We’re still in the early stages of the season, and it’s fair to say we have as many questions as we do answers about the long term viability of Frank Lampard as our manager, and the younger members of our squad.
Results could have been a little better than they have been, but most of us came into this term with realistic expectations. We were never going to contend for the title this time around. Bright spots like the hammering of Wolves are likely to be the best we have to look forward to.
Lampard will have moments of stress and disappointment, but he’s at least likely to be awarded something that many of his predecessors have never been shown by the people upstairs: patience.
The transfer embargo has made improving the squad impossible. The players at Frank’s disposal are almost the same as the players Antonio Conte was using two seasons ago. The only thing he’s been able to inject into Chelsea for his first season in charge is youthful endeavor. That plan may not have brought us as many victories as we’d have liked to see by now, but they have brought promise.
A Bright Future
Among the many criticisms leveled at Chelsea both during Conte’s final season and Sarri’s single season in charge is that the squad looked old, tired, and bereft of ideas. Underperformance was as big an issue as anything else, but some of those criticisms were valid. The older heads remembered what it was like to lift a Premier League trophy, but seemed incapable of also remembering how to repeat the trick. New blood was desperately needed, but the transfer ban made that impossible.
Unable to look outside of the club, Lampard has instead looked within. In doing so, he’s discovered (or should that be re-discovered?) Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, and Fikayo Tomori. He’s also finally giving minutes to the much-hyped Reece James. We don’t think it’s controversial to say that the ‘new’ boys have been the best thing about watching Chelsea so far this season – so much so that Callum Hudson-Odoi, the player we all demanded Sarri should start on a weekly basis, almost seems to have disappeared into their shadow.
We don’t necessarily blame our previous managers for overlooking these prospects in the past. Bringing an untried youth player into the team at the highest level is always a risk.
Now that they’re here, though, they’ve been a revelation. Tammy Abraham, so often written off as a speed merchant with no end product, has shown he can finish with the best of them. Forgive our blue bias, but we think he looks like a better prospect to lead the line for England in the long term than Marcus Rashford. Mason Mount is having such a spectacular breakout season that he’s already made the national team. Tomori has blossomed into a solid player in a way that never looked likely in the past.
Taking all of this into account, we can’t help but ponder a fundamental question:- what if giving our academy players a chance has been the right strategy all along? What if burning £50m on players like Fernando Torres has always been a bad call? We recruit our academy players as kids; we pay for their training and development, and then all too often we let them go without ever allowing them the chance to show us what they can do. Isn’t that a bigger waste of money than the millions we’ve spent recruiting the Danny Drinkwater’s of the world?
Those Who May Follow
If we all accept that it’s going to take time to build a title-winning squad, we don’t see why we shouldn’t pursue this strategy a little further. The early indications are that Liverpool and Manchester City are once again going to be light years ahead of the pack by next May.
Spurs look like they’re about to have a full-blown crisis. Manchester United and Arsenal are pale shadows of their former selves. It should be possible to finish in the top four again this year with the squad that we’ve got – and that gives us Champions League football, and a further platform for the stars of tomorrow to develop.
There’s plenty of potential to be found among our academy squad, and no reason not to start giving them a moment in the spotlight, too. Fans who’ve been to see the development team play tell us great things about Marc Guehi, and Bily Gilmour, and George Nunn.
We have an entire squad’s worth of players out on loan, picking up valuable first-team experience. We have all the tools in place to put together a team for the future that’s not only young and dynamic, but one hundred percent Chelsea-made. Lampard’s team, two years from now, could have the best Chelsea DNA of any side that we’ve put out on the pitch in the past three decades.
We’re not fortune tellers. We don’t know how the young Blues will perform between now and the end of the season. What we do know is that they’ve come out of the blocks firing on all cylinders. Perhaps most satisfying of all is the fact that so many of them are English – we’ve spent years being criticized for winning trophies with expensively assembled foreign squads, and yet here we are showcasing the England internationals of tomorrow.
This is not the most gifted Chelsea team of the past few years, but it does have the potential to become the most exciting. If the youngsters develop the way we all want them to, we may already have the core of the squad that will serve us for the next decade. Long may Lampard’s youth experiment continue.