Make or break for Chelsea's academy
Chelsea Football Club is facing a significant amount of turmoil, namely billionaire owner Roman Abramovich's potential departure. At this time, then, it's imperative the Blues appreciate and utilise valued assets. The key one being their academy.
Success at youth level plays a big role in Chelsea's target to become a self-sustaining business model. An increasingly important ambition given the speculation over ownership. Bringing in a considerable turnover in player sales, the management and scouting of young players is undoubtedly an efficient process.
Nathan Ake is a great example. Having joined the Blues' youth set-up in 2011, he was sold on to Bournemouth for £20 million six years later. Another such youngster is Bertrand Traore. His move to Lyon last summer left the London club almost £9 million in profit. The Burkino Faso international has since had a productive season in Ligue 1, scoring 13 times in 29 games.
Criticism of first-team integration aside, Chelsea's academy prospects are not to be scoffed at. Starlets, including Dujon Sterling, Ethan Ampadu and most notably Calum Hudson-Odoi, are beginning to make a real impression. While fans hope all three are eventually brought into the first-team fold, due to the club's smart financial dealings, each will inevitably become assets regardless.
There is a downside, though. Chelsea had a ludicrous number of youngsters out on loan this season. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who earned England World Cup selection for his performance at Crystal Palace, will return to Stamford Bridge this summer. As will Mason Mount after making an enormous impact at Vitesse Arnhem. The 19-year-old tallied 23 goal involvements in 32 Eredivisie matches.
Chelsea certainly don't lack valuable assets, ones which will sustain the well-designed business model while providing a source of talent.
With Antonio Conte's inevitable departure as Chelsea boss, attention now turns to the array of available managers who can succeed the Italian. Whoever it is, high expectations will be weighed on their shoulders. From transfer business to continental success, the supporters, players and board will all demand objectives are met.
There is a massive call from fans for the new coach to achieve what eluded his predecessors: Successfully integrate some academy talent. Conte has done the bare minimum in that regard, promoting 21-year-old Andreas Christensen.
The Chelsea faithful would love to see Hudson-Odoi make his breakthrough at some point. However, it is not a simple task at ambitious clubs. Where there is clearly so much pressure to succeed on multiple fronts, can we blame managers for taking tried and tested professionals over youth?
Chelsea's next leader in the dugout must be capable of balancing all the club's best aspects. Leonardo Jardim immediately springs to mind. The Portuguese tactician excels at pulling talented youngsters into the first-team. At Monaco, he developed Benjamin Mendy, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Kylian Mbappe among others.
Now, more than ever, the Blues' youth must be utilised to either free up transfer funds or provide talent from which a manager can gain. Despite often receiving short-sighted criticism, the academy is a font of valuable assets. It will seemingly be a make-or-break factor in Chelsea's future.