Tammy Abraham and Ruben Loftus-Cheek; Its been quite the season thus far for the on loan duo. The Chelsea youth graduates have settled into their temporary clubs and have so far impressed. After losing a number of players to injury, the pair were called up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad for the team’s upcoming friendlies. After rumours of multiple debuts against Germany, both starlets earned their first cap. Loftus-Cheek’s performance saw him retain his spot in Southgate’s midfield, against the five time World Cup winners Brazil.
Despite the faith shown by the England boss, the same cannot be said for their parent club. With Chelsea’s reputation as a club that overlooks it’s academy stars, will the England debutants ever get their chance in West London?
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Abraham was born in Camberwell, London and joined the Chelsea academy at the age of 7, where his potential was instantly recognised. From 2014 to 2016, Abraham netted 74 goals in 98 games across various age groups. During that time he was part of Chelsea’s UEFA Youth League and FA Youth Cup winning sides; scoring 8 goals in 9 games in Europe before scoring the winning goal in the domestic cup final.
“He is the future for Chelsea, for sure.” – Antonio Conte on Tammy Abraham
After making two senior appearances from the bench under temporary coach Guus Hiddink, Abraham followed Chelsea tradition by going on a season long loan. The 6 foot 3 forward arrived at Bristol City during the 16/17 summer transfer window, continuing his goal scoring exploits by accumulating 23 goals in 41 appearances for The Robins. He began to earn the cliched nickname ‘fox in the box’, after all of his goals came from inside the penalty area. When the season came to a close, Abraham became the first player ever to be awarded all three of Bristol City’s individual player accolades – Player of the year, Young player of the year and Club top goalscorer.
The England youngster returned to London and signed a new contract until 2022, before again departing on loan to South Wales club, Swansea City. During this season, Abraham has directly contributed to over 70% of The Swans’ league goals, showing his importance to his provisional club. During both loan spells, it seems that the Chelsea youngster has heeded the advice of his manager, Antonio Conte.
“He gave me tactical advice. He told me the right areas to get into and how to adapt to different situations.” Tammy Abraham on Antonio ConteEmbed from Getty Images
Similarly to Abraham, Loftus-Cheek’s rise to prominence began with the Chelsea under 8s. After flying through the age groups – winning the Youth Cup as club captain and playing a key role in Chelsea’s under 21 Premiership winning season in 13/14 – Loftus-Cheek set his sights on first team football.
In summer 2017, the 6 foot 3 midfielder joined Crystal Palace on a season long loan. Before his move, he had made 22 senior appearances for The Blues, playing only 573 minutes in that time.
Although an injury kept him out of action for most of the Frank de Boer reign, the Englishman has began to impose himself on the South London club. The Eagles have struggled in the early parts of the season, with Loftus-Cheek one of the only bright sparks in some otherwise dismissal performances.
The 21 year old is yet to score for Palace but has shown his qualities whilst in possession. His ability to drive through central areas and commit the opposition is a trait very few midfielders possess. In 7 appearances, he has completed 22 dribbles, 10 tackles, 8 interceptions and 10 key passes. This demonstrates the potential that Conte believes emanates from Loftus-Cheek in every performance, not only in central midfield but as a forward.
“Ruben is young with great potential. I like him a lot in the position of strike. He can improve a lot because he has great potential, good technique, good personality and he is good one vs. one.” Antonio Conte on Ruben Loftus-CheekEmbed from Getty Images
The impressive club performances from Loftus-Cheek and Abraham, aren’t the only reason for their inclusion in Southgate’s senior setup. Both have played a part in various national age groups, including the recent under-21 European Championships and the successful retaining of the Toulon Tournament. After England’s success in the Toulon Tournament, Loftus-Cheek became the first English player since Alan Shearer in 1991 to be voted as the competitions best player.
Once the pair were selected in the starting 11 versus Germany, many believed it would be an experiment and nothing more. However, with Abraham putting in a solid performance and Loftus-Cheek voted Man of the Match, Southgate had some words of encouragement for the young lions.
“We can’t wait for Ruben to have 50 games, or Tammy to have 50 games, or some of the others. So let’s be brave and let’s go with some of those guys and give them the opportunity and see what they might be capable of.” Gareth Southgate after England’s 0-0 with GermanyEmbed from Getty Images
What is preventing their progression?
Chelsea’s policy in terms of youth has come under much scrutiny in recent times. Their strategy begins by scouting and acquiring the best youth prospects from around the world, not dissimilar to most elite clubs. However, the differences present themselves once the player arrives at the Cobham training centre. Years of loans, disinterest and false promises follow for those unfortunate enough to be purchased by the West London powerhouse, all for one reason – Profit.
Until earlier this month, Michael Emenalo had been the central figure in Chelsea’s trafficking of young talent across the footballing world. His role was to supervise the club’s scouting network and academy, working closely with club Director Marina Granovskaia.
Although Granovskaia had the final say on transfers in/out of the club, Emenalo was the one pulling the strings. In the club’s most recent transfer window during summer 2017, Antonio Conte had his own ideas in terms of incoming players. It could be said that Conte has an eye for older, more reliable players, not unlike his predecessor, Jose Mourinho. Conte comprised a list of players, including the likes of Antonio Candreva, Dries Mertens and Leonardo Bonucci – all of which have just turned 30. This was not part of the Emenalo school of thought.
The Nigerian’s philosophy was simple;
- Purchase the best youngsters from around the world.
- Send them out on loan, to further their development with guaranteed game time.
- Repeat step 2 until the player becomes a viable transfer asset.
- Sell the commodity for a healthy profit.
Since 2011 Chelsea have promoted 12 youth players, who have appeared a combined 46 times. In those 46 appearances, they have completed a total of 1527 minutes, under half the amount Abraham received whilst on loan at Bristol City. With Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen being responsible for 30 appearances and over 1000 of those minutes, it is fair to say that chances are limited for the younger prospects at Stamford Bridge.
Out of those 12 players who have been allowed the opportunity to pull on a first team shirt, 4 have left the club in search of first team football. Out of the remaining 8, only 2 have failed to gain a loan move – Andreas Christensen and Jake Clarke-Salter, the latter being denied a temporary switch to Norwich in the summer because of a ‘lack of depth’ in the first team. This seems like a step in the right direction, but with Clarke-Slater only receiving a solitary substitute league cup appearance, the criticism remains.
Though the pair have agreed to loan moves elsewhere, the feeling from both players is a belief they will play for Chelsea. The players loyalty and commitment to the club seem to derive not only from confidence in their own ability, but from Conte’s complimentary comments.
“Conte gives me the belief that when I go back to Chelsea, he’ll give me a chance.” Tammy Abraham – December 2016.Embed from Getty Images
In the current state of affairs, the hope and positivity the players currently hold for their first team aspirations can only last so long. Though Emenalo’s model has been successful in avoiding any repercussion from the early Roman Abramovich era of spending, an unforeseen side effect is the irreparable damage to the integrity of the Chelsea academy system.
With a plethora of London based clubs to chose from, the allure of Chelsea Football Club could begin to falter – not just with these two players, but during every youth intake. The limited amount of opportunities given to their youngsters, could see the current Chelsea dominance in youth football nosedive.