No academy in English football has produced as many promising youngsters as Chelsea’s in recent years – and the Cobham conveyor belt shows no sign of slowing down with the emergence of rising star Leo Castledine.
Mason Mount and Reece James played an integral role in the Blues’ Champions League triumph of 2021, while the likes of Tariq Lamptey, Fikayo Tomori, Jamal Musiala and Tammy Abraham are shining elsewhere in Europe.
Seventeen-year-old midfielder Castledine looks to have all the makings of the club’s next homegrown success.
“John Terry regularly remarks what a great trainer Castledine is, how he treats each session like a cup final,” report The Athletic.
The legendary former Chelsea captain now serves in a part-time consultancy role at the club’s academy and is said to see some of himself – particularly dedication – in the youngster.
The son of former Wimbledon midfielder Stewart Castledine and television presenter Lucy Alexander, the prodigy first made headlines on BBC Sport as a 14-year-old when he moved from Wimbledon to Chelsea back in 2020.
Speaking to the BBC long before he could even take his GCSEs, Castledine cited Mount and Jack Grealish as his inspirations after moving from defence to midfield.
“Moving from defence to midfield was a very gradual process for me,” Castledine said.
“It took about two seasons. I was a tough-tackling centre-back at the start of my U13 season and now, towards the end of U15 season, I am a centre midfielder and sometimes play as a number 10.”
Fast forward three years and Castledine remains well on course to make the most of his talents. Everything seems to be going to plan.
Having played in defence, and rugby at youth level for Harlequins, Castledine boasts a physical edge and fearlessness that bodes well for his future as a midfield battler.
Following in the footsteps of Chelsea alumni Callum Hudson-Odoi, Victor Moses and Musiala in attending South Croydon’s Whitgift School, the midfielder looks set to follow in their path from youth football to the first team.
Castledine only turned 17 back in August but made three appearances for England’s Under 18s back in September. The Young Lions won each of the friendly fixtures and he came off the bench to score the match-winner in a 1-0 win over the Netherlands on his debut at that level.
Such is his prodigious talent, he’s made the step up to Under-21s football for Chelsea– and is turning heads already.
He was named in Mark Robinson’s XI in an EFL Trophy knockout clash with Peterborough United back in November and shone in the centre of the park as the young Blues eliminated a more physical and experienced League One outfit with a 4-2 victory.
“Things just don’t faze him,” Under-21s coach Robinson responded (via The Athletic).
Since then he’s stepped away from Chelsea’s Under-18s’ league campaign to play more of a key role in the Under-21s’ Premier League 2 title push. There have been some setbacks – eliminations from the EFL Trophy, UEFA Youth League and FA Youth Cup – but they could well prove valuable experience.
In recent weeks, Robinson has turned to Castledine as his late game-changer off the bench. And the 17-year-old has stepped up, demonstrating his clutch gene by coming on and scoring vital late goals in victories over Arsenal and Manchester United.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) February 28, 2023
Chelsea’s Under-21s now sit at the summit of the Premier League 2 table as we approach the business end of the campaign and it will be fascinating to see whether Castledine is among those from the crop to be knocking on Graham Potter’s door for first-team opportunities in the next year or two.
The difficult 2022-23 campaign has raised questions about Chelsea’s future and identity.
Leaning more on the academy prospects in the latter years of Abramovich’s reign has been a positive, unequivocally successful development at Stamford Bridge and it would be a shame if the Todd Boehly era saw the club pivot back away from that strategy.
With lavish spending in the transfer market and the most expensively-assembled squad in Europe struggling to mount a top-four push, it’s unknown where things go from here.
Boehly was (rightly) roundly mocked for citing Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah as examples of Chelsea’s academy success, but at least his heart seemed to be in the right place in stressing the value of Chelsea’s academy.
The investment strategy has been focused on youth and while the jury remains out on Potter, he has a proven track record of developing talent at Brighton, Swansea and Ostersund.
With additions like Enzo Fernandez, Wesley Fofana, Mykhalio Mudryk, Benoit Badiashile, Carney Chukwuemeka, Andrey Santos and Noni Madueke all 22 or under, Chelsea’s future looks bright.
But they shouldn’t ignore the talent that never stops emerging on their doorstep – Castledine looks like Cobham’s latest gem. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.