The young generation
News Thu 3 Jul 2014
In the first part of a two-part summer interview, Chelsea's head of youth development Neil Bath looks back on the past 12 months for the club's Academy…
The 2013/14 season was one of unprecedented achievement on the pitch for the teams of various ages fielded by Chelsea Football Club's Academy.
Most high-profile were our Under-18s and Under-21s, with the younger of those sides memorably capturing the FA Youth Cup in a two-legged final thriller against their equivalents from down the road at Fulham. The Under-21s were undisputed national champions having first topped the 22-team table after the regular league fixtures were completed, and then beating Manchester City at the Etihad and Manchester United at Old Trafford in the play-offs to decide who claimed the trophy. Chelsea's Under-13s, Under-15s and Under-16s collected trophies too.
Neil Bath, Chelsea's head of youth development (pictured below) who oversees the sides from our youngest age groups right up to the Under-21s, reflects with the official Chelsea website on the past 12 months.
'Throughout the season, all Academy teams participate in tournament football and we see playing in competitions as a big part of development,' he explains.
'It is pleasing that in so many of the prestigious tournaments we have done particularly well, right through the ages.
'The Under-13s won a Premier League national tournament, the Under-14s made the final of another prestigious tournament held at Wembley, losing 1-0 to Reading. The Under-15s won their cup and the Under-16s won a Premier League national tournament that also had international teams involved, beating Real Madrid in the final 3-1, and of course most people are aware we won the FA Youth Cup and the Under-21s League.
'In terms of winning tournaments, since I have been here it is certainly the most successful year,' he reports, 'but what is very pleasing is we won playing a style of football through all the ages that we describe as a philosophy creating attacking football with a winning mentality.
'That has been very encouraging and all the coaching staff across all the ages should be praised for that. When you win tournaments in youth development, the coaching staff that work with that age group at the time have done extremely well but in addition, the boys may have been in the Academy for eight to 10 years, as was the case with many of the players in the Youth Cup and the Under-21 League, so everybody contributes to the success, from recruitment people to coaching departments to all the sporting departments.
'It is very much a team effort which also includes all the parental and family support, and of course the players themselves. When you talk about Lewis Baker, Ruben Loftus-Cheek or Dominic Solanke to name but a few, all those boys have been with us 10 years, attending Cobham five or six times a week as schoolboys and you have to acknowledge the commitment they put in.'
Another aspect of the Academy's achievement last season which Bath is keen to highlight is the background of the players involved. He points out that nine of the starting line-up against Fulham in the FA Youth Cup final were not just English boys but all from London or the south-east region.
The focus for recruiting youth players is firstly the south-east, then looking at talent across England for outstanding prospects such as Izzy Brown and then adding just the odd player from Europe, Andreas Christensen a prime example.
The competitions in which the older players in the Academy participate has evolved over the last few seasons, with the old reserve league becoming an Under-21 league - a national competition which divides into two divisions for next campaign based on last season's results. Added to that, a new Under-21 Cup began and a Chelsea Under-19 squad competed in the inaugural UEFA Youth League, following on from a substantial taste of European competition with the NextGen Series the year before.
'It is good the boys have played in more first-team stadiums, in front of bigger crowds than ever before for the Under-21 age group, with live TV games under floodlights,' says Bath.
'It is not the finished product, it is not league football, but it is getting closer and I can see in the future there being prize money at Under-21 level and this will have the benefit of added pressure.
'We are developing these boys to go into the real football world and to experience the pressure of league football in the future, and pressure is part of their development.
'As a club it is our view that Under-21s should experience some pressure and the results should be important. We prepare our players to play a good brand of football but with a purpose to go out and win.
'The UEFA Youth League I'm sure will grow as a tournament and when I look at the FA Youth Cup final and the Under-21 final at Old Trafford, it terms of the technical level and the energy and passion, and in terms of the excitement the crowds are showing, it is certainly getting closer to the real thing.'
-Tomorrow Neil Bath discusses last season's playing schedule, youth international success and young players departing…