People usually do not associate stories of successful youth academy players with Chelsea.
With the obvious exception of John Terry, the West Londoners have been infamous for their treatment of several young players emerging from the club’s academy. Instead of handing them first-team opportunities, the board has felt the option of loaning them out to clubs across the continent is more feasible and up to date with the ever-changing dynamic of the game. This practice has been widely condemned by the club’s supporters, pundits and even the shipped out youngsters, especially after the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku made a name for themselves elsewhere. Whether Antonio Conte sticks to the age-old tradition remains to be seen but it must be noted there will be repercussions for the club if the current squad fails to deliver and there is a reluctance to introduce young players into the system.
Further evidence of the issues that plague the club were laid bare during Chelsea’s embarrassing 3-0 defeat at Arsenal. While the defending was shambolic, to say the least, there was very little cohesion in midfield and far too many no-shows going forward. At this stage of the season, comprehensive losses to two of England’s biggest clubs is a fair indication of where Chelsea stand in the race for the title. The early optimism that was generated during their successive victories against West Ham United, Watford and Burnley now seems an eternity ago and Conte will require his players to pull their weight in the weeks to come.
Emphasis ought to be directed towards the club’s youngsters and one name that catches the eye is Nathaniel Chalobah. The 21-year-old has been with the West Londoners since the age of 10 and signed a professional contract in 2012. Despite knowing that he was one for keeps, Chalobah suffered the same fate as many of his colleagues when it came to being granted first-team opportunities. He spent four years on loan at six different clubs, namely Watford, Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough, Burnley, Reading and Napoli. Conte gave him his first game in a Chelsea shirt as a substitute during their League Cup win at Leicester City and the Englishman impressed thoroughly.
With an ability to operate in defence as well as midfield, Chalobah has accumulated plenty of experience with the younger national teams, having earned 31 caps for the U21s. He has been revered for his athleticism, speed and work-rate among other qualities and is viewed as the sort of player Chelsea could do with, given their lack of defensive prowess. John Terry isn’t getting any younger and with Kurt Zouma still recovering from his ligament injury back in February, Conte might be tempted to integrate Chalobah into the squad. He also scores the occasional goal and has a combined tally of ten for all the clubs he has been loaned out to.
Chelsea’s current predicament lies in the senior players’ crisis of confidence, especially the ones anchoring the rearguard. With no European football in the calendar for them this season, the League Cup is rendered an important competition for the club and while Chalobah may feature extensively in those games, it is the Premier League where his inclusion may help Conte expedite some decisions at the back.
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