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Sep 3, 2009

Kakuta blow hits Blues' youth structure

The worldwide fame Gael Kakuta was catapulted towards on Thursday afternoon was not of the variety Chelsea had in mind when they acquired his services from Lens a couple of years ago.

At the age of 18, only those who follow the game below the radar of the senior levels had previously knowledge of this French winger, but Kakuta is set to become a figure around whom a debate will rage for many months to come.

While he may not be the next Jean Marc Bosman in waiting, Kakuta's impact on the long-term future of the game may be far reaching following FIFA's decision to savagely punish Chelsea for what they have judged to be his illegal move from Lens to Stamford Bridge in 2007.

The £682,000 fine handed down for Chelsea's 'tapping up' of Kakuta is of little consequence compared to the 12-month ban on the club signing fresh players and in a season that will see a host of his squad head off for African Cup of Nations duty in January, ex-Blues boss John Hollins believes it could be a fatal blow to his hopes.

"Carlo Ancelotti must have felt as if a bomb had been dropped on him when he heard this news," says Hollins of the manager now sitting in the seat that was once his. "The Chelsea squad he is working with at the moment looks fine when everyone is fit and healthy, but a few injuries and a few suspensions can change things very quickly.

"They are going to lose Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Salomon Kalou and John Obi Mikel to the African competition in January and I fear their squad will be stretched to breaking point. Chelsea have been punished for an irregularity in their youth recruitment policy and ironically, it may open the door for a few more youth and reserve team players getting their chance in the first team."

This damning FIFA verdict represents a shuddering blow for a youth structure the Blues have been working hard to streamline in the last few years. Dane Frank Arnesen was at the centre of his own 'tapping up' controversy when he was taken from a similar position at Tottenham in 2006 and since then, he has embarked on an aggressive bid to turn Chelsea into the home of the brightest talent in the world game.

On a recent visit to the club's impressive Cobham training complex, I looked on as the Chelsea youth team played a fixture on the lush lawns laid out for them, with Arnesen in attendance and doing a good impression of a proud father looking down on his would-be stars.

Arnesen's close relationship with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has earned him more time than he might have reasonably expected to produce tangible results and deliver some much needed home grown stars for Chelsea, but that mission has yet to succeed. He is clearly under pressure to produce some new heroes and Kakuta is one of his brightest hopes.

As it is, John Terry remains the last major Chelsea player to emerge through the ranks more than a decade ago and, aside from defender Michael Mancienne (currently on loan at Wolves), fresh blood has been thin on the ground during Arnesen's time as Stamford Bridge youth Tzar.

Chelsea chiefs have been delighted with the progress of Kakuta, whose silky skills and speed on the wing caught the eye in FA Youth Cup games and with the reserve side. Injury may have halted his progress of late, but a bright future is still predicted and he is not alone in a group of teenagers showing signs of real promise.

Former boss Guus Hiddink is among those who has suggested youth team products are essential in the development of the Chelsea's oft ridiculed/manufactured soul and Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is in agreement when he suggests the fabric of every football club is built on its home grown stars.

"If a boy has been at a club from a very young age, you can expect a different type of loyalty," believes Wenger. "We decided some time ago to pursue a policy that focused on the development of young players and you could say we have been lucky that many of them have done well. I would argue we put the effort to make sure they were good enough to play at this level.

"When you give so much time to a boy's career, he appreciates your support and wants to give you even more back. This is the way you build a spirit at a club and within at team. I never worry about whether the player is English or French or from the Ivory Coast. What we do at Arsenal is give them an education both as people and footballers that should serve them well for the rest of their life whatever happens in their sporting career.

"We have scouts in many, many countries and it is a question of being quick to get the best talent now. Other clubs have looked at what we have done and tried to follow it, both here and in Europe, so the competition is hotter than ever. Our reputation for giving young boys a chance in the first team means we can still stay ahead of the pack to an extent, but it is more difficult each year."

The issue of how promising teenage players are traded has long been a major concern for the game's governing bodies. A raw talent and his starry-eyed parents can be easily influenced by intelligent agents who know what buttons to push and deals akin to the one that has caused this storm are hardly unique.

In general, big clubs who are looking to prise away teenagers in the hope that they will develop into world beaters come to an agreement with the parent club that avoids costly legal clashes such as this, but Chelsea clearly felt their recent recruitment of Kakuta was within the law. Lens blatantly had a differing view and have been proved right.

The Blues can hardly claim FIFA's Dispute Resolution Chamber, the body that handed down this harsh penalty, are biased against them as the same board ruled in their favour in the Adrian Mutu case last year. The Romanian striker was order to pay his former employers close to £10m in compensation following his sacking from the club, though he is yet to hand over any cash as the case is dragged through the courts.

As for this case, Chelsea have a good chance of being successful in an appeal that they have confirmed will now follow. The transfer embargo Roma were given following their dubious capture of defender Philippe Mexes from Auxerre in 2004 was halved on appeal, so there is every reason to believe Russian billionaire Abramovich will be allowed to wave his chequebook again in earnest next summer.

As it stands, Chelsea and Ancelotti has been left reeling by a verdict that was both unexpected and shocking in equal measure. But we have not heard the last of Gael Kakuta or the trouble his transfer has caused.

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