Previous
LAFC
Borussia Dortmund
2:00 AM UTC May 23, 2018
Game Details
North Carolina FC
Ocean City Nor'easters
11:00 PM UTC
Game Details
Next

Conte's last stand, trophy-hunter Mourinho on prowl

FA Cup
Read
 By Mark Worrall

If Lionel Messi were 18 at Chelsea, would Jose Mourinho have risked him?

Chelsea's crucial 1-0 win over QPR on Sunday was the 700th game under Roman Abramovich's ownership. The Russian oligarch has spent a mind-boggling £916.95 million on transfers, and this coming summer that figure could easily surpass the £1 billion mark.

Yet Abramovich could have been forgiven for scratching his head momentarily and wondering just how shrewd Jose Mourinho really is when looking at the team that stumbled to victory over lowly QPR.

In the four transfer windows since Mourinho's return to Stamford Bridge in 2013, he has brought in 17 players and moved on 25, with a further 27 out on loan. That amounts to £195 million spent, yet there was old man Didier Drogba's name on the team sheet, with Diego Costa and Loic Remy out injured.

The Ivorian, a club record £24 million signing for Chelsea in 2004, had left after the 2012 Champions League triumph in Munich only to return to SW6 two years later on a free transfer.

What Abramovich might wish to debate with Mourinho is why, given the £20 million development and £8 million annual running cost of the Chelsea academy, was a younger player of suitable quality not available to play?

Mourinho could point to Chelsea's position at the summit of the Premier League and ask what the problem is. Abramovich might respond by questioning the Blues' lame Champions League exit and asking why John Terry, who made his Stamford Bridge debut way back in 1998, remains the last academy player to come through the ranks and establish himself in the first team.

Mourinho has an answer for everything. Speaking recently about Chelsea's young players being given first team opportunities he said: "If they are good enough and if they are ready."

But "ready" means different things at different football clubs.

"It is important but this club is very demanding," Mourinho added. "It is a club where it is not easy to play football. The level of demand is high. The pressure is big."

Chelsea's U19 side beat Shaktar Donetsk 3-2 in the final of the UEFA Youth League on Monday and leading the line was prolific striker Dominic Solanke.

The 17-year-old scored the winner for Chelsea's U18s in last year's FA Youth Cup final win over Fulham and has also helped fire the U18s into the final of this year's competition. He has just one first team appearance to his name having come on as a 73rd minute substitute for Oscar in a Champions League game with Maribor with Chelsea leading 5-0.

Is Solanke "ready" then? Not yet, according to Mourinho.

"I cannot play Solanke against Southampton with 30 minutes to go and the score at 1-1. I can't," he said recently.

Why not? Surely if a player is good enough he is ready? Mourinho always seems to lack conviction when broached about the subject.

Solanke will be 18 in September by which time the summer transfer window will have closed and Mourinho, if the latest rumours are true, may have signed 22-year-old Argentine Mauro Icardi from Inter Milan to compete with Costa and Remy.

Will Solanke be destined to become another perennial loanee like fellow striker Patrick Bamford? At 21, former academy starlet Bamford is scoring goals for fun in the Championship with Middlesbrough but will he ever be "ready" for Mourinho?

At 18, a certain Lionel Messi was playing regularly for Barcelona. It's ludicrous, but not implausible, to think that had he been at Chelsea at that age, Messi might have been loaned out to the likes of Milton Keynes Dons or Vitesse Arnhem to gain experience until he was "ready."

Isaiah Brown found the net twice against Shakhtar. When will Mourinho deem him to be ready? What about Ruben Loftus-Cheek, will he play?

What happens if, as per usual, Mourinho has his head turned in the transfer market? If Abramovich really wants to see a return on his investment in Chelsea's youth policy then perhaps he needs to decide when a player is ready. That would make for a short discussion between owner and manager.

For now, Mourinho's fear of failure holds sway and Solanke, Brown, Loftus-Cheek and all the other Chelsea academy kids must wait in line.

Like all those who queued before them, they will hope their wait won't be in vain.

Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.