CHELSEA YOUTH ACADEMY PLAYERS
Chelsea’s youth system is the best in England, if not Europe and the rest of the world. Here are brief profiles on their emerging generation coming out of the Cobham academy. Each cover their backgrounds, styles, strengths and weaknesses.
You can find more in-depth player reports in the Scouted Football Handbook, our quarterly magazine in which we profile 25 of the world’s best up-and-coming talents, with additional original features and exclusive interviews included.
Chelsea have made huge investments in their youth academy system since Roman Abramovich’s takeover in the early 2000s. With the Russian oligarch’s money, Chelsea’s Cobham set-up has established itself as the best youth development system in England, if not Europe.
Cobham produces high-level young players that are well-equipped – technically, tactically and physically – for senior football at every level of the pyramid. They’ve also developed a number of young coaches that have since stepped up into senior football.
The big criticism of Chelsea was that they rarely integrate(d) their best academy prospects into the first-team set-up, with pathways blocked by expensive signings from elsewhere. That changed in 2019, following the appointment of Frank Lampard as head coach and their transfer ban.
Lampard aligned academy and senior set-ups for the first time, bleeding Tammy Abraham, Reece James, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori into the first-team. All except Tomori played significant roles in their Champions League triumph last season.
John Terry is the most decorated product of Chelsea’s academy. A bonafide club legend, his development and breakthrough predated Abramovich’s investment.
Since then, Chelsea have developed a number of excellent players. Beyond their current first-team crop, there’s the likes of Declan Rice, Conor Gallagher, Marc Guéhi, Tariq Lamptey, Jamal Musiala, and so many more – all of whom left the club to break into senior football.
Chelsea have been the dominant force in youth football over the past decade. They’ve won multiple league and cup titles at under-23 and under-18 levels since 2010.
They’re also two-time champions of the UEFA Youth League, winning the competiton in consectuive seasons between 2014 and 2016. Their investment has yielded immense success on the pitch.
Having spent around ten years as a Chelsea academy player, it is no surprise Joe Haigh looks as comfortable as he does in his surroundings at Cobham. The English midfielder starred at under-18 level last season, and recently signed his first professional deal tying him to the club until 2023 as he pushes his way into the under-23s and plays at UEFA Youth League level.
STYLE OF PLAY
Haigh plays a lot of his football as a right-sided interior midfielder. In Italy, he would probably be labelled a mezzala, a midfielder that will come wide to combine, but will also look to attack the channel and the penalty box to hunt for opportunities to create or score. The sheer offensive output he can create from his position is worth taking note of.
He is a very willing ball-carrier through midfield and shows good strength to muscle off challenges as he does this, despite not being very big.
Haigh’s key weakness seems to be some poor/lazy decision-making in possession. He is often caught dallying in possession when he needs to be more instinctual in his actions – at times he plays with his head down a little too much and instead needs to be more perceptive of play developing around him.
There is no denying his overall quality though. He is a sharp mover that is light on his feet, can shift direction effortlessly and has superb technique. And off the ball he finds space in the right half-space consistently, putting him into strong positions to kick-start dangerous attacks.
Yes, Richard Olise is the brother of Michael Olise. Michael also played for Chelsea as a teenager, but was released before he eventually landed at Reading. On the contrary, Richard has worked his way through Chelsea’s youth system, and he is now a key player for the under-18s, while also appearing at UEFA Youth League level with the under-19s.
STYLE OF PLAY
Like his brother, Richard Olise is a fun playmaker. As a right-back, he is a little different though. His playmaking generally comes through line-splitting passes from right-back into midfield – the kind of passes we have come to expect from Trent Alexander-Arnold, though minus the scything ball striking technique of the Liverpool defender.
But Olise is certainly a nod to the developing phenomenon of right-backs as primary creators into midfield rather than being tasked with crossing from wide or getting in behind for cut-backs. For Olise it is part out of necessity, given his lack of outright speed.
This lack of speed also hurts him defensively, where he struggles covering space in behind. His lack of aggression and physicality also hurt him defensively, though there is obviously time to develop in this area as he grows into his body.
Jude Soonsup-Bell has already found himself in and around Chelsea’s senior team at training for good reason. The 17-year-old has been a force up front for Chelsea’s youth teams all the way through the academy system at Cobham, and now spearheads their teams playing in both the Premier League 2 and the UEFA Youth League.
STYLE OF PLAY
Soonsup-Bell is a prototypical looking centre-forward. He is six foot tall and a powerful runner for his age, with the mobility and technical quality to match. He will probably need to adapt his game to playing against senior bodies early in his professional career, but he has the quality in possession to be useful in a variety of attacking phases.
In saying that, he is not forward that wants to play body-to-body with his marker. He will instead look to tuck into spaces to combine or pick the ball up himself and then turn and carry the ball forward.
Importantly, Soonsup-Bell can attack the channels with the ball and drag defenders wide and then beat them with dribble moves and create shooting chances for himself, or simply disrupt the structure. Slaloming runs coming inside from the channel onto his right foot to shoot are his trademark. Although they also reflect how hard he has to work for his opportunities: he does not get a lot of easy chances laid onto him from team-mates. Conversely, it is often him opening spaces for others.
Chelsea signed Harvey Vale from local rivals Fulham in 2016. Since then, Vale has developed through the levels impressively, reaching the under-23s last season. The now-19-year-old has been a standout since the start of last term, separating himself as one of the best of Chelsea’s emerging generation.
STYLE OF PLAY
Harvey Vale can play pretty much everywhere. He has the flexibility of skillset to operate in any kind of space ahead of the ball to a very solid level. His game is underpinned by his dynamic athleticism. Vale is quite tall for an attacker and lean in frame; he runs with an upright posture and possesses wiry strength; he also as a good change of pace and a big engine to maintain his impressive intensity throughout games. All in all, Vale has the potential to grow into a great two-way athlete.
But that shouldn’t take away from his technical skillset. He has a great left foot, which he utilises to good effect as a passer and shooter. He executes a range of passes – from sharp line-breakers to long switches – and is an adept crosser off his stronger left side. Vale is also a clean ball-striker, capable of generating significant power and accuracy off snap shots.
He’s a strong carrier of the ball too, in tighter areas and over longer distances. He has the control to move through traffic as well as the range to carry in open space. Vale has the upside to be a Premier League player in future – and it’ll be interesting to see what Chelsea have planned for him as his contract runs down.
John Terry is the standout, a bonafide club legend that won everything there is to win. Mason Mount and Reece James are establishing themselves as key first-team players now as well, and Callum Hudson-Odoi has high-level potential to fulfill.
Harvey Vale is probably the standout of Chelsea’s emerging generation, and he has the potential to be a Premier League player in future.