Where are they now? Every English youngster to debut under Abramovich

A number of encouraging young players have threatened to break through at Chelsea since Roman Abramovich took over the club in 2003, but it’s only since the appointment of Frank Lampard that they’ve started to get regular opportunities.

We’ve looked back at every English player to come through Chelsea’s academy and appear for the Blues since Abramovich’s takeover.

If a player made his senior debut before joining Chelsea, they’ve been ruled out, so the likes of Scott Sinclair and Izzy Brown are not included.

Steven Watt

Jose Mourino handed Watt a full debut for Chelsea in a FA Cup clash with Scunthorpe in 2005.

“I assumed I was just going to be involved, I didn’t think I was going to start, but then John Terry found out for me that I was actually starting,” Watt told us.

The defender went on to make a Premier League appearance at Newcastle, but that was his last match for the Blues.

Watt admits he fell out of love with the game after dropping down the leagues with spells at Grimsby, Dover, Maidstone, Hemel Hempstead, Leatherhead and Hastings, but he is now using all that experience as manager of non-league outfit Hythe Town.

READ: One-Game Wonder: The story of Steven Watt’s one PL appearance for Chelsea

Lenny Pidgeley

Pidgeley was already a member of the Chelsea first team prior to the arrival of Abramovich but did not make his debut until coming on as a substitute on the final day of the 2004-05 season at Charlton.

After leaving on a permanent deal to join Millwall in 2006, the goalkeeper played for a further 12 clubs but revealed he had been battling with depression upon his retirement following a spell in non-league Farnborough in 2018, who he criticised for making his illness public.

“At the other clubs I was at, it never came out in the open,” Pidgeley told BBC Sport. “Recently my depression has been with me quite a lot.

“In the last couple of weeks I tried to play through it, but it became too much for me. By midweek, when the cup game was, I could barely get out of bed… I was almost at the point of panic attacks.”

Anthony Grant

As far as arenas to make your debut go, Old Trafford is not a bad place to start. Grant made his solitary appearance for Chelsea in a 3-1 win at the Theatre of Dreams, but from there it was a familiar tale of loan moves before the midfielder found his level in League One.

After spending the last nine years playing for various third-tier clubs, the midfielder dropped down to League Two by joining Swindon Town, where he has been named Player of the Season.

Jimmy Smith

“To be still be playing now is great, as a lot of people left there at the time and didn’t play football again,” Smith told us in 2017. “I think it was down to myself and how much I wanted to be a footballer.”

The midfielder made his debut for Chelsea at Newcastle and impressed on loan at QPR but failed to be granted another opportunity at Stamford Bridge.

Four years at Leyton Orient saw Smith establish himself as an important figure and he also captained Crawley Town. Having spent 2019-20 on loan at Yeovil, he was released by Crawley upon the campaign’s conclusion.

READ: The story of Jimmy Smith’s one game for Chelsea and his failure to add to it

Michael Woods

Once tipped for England honours, Woods joined Chelsea in a controversial £5million deal from Leeds alongside Tom Taiwo, with Ken Bates accusing the Blues of tapping up the 16-year-olds – with Danny Rose rejecting the move before leaving for Tottenham a year later.

The midfielder became the fourth-youngest player to ever appear for Chelsea when he replaced Frank Lampard against Macclesfield Town, but he was relegated to the National League with Hartlepool in 2017 and is now at Dover Athletic.

READ: What happened to the two starlets Chelsea poached from Leeds in 2006

Sam Hutchinson

“I didn’t want to play for Chelsea either because I blamed them for it, even though it wasn’t [their fault], it was just what happened,” Hutchinson told The Guardian while reflecting on the knee injury which forced him to retire aged 21.

He had already broken into the first team as a right-back, making his debut aged just 18, and eventually fought back to rejoin Chelsea after his knee markedly improved. A handful of appearances followed before he established himself as a Sheffield Wednesday favourite.

Hutchinson’s contract has now expired at Hillsborough after being ostracised by manager Garry Monk.

Michael Mancienne

Mancienne was a highly-rated prospect in west London but decided to make a surprise move to Hamburg in 2011 for fear of falling into the same traps as many of his peers.

“I was in the comfort zone at Chelsea and it is easy for players to rot away in that environment,” he told The Telegraph in September 2017, having returned to Nottingham Forest.

After four years at the City Ground, the former England youth international once again left these shores to join New England Revolution, where he signed a deal making him the highest-paid defender in MLS.

Josh McEachran

It seems a long time ago that McEachran was being dubbed ‘the next Jack Wilshere’. It seems a long time ago that being ‘the next Jack Wilshere’ was a thing.

The midfielder was so highly regarded that Real Madrid and Manchester United both attempted to sign him, but he opted to remain in London with the confidence that he would break into Carlo Ancelotti’s plans.

He did make 22 appearances for the club across two seasons but failed to impress in a number of loan moves. After an injury-hit four years at Brentford, he is now halfway through a two-year deal at Birmingham.

Ryan Bertrand

Bertrand made 57 appearances for Chelsea but struggled to break into the starting XI, despite playing at left midfield in the Champions League final.

He’s been a Premier League regular since moving to Southampton in 2014 and has also won 19 caps for England.

Nathaniel Chalobah

A promising loan move to Watford failed to materialise into consistent first-team opportunities for Chalobah, who was sent out on loan a further five times before returning to Vicarage Road on a permanent deal in the summer of 2017.

After 40 England Under-21 caps, his decision to return to the Hornets immediately paid dividends when he was called into the senior squad, only for a series of injuries to disrupt his career since.

Jacob Mellis

Chelsea paid £1million to sign Mellis from Sheffield United, but he went on to appear just once for the club, replacing McEachran in injury-time of a Champions League victory against MSK Zilina.

Permanent spells at Barnsley, Blackpool and Bury followed before three seasons in League Two with Mansfield. He returned to League One with Bolton in January, only to be released in June.

Lewis Baker

Chelsea’s Young Player of the Year in 2013-14 and a winner of the Toulon Tournament with England in 2016, when he also won the Golden Boot, Baker has still only played once for the Blues and this season saw a loan to Fortuna Dusseldorf cut short after a series of disappointing loan moves in the Championship.

John Swift

One of many Chelsea youngsters to be granted a few token minutes in the final game of a league campaign, Swift replaced Eden Hazard against Cardiff in 2014 before facing the inevitable loan moves around the country.

The midfielder joined Reading permanently in 2016 and has shone as one of the Royals’ best players.

Dominic Solanke

Solanke shone as England Under-20s won the World Cup in the summer, winning the Golden Ball as the best player at the tournament, but was afforded only 17 minutes of senior football at Chelsea.

The striker joined Liverpool in the summer of 2017 but similarly failed to establish himself, despite earning an England cap. He’s career has continued on the same trajectory since being signed by Bournemouth for £19million, scoring just once.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek

Loftus-Cheek was a rare case of a youngster not being sent on loan across the globe by Chelsea, but his patience ran out ahead of 2017-18, when he joined Crystal Palace on a season-long loan.

His form at Selhurst Park earned a place in England’s World Cup squad and he returned to Chelsea to make 40 appearances in all competitions last term, only for a series injury to blight his 2019-20 campaign.

Jake Clarke-Salter

The defender made his debut for Chelsea in a 4-0 victory at Aston Villa in April 2016 and was sent on loan (obviously) to Bristol Rovers the following season.

Since then he has been loaned out a further three times and is currently at Birmingham City.

“I’d be silly to say I wouldn’t want to be in the position where I could play for Chelsea. Anyone would,” he told The Independent in September 2019. “It’s very hard to have patience at times, but you have to understand that there are world-class players at Chelsea. You learn to appreciate that.”

Tammy Abraham

Guus Hiddink handed the 20-year-old two appearances at the end of 2015-16 and he went on to shine on loan at Bristol City and Aston Villa, either side of a difficult spell at Swansea.

Frank Lampard put his faith in the striker, handing him the No.9 shirt, with Abraham scoring 16 goals in all competitions this season to date. However, his future remains uncertain with two years left on his deal and talks so far proving unproductive.

Ola Aina

Antonio Conte made promising noises about Aina in his first season at Stamford Bridge, handing the right-back six appearances in 2016-17.

But the England-born Nigeria international was then sent on loan to Hull City and Torino, joining the latter permanently, although he has struggled to recapture his form from his original spell and has been linked with a return to the Premier League.

Dujon Sterling

Back at Chelsea after an unproductive loan spell at Wigan, Sterling had played regularly on loan at Coventry the previous season. It remains to be seen where the right-backs future lies.

Callum Hudson-Odoi

One of the few academy players to force his way into Chelsea’s first team prior to Lampard’s appointment, Hudson-Odoi’s talent became too much for Maurizio Sarri to ignore amid interest from Bayern Munich.

The winger committed his future to the club by signing a new deal following Lampard’s arrival, but he is still struggling to find his best form following a serious injury.

Mason Mount

The apple of Lampard’s eye, Mount shone on loan at Derby under the manager’s tutelage and has continued that form into Chelsea’s first team this season.

Fikayo Tomori

Another youngster to shine under Lampard at Derby, like Mount, Tomori has made the step up into Chelsea’s first team and even worked his way into the senior England squad.

Reece James

Another youngster Chelsea have high hopes for, James shone on loan at Wigan in the Championship last season and has returned to West London to break into the first-team picture, where he appears to be the future at right-back.

Tino Anjorin

It remains to be seen whether Anjorin, who was born in England and has represented the Three Lions at youth level, commits his international future to England or Nigeria, where his dad is from.

The 18-year-old midfielder has made one appearance for Chelsea to date, in a League Cup victory over Grimsby, and recently signed a new five-year deal at the club.

Marc Guehi

After making his first two senior appearances for Chelsea in the first half of the campaign, Guehi joined Swansea on loan in January, although he has struggled to establish himself in the Welsh outfit’s starting XI.

Tariq Lamptey

Lampard spoke in glowing terms of Lamptey and handed the right-back three appearances, but the 19-year-old rejected a new deal at Stamford Bridge and joined Brighton in January.

“It was a really tough decision to leave as I’ve been at Chelsea since the age of seven and seen it all the way to the under-23s, and then the first team,” he said.

“It was a proud moment when I made my Premier League debut, but I felt that it was the right time to start a new chapter and come to this brilliant club.”

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