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'Vision 2030': Inside Chelsea's plan to ensure their academy keeps producing England's top talents

11:00 GMT+3 24/03/2022
Reece James Mason Mount Chelsea 2021-22
With the Blues facing an uncertain future, steps are being taken to ensure that their youth development continues to lead the way

As Chelsea's players returned to their Porto hotel after hoisting the European Cup a few hours earlier, some of the club's homegrown talents were keen to celebrate with a couple of coaches in particular.

The club's academy bosses, Neil Bath and Jim Fraser, were both in Portugal to watch Reece James and Mason Mount play prominent roles for the Blues as they won the Champions League for the second time in their history.

It was a crowning moment for Chelsea's youth setup; a sign that a consistent run of success at age-group levels could be translated into first-team silverware.

Along with James and Mount, the likes of Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Fikayo Tomori and Billy Gilmour had all emerged over the course of the past two seasons, earning their chances under Frank Lampard before Thomas Tuchel took up the management reins.

The sheer number of academy graduates within the Chelsea first team in recent seasons has seen a bond grow between the squad and the club's fans.

But the Blues are not about to rest on its laurels when it comes to youth development, particularly given the current state of uncertainty surrounding Stamford Bridge.

The ongoing parting of ways between Chelsea and owner Roman Abramovich has left all areas of the club in a state of limbo, with the academy's success owing a lot to the billions of pounds the Russian oligarch has pumped into the west London outfit over the past 19 years.

Regardless of the club's sale, though, Chelsea have been keen to maintain their momentum at youth level, rather than rest on their laurels following their recent success.

Manchester City and Liverpool have begun breathing down Chelsea's neck within the youth game, while Manchester United have been busy revamping their own setup in the past couple of years.

For Chelsea, that is where 'Vision 2030' comes in.

"It involves our board and owner, who are keen to hear our innovative and creative ideas, which will see us kick on for the next five to 10 years," Bath explained back in June.

"I can assure people that we will not rest on our laurels of having boys involved in Champions League success.

"It’s important to set out what we are doing in the short term, but also to have a long-term vision and direction of where we want our academy to be in the future. That is always the main focus."

Though that aforementioned owner is changing, the club's academy policy is not.

'Vision 2030' is an all-encompassing root-and-branch review of the work being done in the academy building at Cobham, involving scouts, nutritionists, analysts and technology departments.

They aim to tackle the changing landscape of English football, with the quality of football in the lower leagues and non-league improving, while Brexit has stopped Premier League sides from looking overseas for youngsters.

The plan has already been put in action.

Chelsea have been actively scouting non-league clubs and, in January, signed forward Mason Burstow having seen him impress for Charlton Athletic after spending time on trial at Cobham while he was playing for Maidstone United.

They have also continued to look for younger players of potential at other English clubs, with West Brom duo Leo Cardoso and Kiano Dyer having moved to the club in the past year.

The pair are both England youth internationals – though Cardoso has also represented Portugal – and, at 15, are still of an age where they can be moulded by Chelsea's coaches.

Perhaps the main challenge for Chelsea now is to prove that the pathway to the senior side still exists, with only Trevoh Chalobah having broken into the first-team picture since Tuchel took over.

While Abraham and Tomori were deemed surplus to requirements by the German before completing big-money moves to Serie A, other youth products who left in the summer of 2021, such as Marc Guehi, Tino Livramento and Lewis Bate, did so before even earning an opportunity to impress at Stamford Bridge.

Guehi and Livramento have been among the breakout stars of the current Premier League season, with the former having earned his first call-up to the England squad last week.

Others, like Tariq Lamptey and Jamal Musiala, have also flown the nest in recent years without having made their debuts, with Musiala placing fourth on the NXGN 2022 list of the world's best teenage footballers following his performances for Bayern Munich.

The Blues now face a fight to ensure the likes of Armando Broja, Conor Gallagher and Levi Colwill – their only representative on this year's NXGN list – do follow the same route out of the club following impressive loan spells in 2021-22.

England international Gallagher is expected to return and fight for a first-team berth following his strong showings for Crystal Palace, but there is competition to acquire Broja, with his loan club Southampton, as well as West Ham, keen on signing the striker.

Colwill, meanwhile, was targeted by Leicester City in January as they aimed to take him on loan midway through his spell at Huddersfield Town, but the Foxes' bid was rejected by Chelsea.

These players, as well as those who are still predominantly playing youth-team football, know their worth in what has, post-Brexit, become a shrinking market, and are willing to run down the three-year professional contracts they receive at the age of 17 in a bid to force their way into the senior ranks.

Xavier Simons, who made his first-team debut earlier this season, is the latest player who could depart, with a host of Premier League clubs monitoring his situation as he enters the final months of his contract, while the club is working hard to ensure that Harvey Vale, the star of the club's Under-23s side, does not follow in a year's time.

Tuchel, for his part, has been active in maintaining a relationship with the academy and regularly reaches out to the likes of Bath for advice on the latest batch of youngsters who could soon be at his disposal.

The former Paris Saint-Germain coach also tries to attend as many academy matches as he can in a bid to see first-hand what he might have to work with in the coming years.

“The door is always open," Tuchel said of his relationship with the academy. "I love it, and I truly believe the supporters love it.

"The mix between big names from abroad, big personalities, and famous players, with the academy guys is what makes a club special.

“When you look at the photo when we raised the Champions League trophy, there are so many boys from the academy in this photo. That makes it special, and this is how it has to be. It is always about the mix.”

It is the job, then, of 'Vision 2030' to ensure that the conveyor belt of talent keeps on providing the first team with what it requires.

Now, perhaps more than ever, Chelsea needs its academy to continue thriving.