Until recent years, Chelsea were often derided for failing to give their young players a chance.
That all changed with their 2019 transfer ban and the return of club legend Frank Lampard, who had a mixed record in terms of results but proudly brought through a number of the Blues’ most promising academy players.
Now we’re seeing Cobham academy graduates such as Mason Mount and Reece James shining at senior level, but there was a time in that wasn’t so commonplace.
The club’s ‘Young Player of the Year’ award – something different to their Academy Player of the Year accolade – ran from 1983 until 2019, with no awards given out for the past couple of years.
Previous winners over the years included the likes of Jody Morris, John Terry, Carlton Cole and – three times in a row – Robert Huth.
Here are the last 10 players to have won the award, dating back to 2007, and what they’re doing today.
2007: John Obi Mikel
Mikel arrived at Chelsea in 2006 and won two Premier League titles, three FA Cups. the Champions League and the Europa League during his 11 years at Stamford Bridge.
Since leaving the club in 2017, Mikel has found himself a lot less settled, with an eclectic mix of five clubs in five years – Tianjin TEDA, Middlesbrough, Trabzonspor, Stoke City and Kuwait SC.
The Nigerian recently announced his retirement, having been released by Kuwait last November.
“I don’t regret any decision I made because I enjoyed everything I achieved at Chelsea – it’s the best decision I have ever made in my life,” Mikel reminisced in a recent interview with BBC Sport Africa.
READ: A tribute to John Obi Mikel, Nigeria’s creator turned Chelsea’s water carrier
2009: Michael Mancienne
Mancienne joined Chelsea as a nine-year-old but found first-team opportunities hard to come by, making just six appearances.
After spells at Hamburg and Nottingham Forest, the 32-year-old signed for Major League Soccer side New England Revolution in 2018.
He returned to England three years later and for League One outfit Burton Albion, who until recently were managed by former Blues striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink at
2011: Josh McEachran
Chelsea had high hopes for McEachran, who made his Premier League and Champions League debuts at just 17.
But the midfielder failed to live up his potential and was deemed surplus to requirements by Jose Mourinho in 2015.
He spent four injury-hit years at Brentford before joining Birmingham City on a free transfer in 2019, only for more fitness issues to limit him to just eight league appearances there. Nowadays he’s turning out regularly for MK Dons.
2012: Lucas Piazon
Piazon arrived at Stamford Bridge in 2011 as one of the world’s most sought-after young players and played an integral role in their 2012 FA Youth Cup triumph.
He missed a penalty and got an assist on his one and only Premier League appearance during an 8-0 win over Aston Villa.
“My time at Chelsea is already over,” Piazon told A Bola in September 2019. “I’m 25, I’ve been on loan several times. I’ve been at Chelsea since 2011, I’ve been on loan almost all over Europe.
“I’m tired of playing here and there, I need a place where I can feel at home. I want to know that in July I will return to the same place, to the same house.”
The Brazilian finally got his wish in January 2021, joining Portuguese side Braga on a permanent deal, having technically been Chelsea’s longest-serving player at the time of his departure. You’ll be shocked to hear Braga have loaned him out – to Brazilian giants Botafogo.
READ: Revisiting Bleacher Report’s 25 ‘best teenagers in the world’ from 2012
2013: Nathan Ake
Ake only made 17 first-team appearances for Chelsea and decided to join Bournemouth on a permanent deal in search of regular football in 2017.
It was there that the versatile defender demonstrated what he’s capable of, earning a £41million transfer to Manchester City following the Cherries’ relegation in 2020. He’s now a Premier League winner, but hasn’t quite gone beyond a fringe squad player for Pep Guardiola’s behemoths.
2014: Lewis Baker
Baker made his Chelsea first-team debut against Derby County in the FA Cup 2014, and the midfielder eventually made a second appearance – eight years later – as a second-half substitute as Thomas Tuchel’s Blues dismantled Chesterfield 5-1 in the FA Cup third round.
Another of the ‘perennial loanee’ lot, Baker had stints of varying degrees of success at Sheffield Wednesday, MK Dons, Vitesse (of course), Middlesbrough, Leeds, Reading, Fortuna Dusseldorf and Trabzonspor before finally leaving on a permanent transfer, joining Stoke in January 2022.
He scored a cracking goal on his Potters debut.
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 23, 2022
2015: Kurt Zouma
Chelsea signed Zouma from Saint-Etienne for £12million in 2014, and he won the Premier League and League Cup in his debut season at Stamford Bridge.
However, a cruciate ligament halted his progress and the centre-back was sent out on loan to Stoke City and then Everton.
The France international returned to Chelsea and became a more than useful squad player under Lampard and Tuchel before joining West Ham in a £29.8million deal last summer.
He’s looked dependable as ever for David Moyes’ Hammers, but injuries stunted his debut campaign there.
2016: Ruben Loftus-Cheek
The England international has had an up-and-down time of it since breaking through as a promising prospect six years ago.
He’s occasionally lived up to that potential at senior level, but serious injuries and underwhelming loans at Crystal Palace and Fulham have raised the question of whether he’ll ever consistently become the player many expected him to be.
Loftus-Cheek is now back with his boyhood club and has put in some eye-catching performances for Graham Potter’s Blues. Is the new boss the key to Loftus-Cheek finally locking down a regular spot in Chelsea’s midfield?
2018: Andreas Christensen
After a promising loan spell at Borussia Monchengladbach, Christensen established himself as a mainstay of the Chelsea defence under Antonio Conte in 2017-18, winning this award after a year off for some reason.
The centre-back fell out of favour under Maurizio Sarri and was in and out of the side under Lampard, but he since enjoyed the form of his career since the appointment of Thomas Tuchel – for a time looking like Ricardo Carvalho reborn.
Christensen joined Xavi’s Barcelona in the summer following the expiration of his contract in the summer.
2019: Callum Hudson-Odoi
It’s kind of mad to consider that the winger already has more than 100 senior appearances for Chelsea under his belt and is still just 21
His career has stagnated somewhat over the past 18 months and that big-money Bayern Munich bid now feels a long time ago. He’s currently out on loan at Bayer Leverkusen and it will be fascinating to see if Xabi Alonso is the man to unlock his undeniable potential.
He’s also been capped three times by England, but reports suggest the youngster will make the switch and represent the nation of his heritage, Ghana, moving forward.
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