctant to publicly discuss a Chelsea return shouldn't be a surprise.
What does Chelsea want out of their academy? It could be the club's greatest strength. Greater than even Roman Abramovich's chequebook. But the suspicion is that for all the public leaks about the owner wanting to see more youngsters come through and Jose Mourinho's reluctance to adhere to the board's wishes, it's actually Abramovich who is muddying the issue.
It was Guus Hiddink, after a week in the job, who dragged Abramovich to some youth and U21 games. Not vice-versa. The story goes, Hiddink was amazed by the talent below the first team and wanted Abramovich to realise what was lying in wait for an opportunity.
They're local. They're good enough. And they're loyal. Chelsea don't need go shopping to build a culture in the post-Terry era. It's now about convincing these kids, these local, Chelsea kids, that they can build a career from home.
Don't blame the manager. That's too easy. The directive needs to come from above. Last week, Emenalo attempted to poke holes in Tottenham's celebrated youth policy - and failed miserably.
Player-for-player, Mauricio Pochettino's squad really isn't so superior to Chelsea's. Where the difference is clear is the spirit inside the locker room and the connection with fans. You can't buy that. It needs to be developed and encouraged.
Chelsea have the development part well mapped out. But the encouragement? That's where things must change with Antonio Conte. Chelsea's greatest asset could be their academy production line, but Abramovich must recognise that in 2016, winning the Premier League will take more than just his chequebook.
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