This is the first of a series of editorials by Chelsea Chicago members, talking about Chelsea-related matters near and dear to their heart. First up, Andrey Ibragimov, detailing the loan army at Chelsea created over the past several seasons...
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CHELSEA LOAN ARMY - THE FALSE ROUTE - By Andrey Ibragimov
If you were a Chelsea fan in 2010, then it was easy to get excited about the loan army philosophy that was taking shape at the time. Platini’s Financial Fair Play initiative, introduced in 2009, was just about to start, and all the big clubs were scrambling to find ways to cope with it.
One of the models that seemed very progressive at the time was an idea that instead of buying expensive complete star players a club could buy young lads, send them out on loan to develop their game and then integrate them into the first team. What's not to like? It was a dream; we had an amazing coach (Carlo Ancelotti), just won a double and were signing Europes most promising talent. Gael Kakuta, Matic, Sturridge, Borini, Di Santo, Patrick Van Anholt (PVA) were the most notable players among the crowded field of youth players we have "invested" in.
On top of signing players to send on loan, we had an amazing reserve and Youth squads - Jeffrey Bruma and Ryan Bertrand were considered as successors to John Terry and Ashley Cole at Chelsea.
I vividly remember the thought that was going through my head at the time - the future is so bright. I imagined how CFC wouldn't have to sign any new players at 3-4 years time. Loan army kids will grow and develop, and the transition would be seamless. I was arguing with my pals, fans of other teams such as Arsenal, City, and United - that we will dominate the for decades with our youth development system, while their clubs would struggle with FFP rules. They countered using the headlines from Daily Mail type newspapers - "hoarders of football talent","graveyard of young players".
I was convinced about the loan philosophy and was waiting for that first loan player to appear in the starting 11 to prove to everyone that our way is the right way.
The loan system was around in English game since the 1970s and was working well. Wise, Lampard, Terry, Wayne Bridge have all had successful loan spells to develop physical aspect of the game or return to form after an injury.
But the wait to see a loan army player in the starting 11 was a long one. The 2010-11 season was a turmoil - Carlo was fired along with Ray Wilkinsons and certain Micheal Emenalo was hired to replace Ray. We signed Tomas Kalas and Matej Delac to loan them out and started a relationship with Vitesse.
The loan spell to the first team transition idea started to fade around 2012. We were busy making big buys - Torres, Luiz, Mata, Meireles, Romeo were bought for the first team, and more players were signed to loan out - Kevin De Bruyne (KDB), Piazon, Courtois, Patrick Bamford, Lukaku.
It was starting to get confusing with players like Alex, Anelka, Zhirkov departed and not a single loan army player integrated into the team. Watching Josh McEachran was a joy - this kid will be our new Frank they said. Next thing you know, he was at Swansea. PVA and Kalas sent to Vitesse; Kakuta went to France and Bruma to Germany.
At this point, I was struggling with the all the movement of the players. It was hard to follow all these guys, and I was not sure how to develop any sense of connection to these players. I'm convinced that the bond with the club, players, the coaching staff is an important one. Fans relate to the club by knowing the history of the club, its good and bad days, history of the ground, and meaning of the crest. We are connected to the coaching staff by knowing their philosophy, leadership style, analyzing and talking to our mates about team selection, subs, and tactics. So how do we connect to the players? Of course by watching games, analyzing games, singing songs about them and wearing kits of your favorite player.
So the questions are - are all these players part of the club or not? Are they here to merely make a profit? Do we need both the Academy and the loan Army? Is the Loan philosophy a false one?
The history of our club teaches us that we have always produced great homegrown players. In the 1960s, there was a group of young players known as "Drake's Ducklings" (from Ted Drake). They were considered "golden generation" with Terry Venables, Peter Bonetti, Bobby Tambling, Ron Harris, Ken Shellito, John Hollins and Peter Osgood. Ted Drake, the only man to win the championship (season 1954-55) before Jose, left the club for not being able to integrate "ducklings" into the first team. I wonder how would the history call 30 or 40 players that we have on-loan now - "lost on loan generation"?
I want to make something clear - I firmly believe that the buying players to send on loans is a false route. If we look back six years, we can see now that only two players - Zouma and Courtois were able to integrate into the first team and became regular starters. Yes, we sold rejected players for millions (Lukaku, KDB) but that fact does not give me any satisfaction. What gives fans satisfaction is to see a homegrown player, that that was raised in the club playing week in and week out and getting better with each week.
The truth is it takes hard work, stable environment, and trust to raise a player and you can't get that on loan. I remember reading an interview with Vitesse captain where he said - Chelsea kids come in on loan, and it's almost impossible to teach them anything in one season; they have to stay at least two seasons. New team, league, country, language, tactics....
Furthermore, Chelsea shirt is a heavy one. Will they grow or shrink wearing it? Many players, including KDB, came back after fantastic seasons on-loan and could not produce at Chelsea for various reasons - coach, league, not gelling with teammates.
On our hands, we have the generation of young players that won or were runners ups for Youth FA Cups in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and won Champions League in 2013-14 seasons ( we are currently in defending the title in the final four). How many players did we integrate from this lot - zero? RLC barely has 5 minutes here and there, and that is after we sold Ramires. For comparison, the grand class of 1992 won the '92 Youth Cup for Manchester United for the first time in 29 years. Most of these guys either started or were in the first team next year - Scholes, Giggs, Beckham, Butt, Neville brothers became household names for English football and the icons for kids around the world.
The failure of the Chelsea Football Club to integrate these undoubtedly talented players is the shame. Are Ake, Marco Van Ginkel, Bamford or Izzy Brown worse than Papi Djilobodji, Matt Miazga, Amelia or Pato?
The warehousing of players on loan is a wrong approach that almost never works out and we should abandon it. Instead, we should be integrating Academy players and buy only high-caliber players that would replace someone in the starting 11.
How does 5-7 players that we have for any position feel when we buy another one? Probably that they have another competition to get even a call back to Cobham, not to mentioned join the first team. Plus, all these players can't help the team being on-loan, and we wind out buying more like it happened this season when both Zouma and Terry got hurt.
Stop the madness and clean out the house. We are so busy chasing next Messi (tried German one - did not work out, did it?) that we neglected the first team. We have it down to the science and it's not! Look at all the best performers this season - Mahrez, Payet, Vardy, Kane, Alli. Had they signed for us, they would probably rot in some Dutch or German club by now thinking about the next kid that CFC is going to buy on their position. We are hunting players for sport without respecting the game, and the football Gods are punishing us for that.
Six years of failed experiment proved that loan army does not integrate well into the first team, does not allow supporters to form a bond with these players and sets negative examples for other young players - don't sign for Chelsea, the graveyard of young players. Dear Chelsea, please abort this failed mission and let's get that Blue Flag Flying High Again!