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Jul 19, 2014

Bright Chelsea academy yet to deliver

A little more than a year ago when Jose Mourinho was reappointed as Chelsea manager amid much fanfare, Blues chief executive Ron Gourlay indicated that emphasis would be placed on developing young players. At that time, despite owner Roman Abramovich's phenomenal investment in the Cobham youth academy and training facility, club captain John Terry remained the only player to have progressed through the youth ranks to become a first-team regular.

"Mr. Abramovich's early investment in playing staff paid dividends in creating a team admired around the world," Gourlay said at the time. "But to keep Chelsea among the elite, we have always known we must produce our own world-class talent, and we are beginning to see the benefits of our academy, which will help us meet our long-term objectives for financial fair play."

Mourinho himself endorsed Gourlay's comments. "We have no doubts about what we want to do and the approach we want to have," he told the media. "The most important part of my job at the moment is the improvement of the youth here. They have big potential, and I think I have the conditions to help improve them."

Twelve months on, is there any evidence to suggest that Chelsea, under the renewed guidance of Mourinho, are making what would be a paradigm shift away from "buying" success? Cynics, and there are plenty out there, would say "no."

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich continues to bankroll lavish spending despite the club's assertion it wants to build through its academy.

In the short term, the Blues boss has addressed the governance of FFP by moving on three players deemed surplus to requirements for spectacular transfer fees. Kevin de Bruyne was sold for 17.7 million pounds, Juan Mata for 37.1 million and David Luiz for 50 million, but their departures did not, at face value, give hope to the club's academy players yearning to break through to the first team.

The fact that Chelsea have won the FA Youth Cup three times in the past five years and are the current under-21 league champions indicates that the Blues' youth and academy setup -- currently under the guidance of coaches Joe Edwards, Adrian Viveash and academy manager Neil Bath -- is in good health, but Mourinho has yet to deem any of the recent crop of highly rated Cobham-based players worthy of a regular place in his starting XI.

Youngsters such as Patrick Bamford, Todd Kane, Patrick van Aanholt, Lucas Piazon, Nathaniel Chalobah and Josh McEachran have become perennial loanees. Does the same destiny await emerging talents such as Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Lewis Baker, John Swift, Andreas Christensen, Nathan Ake and Izzy Brown?

On Saturday, Chelsea played League Two outfit AFC Wimbledon in a preseason friendly at Kingsmeadow. With many established Blues stars involved in the World Cup yet to report back for duty, it represented an opportunity for Mourinho to mesh youth with experience and witness what the future might hold.

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Chelsea's first-half lineup comprised Mark Schwarzer; Ola Aina, Kurt Zouma, Christensen, Ake; Marco van Ginkel, Nemanja Matic; Mohamed Salah, Jeremie Boga, Swift and Bamford. The Blues toiled in the blazing summer sunshine and, in front of a sellout crowd, found themselves trailing 2-0 at the interval to a plucky Wimbledon side out to make the most of the occasion.

The second half saw Mourinho change things with Schwarzer (replaced by Mitchell Beeney on 69 minutes); Branislav Ivanovic, Chalobah, John Terry, Jay Dasilva; Oriol Romeu, Van Ginkel (replaced by Jordan Houghton on 69 minutes); Salah, Baker, Brown and Dominic Solanke seeking to redress the balance.

Chelsea scored three times without reply to win the game 3-2 with captain, leader, legend Terry inspiring victory with a brace of goals either side of a well-taken Salah strike. It was only a preseason friendly, but evidence enough that there is no substitute, unless his name is Terry, for experience.

Since his return to Stamford Bridge, Mourinho has continued to splash the Abramovich cash in the transfer market. Andre Schurrle cost the club 18 million pounds, Willian 32 million, Matic 21 million, Salah 11 million, Zouma 12 million, Diego Costa 32 million, Cesc Fabregas 27 million, Mario Pasalic 4 million and Filipe Luis 16 million.

Since his return to West London a year ago, Jose Mourinho has spent more than 175 million pounds on new signings.

On Friday, the Portuguese declared that Chelsea's summer spending spree was complete. "We finished the market today," Mourinho said. "The transfer market closes Aug. 31, and we close on July 19," he continued. "My club did a fantastic job, not just because of what we bought but because we did it in almost record time."

Talented academy players such as Loftus-Cheek, Christensen, Ake, Swift, Baker and Brown may well be wondering if, and when, Mourinho will promote from within -- or if they are destined for the swings and roundabouts of a loan system that has, with the possible exception of returning goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, yet to realise any tangible benefit.

Should Chelsea fail to win a major trophy in the forthcoming campaign, as the pressure to deliver success intensifies, there is every chance Mourinho could once more walk away from the London club, or be relieved of his duties. What then? Managerial instability does not augur well for the youth of today.

Blues supporters would love Mourinho to be afforded the time to build a dynasty in the course of which promising youngsters would be integrated into the first-team setup, but history suggests otherwise, and, for some years to come, the media might still be musing over the fact that today's two-goal match-winning hero John Terry, now 33 years of age and at the veteran stage of his career, is the only Chelsea academy kid to have made the grade at Stamford Bridge in the 21st century.