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Five Chelsea academy graduates who’ve failed to live up to the hype

Chelsea’s academy system is thriving at present with several young stars having been integrated into the first-team set up this season, Billy Gilmour making an impressive full Premier League debut against Everton last weekend.

The Scottish teenager was joined by teenage substitutes Tino Anjorin and Armando Broja in the second half at Stamford Bridge, the trio adding to a burgeoning contingent of young talent including the likes of Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori, Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi.

 

Frank Lampard’s faith in youth has been a refreshing change for the west London side who have failed to develop their best prospects in recent years, despite a formidable record at youth level that has seen the club win seven FA Youth Cups since 2010 and five consecutively between 2014 and 2018.

However, despite the criticism, very few of the stars of those FA Youth Cup sides that were tipped for the top have actually gone on to make much of an impact away from Stamford Bridge.

We’ve decided to look back at some of those previously predicted to have big futures in the game, here are five Chelsea academy graduates who have failed to live up to the hype:

Josh McEachran

Part of the club’s drought-breaking 2010 FA Youth Cup winning team, McEachran’s emergence would raise hopes of the midfielder becoming the first Chelsea graduate to become a first-team regular since John Terry, though his bright start as a teenager proved to be a false dawn.

Handed his senior debut a decade ago at just 17-years-old, McEachran would become the first player born after the tournament’s inception to play in the Champions League during that senior bow against MSK Zilina.

Such was his level of performance he would go on to make 17 first-team appearances under Carlo Ancelotti, with reports suggesting that Real Madrid were monitoring the progress of a player tipped to star for club and country.

Despite signing a new long-term deal he would be frozen out under Ancelotti’s successor, Andres Villas-Boas, spending loan spells away from the club at the likes of Swansea, Middlesbrough, Watford, Wigan and Vitesse Arnhem.

Unable to do enough to force his way back in at Stamford Bridge, McEachran would depart aged 22-years-old and has since gone on to enjoy a solid if unspectacular career, featuring in the Championship for Brentford and Birmingham City.

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Islam Feruz

The forward would be tipped as one for a huge future in the game from a young age, the bright hope within the Celtic academy who would ultimately opt to leave Scottish football for the bright lights of the Premier League.

Feruz would star at youth level for club and country, playing for Scotland’s U17 side aged just 14 before becoming the youngest ever player to represent the country’s U21 side two years later.

The feel-good narrative of the asylum-seeker who was tipped to develop into a footballer of great talent would stretch littler further than Feruz’s adolescence, however, his compensation move to Chelsea – then regarded as a bargain at £300,000 – fading fast despite a bright start.

Feruz would help fire Chelsea to the FA Youth Cup in 2012, scoring twice in the first-leg final victory over Blackburn Rovers, though that would be as good as it got for the forward who was released in January 2019 having failed to make a competitive first-team appearance.

One hailed as Scottish football’s great hope during his time in the Blues’ academy, Feruz remains a free agent after underwhelming loan spells at the likes of OFI Crete, Hibernian and Swindon Town, his last competitive appearance coming with the latter more than three years ago.

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Izzy Brown

Like the aforementioned Feruz, Brown would be plucked from the academy ranks of a rival team as Chelsea sort to collect the best young prospects in world football.

Brown would become the second-youngest player in Premier League history when making his West Brom debut aged just 16 years and 117 days in 2013, before the Blues pounced to lure him from the Hawthorns in a controversial move.

Thrust into a flourishing academy system in west London, Brown would help the club to back-to-back FA Youth Cups in 2014 and 2015, scoring in the second of those finals in a team containing the likes of Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori.

Loan spells at the likes of Vitesse Arnhem, Rotherham and Huddersfield were enjoyed, before an opportunity in the Premier League on-loan at Brighton ended after an ACL injury.

Another loan spell, this time at Leeds, brought just 11 minutes, with Brown currently in his sixth loan away from Chelsea – making 22 appearances in the Championship for Luton Town so far this season.

Rebuilding this season after a horrific run with injury, the 23-year-old is likely to secure a permanent move away at the end of the campaign.

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Lewis Baker

Baker joined the Chelsea academy system aged nine and swiftly progressed through the ranks, the club excited by the development of the goalscoring midfielder who would represent England from U16 to U21 level.

Handed a senior debut in the FA Cup against Derby County in 2014, Baker was named as Chelsea’s Young Player of the Season at the end of that campaign, his highlights including a winning goal to secure the U21 Premier League title.

Aware his development needed senior exposure, Baker would bounce between various loan spells with mixed success, heading to the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, MK Dons and Vitesse Arnhem, securing promotion from League One with the Milton Keynes outfit.

It would be at Vitesse, however, that he would truly star, scoring 15 Eredivisie goals over two seasons and helping the club to KNVB Cup success for the first time in their 125-year history, finishing as the top scorer in the tournament.

Sadly, Baker’s career has regressed since that high in Dutch football, loan spells at Middlesbrough, Leeds, Reading and Fortuna Dusseldorf failing to ignite his career. He returned to Chelsea during the January transfer window after a disappointing spell in Germany, the future of the 24-year-old uncertain.

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Dominic Solanke 

Jose Mourinho once said he would ‘blame himself’ should Solanke and the previously mentioned Izzy Brown and Lewis Baker not go on to represent England at senior level, so the former Chelsea boss may want to take a long look in the mirror.

Ok, Solanke was handed a cameo role from the substitutes’ bench in a friendly against Brazil three years ago, but that cap is likely to remain an anomaly given his struggles to adapt to the demands of first-team football.

The case of Solanke is a curious one, a player seemingly comfortably ahead of his peers but unable to successfully transition to the senior set-up.

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A prolific goalscorer at youth level for club and country, Solanke won back-to-back FA Youth Cups and the UEFA Youth League in 2015, being named as the club’s Academy Player of the Season after scoring 12 goals in just nine appearances during that latter tournament.

The forward would also claim the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player as England U-17s won the World Cup in 2017, but he has toiled at Premier League level.

He made just one senior appearance for the club before departing for Liverpool, where despite increased minutes managed just a solitary goal over two seasons.

Undeterred Bournemouth spent an eyebrow-raising £19m to sign the forward in January 2019, though Solanke has since flopped spectacularly and has failed to score in 33 Premier League appearances since moving to the South Coast.

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