Monday 16 September 2019

Why the seeds of revolution being planted by Frank Lampard at Chelsea need to be given time to grow


Frank Lampard replaced Maurizio Sarri over the summer (Tess Derry/PA)
Frank Lampard replaced Maurizio Sarri over the summer (Tess Derry/PA)
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

A LONG and hitherto impassable road has acted as a dividing wall between the two Chelseas at their Cobham training base in recent years.

To the left is an academy set-up producing teams that have served up seven FA Youth Cup wins in the last nine years, as well as spawning a stream of talent that has gone on to play international football for a variety of nations and delivered millions of pounds in transfer fees for Chelsea.

Glance to the right of a road that pierces through a training base position in one of the most lavishly expensive pockets of London real estate and you will find the Chelsea first team set-up, with players who are household names around the world having little or no interaction with the junior players they have seen training out of the window as they eat their lunch every day.

Academy players may have bumped into Eden Hazard, Didier Drogba, John Terry and the superstars who have given Chelsea their most golden of eras since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003, but they were very much outsiders looking in on glory that has been so close and still out of reach.

In many ways, the Chelsea academy has been run as a sideline business by the club over the last 15 years, with the traditional plan of developing players to play in your own first team replaced by a policy of training up youngsters in an effort to sell them on to the highest bidder.

This is an academy that has produced title-winning players who have taken centre-stage in World Cup finals, with Carlton Cole, Roberth Huth, Patrick Van Aanholt, Nathan Ake, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi among a stellar list of names to have emerged through the Chelsea ranks.

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Terry, left, and Lampard, right, have remained good friends since their playing days at Stamford Bridge (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Yet as been referenced time and again, no Chelsea player since John Terry in the late 1990s has made a breakthrough from the club's academy set-up to become a first-team regular and belatedly, moves are under way to end that anomaly.

Chelsea have embarked an aggressive approach to recruit junior players in the Abramovich era, with some of the stories filtering through the football grapevine revealing details of the lengths they will go to sign players often raising eyebrows.

Indeed, few within the game were surprised when Chelsea were handed a transfer ban by FIFA for breaking transfer laws in signing junior players, with that punishment now curiously setting off a chain of events that could change the fabric of the club for good.

A stunning total of 16 trophies during Abramovich's 16 years as Chelsea owner suggests his policy of seeking instant glory by signing star names and hiring and firing managers with ruthless haste has been successful, but circumstances now dictate a complete change of philosophy.

With a transfer ban in place for this summer and next January, Chelsea were forced to face up to an identity crisis when manager Maurizio Sarri asked to leave the club this summer to return to his native Italy and take over as Juventus coach.

With their tried and tested approach of going for the next most famous manager willing to take the big-money on offer at Chelsea in the knowledge that they may never get to the end of the contract they sign was not an option and instead, something new had to be considered by Abramovich and his assistant Marina Granovskaia.

Despite his hero status at Chelsea, Frank Lampard would not have made a shortlist of potential managers to replace Sarri if this was the Chelsea of 2004 or even the Chelsea of five years ago, yet these are very different times for a club and an owner that devised the blueprint for buying their way to success.

With Abramovich exiled from England due to a visa dispute with the UK government and unable to attend matches to watch his team, his hands-on role at Chelsea has slipped and with Granovskaia now emerging at the key decision-maker at the club, Plan B is being wheeled out.

In a summer that saw Petr Cech returning to the club as Sporting Director, the appointment of his old Chelsea team-mate Lampard as manager was more than just a publicity stunt designed to put a smile on the club's supporters as the evidence of the last few weeks confirms this is a revolution on a grand scale for Chelsea.

That road between the academy and the first team is no longer a barrier to progress, with Lampard quickly ensuring a cultural change at the club's Cobham HQ as youth team players eat lunch and share a gym with first-team stars who are being encouraged to give advice and encouragement to the rising stars.

The presence of Jody Morris as Lampard's assistant has helped to provide a bridge that all involved hope will bring the club together, with the former Chelsea midfielder offering a unique insight into the academy set-up he was in charge of until he left to join up with Lampard at Derby last season.

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DUBLIN, IRELAND - JULY 10: Frank Lampard, Manager of Chelsea acknowledges the fans prior to the Pre-Season Friendly match between Bohemians FC and Chelsea FC at Dalymount Park on July 10, 2019 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

In many respects, Lampard and Morris have been given more control at Chelsea than the high-profile management teams that have gone before them as Abramovich, Granovskaia and Cech gave the green light to their integration plans that were put in place from day one of Lampard's reign as manager.

When you consider that Sarri did not watch a single academy training session or attend any under-23 games during his 12-month spell at the club, the idea that Chelsea are have suddenly become a club focusing on the development of homegrown talents confirms this is a revolution on a grand scale.

Lampard backed up his masterplan swiftly as he ensured David Luiz was removed from the club and sold to Arsenal, with Chelsea graduates Kurt Zouma, Andreas Christensen, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham all starting in the first Premier League game of the season against Manchester United last weekend.

Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odoi, Reece James and Fikayo Tomori are all likely to get first-team chances under Lampard's watch this season and while results will provide the ultimate judgement on whether this bold image change is can work, the wheels now in motion cannot be halted.

Lampard may have failed to win any of his first three competitive games as Chelsea manager, but the seeds of revolution Lampard is masterminding at Chelsea need to be given time to grow.

The Lampard way could be a route that takes Chelsea to a more sustainable future that does not rely on sugar-daddy Abramovich, who may not be on hand to bankroll the club's debts for much longer.

THE CHELSEA ACADEMY SUCCESS STORY

Premier League 2 title: 2013/14

FA Youth Cup: 2009/10, 2011/12, 2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18

UEFA Youth League winners: 2014/15, 2015/16

Under-18 Premier League champions: 2016/17, 2017/18

Under-13 Premier League southern champions: 2014/15, 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18

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