Chelsea have undoubtedly been one of the best teams in Europe over the last decade. The Stamford Bridge club has won three Premier League titles, two of which were record breaking, four FA Cups, two League Cups, the Champions League and the Europa League. It is a list of honours most clubs could not hope to rival.
Though Chelsea had the makings of a good team at the turn of the 21st century, it was the financial injection from Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in 2003, followed by the managerial brilliance of Jose Mourinho, arriving for the first time in 2004, that really launched the club into the elite level of world football.
In his time as owner, Abramovich has ploughed more than £1billion into the club, most of which has gone on expensive and established superstar players. In his first spell as manager, Mourinho was allowed to bring in more than £250million worth of players, including the likes of Didier Drogba, Arjen Robben and Ricardo Carvalho. It may well have yielded much silverware, which fans wouldn't change for the world, but at what cost to the club's long-term self-sustainability?
In those early Abramovich/Mourinho years, immediate success was always favoured over long term development and little seems to have changed since.
Such is the pressure to win trophies, that the progression of youth talent within the club, despite access to world class facilities and coaches, virtually stopped in favour of buying proven older players. John Terry was arguably the last player from the club's academy to become a first team regular. The former England captain made his debut in 1998 and was commanding a starting place by 2000, but no one has joined him in making the step up since.
After Mourinho left under a cloud in 2007, his trophy legacy kept the pressure firmly on his long list of successors, none of whom were at the club long enough to get in touch with and promote youth development. Chelsea continued to be successful on the pitch, but only because Abramovich continued spending large amounts of money and not because they were supporting themselves by honing talent.
When Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge last summer, there were musings that things might be different this time around. A few months into his second stint he hinted at wanting to build a dynasty as part of a long term project. But it seems that plan soon fell by the wayside as he reverted to putting his faith in established stars rather than promising youth.
Development Isn't Chelsea's Priority
Beyond just a lack of players promoted from Chelsea's own academy, there are also plenty of examples of purchased first-team ready young players that haven't been given a chance.
After a successful loan spell with Werder Bremen in 2012/13, the Kevin de Bruyne returned to Chelsea full of promise. He was included by Mourinho in the opening games of the Premier League season and looked to be in impressive form, but despite his good early displays, that was where it ended for de Bruyne and he was sold to Wolfsburg in January after just nine appearances.
This summer's story of Romelu Lukaku is perhaps the best example of how young players have been restricted at Stamford Bridge. The striker's recent move to Everton was widely expected after it became abundantly clear that he would never be given a real chance as long as Mourinho was at Chelsea.
Lukaku, like de Bruyne, had returned to Stamford Bridge last summer after a very successful loan spell the season before and was hopeful of being able to carry on his form for Chelsea. But instead of offering that chance, Mourinho chose to bring in veteran striker Samuel Eto'o. Lukaku then had another equally good loan spell last season, but this summer his opportunity to shine for Chelsea was still not forthcoming, as Mourinho brought 36-year-old Didier Drogba back to the club instead.
After Lukaku left, he publicly stated he needed to be somewhere he could develop, implying that young players aren't highly valued by Mourinho.
Other Premier League clubs like Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United all prove it is possible to be more self-sufficient and yet successful at the same time. Each has a squad full of players they have either promoted from their own academy, or bought young and developed.
With a constant flow of spending money, Chelsea would always be successful, or at the very least competitive, with Mourinho at the helm. But in the burgeoning era of Financial Fair Play, clubs will have no option but to become more reliant on their own abilities to develop players. However, as long as Mourinho is in charge, Chelsea will never reach that goal.
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