Chelsea have recently been linked with signing Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic on a permanent deal worth £45 million following his loan spell at the club. While this could be Chelsea’s last bit of business before their transfer embargo takes effect, it could also be one of the worst decisions the club has made.
With the signing of Kovacic permanently it would suggest that the club are still not yet ready to trust the graduates of the club’s academy. Even though incoming manager Frank Lampard tends to favour youth in his teams as highlighted by his squad at Derby County, giving significant minutes to Chelsea youngsters Mason Mount and Fiyako Tomori. With an army of youth players returning from loan spells at the end of last season, a select few such as Tammy Abraham felt that the transfer embargo provided the perfect opportunity for the players to break into Chelsea’s first team.
Frank Lampard favoured a 4-3-3 system at Derby with one holding midfielder and two more advanced central midfielders. Straight away there are a number of academy players who would fit that system, negating the need to sign players. But to focus on the recent transfer of Kovacic, let us discuss the central midfield position. Let’s assume that N’golo Kante will replace Jorginho and return to his consensus best position, the defensive midfield berth that saw him win two Premier League titles and a World Cup, this leaves the two more advanced central midfield positions open for consideration. Ross Barkley and Tiemoue Bakayoko are excluded from this discussion for obvious reasons.
The first academy prospect that will fight for a place at Stamford Bridge next season is Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Having impressed in a loan spell at Crystal Palace in the 2017/18 season Loftus-Cheek decided he would stay at Stamford Bridge with a view to breaking into the first team. Last season Loftus-Cheek was mainly utilised in the Europa League, making 11 appearances in the competition scoring 4 goals and registering 3 assists before a serious injury ruled him out for the season. However elsewhere he was used sparingly by Maurizio Sarri. Loftus-Cheek possesses good technical abilities and an impressive physique that could see him dominate the midfield upon his return to fitness.
The second academy prospect that should be considered for a regular first team role is a player Lampard knows well in Mason Mount. Mount played 44 games under Lampard at Derby last season, with his impressive performances earning him a spot in England’s Under 21 squad for the European Championships this summer. Mount has a similar style of play to Lampard in that he is a hard-working yet creative midfielder who also has a knack of arriving in the box late to score goals, sound familiar? If Lampard is the next man in charge for the Blues then it seems like the right option to continue Mount’s development as a player and award him regular opportunities for the first team.
Spending money on overseas talent instead of rewarding performances of young academy players could have an adverse effect on the decision for young players to stay at Stamford Bridge. A good example of this is left back Jay DaSilva, who has recently signed for Bristol City in the Championship. DaSilva joined Chelsea’s academy at age 12, and went on to win three FA Youth cups, two UEFA youth leagues as well as earning call-ups to represent England at various youth levels including this summer’s U21 Euros. With it being apparent that Marcos Alonso and Emerson would be preferred over the Englishmen, the youngster decided to take his talents elsewhere.
The signing of Kovacic and the exit of DaSilva, it seems that Chelsea are still reluctant to utilise the talent already at the club in favour of spending money on foreign players to fill the positions. If this trend continues over the period of the transfer embargo then prospective players will think twice before choosing the blue of Chelsea’s academy.