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Pat Nevin: Aiming high

With young players from Chelsea the talk of English football over the past few days, former Blue and columnist Pat Nevin continues to keep an eye on progress made…


I have to admit it; I really enjoyed watching England against Germany last week, which is a bit of a surprise to be honest. First of all, it was England playing in an international friendly at Wembley and for me, those games are usually more like a form of torture than entertainment. Also, this one was 0-0 but it was still a superb watch and let’s be fair, it could have been 4-4 at half time.

For all that it was an exciting game, it might not have piqued my interest had Tammy Abraham and Ruben Loftus-Cheek not only been in the squad, but also in the starting 11. It was the perfect time to give them their first, full international outings - a friendly yes, but it was against the mighty Germany. It is also preferable to give young players their first starts at home; there is usually a decent chance of getting on the ball more than in your typical away fixture.

It was pretty positive all round and most importantly for Chelsea, yet another step on the ladder towards our first team for both of them. It does seem odd to say that playing for England in a friendly is a step on the ladder to our first team, but in reality it probably is for these two. If Tammy is going to make the Chelsea no.9 jersey his own, he will have to usurp Alvaro Morata and in case some people hadn’t noticed, Alvaro is quite good! He started up front and scored for Spain at the weekend, who are also actually quite good.

Ruben for his part still has to muscle his way past Cesc Fabregas, N’Golo Kante, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwater when he comes back to Stamford Bridge, and this will be no easy task. If however he continues to impress for England and is clearly the best of the bunch at Crystal Palace for the rest of the season, I am convinced he will get a chance. The perfect example for these two is Andreas Christensen who I was writing about here last week. He played some first team football here, but he earned his stripes as well as made his mistakes playing with Borussia Moenchengladbach.

They were playing not only in the Bundesliga but also the Champions League and when he won that club’s Player of the Year, it was clear he had shown he was good enough to be part of the Chelsea squad. I very specifically say squad here, because look what he still had to do to get into the team; he had to oust either Cesar Azpilicueta, a top Spanish international, Gary Cahill, England’s centre-back, David Luiz who has over 50 caps for Brazil or of course, Antonio Rudiger who has over 20 caps for Germany.

Andreas has done all that and managed to get himself into the team, but now he has to play to a monumental standard every week to stay there. David Luiz missed out in the last game but as he was arguably the best player in the team in the Premier League-winning side last season, it underlines the quality around the place and the battle for places. As anyone who has read my stuff or listened to any of my comments in David’s time here will know, I am a huge fan, continually arguing against all comers on his behalf. 

He is precisely the type of footballing defender that I admire and think is all too rare in the British game. It was therefore rather annoying that out-of-context comments on a website suggested I was saying he was the cause of some recent under-par performances. He is one of my favourite players in world football and I would be hugely miffed if anyone including David thought I had anything but high regard for him then, now or indeed going forward at Chelsea.  

So this rarefied level which Andreas, Tammy and Ruben have to get to is extraordinary; this is after all last season’s Premier League champions they are trying to break into. As I said last week, Andreas could be the basis of a Chelsea team for the next decade if it all goes to plan, he is certainly good enough. So it can be done with ability above all else but with a deal of patience, a virtue often understandably disdained in football.

Since he was 15 I have bored everyone senseless about Tammy Abraham, particularly on Chelsea TV. I have consistently said, ‘He is the one’. Others may or may not improve, grow and have the personality, power and skill needed to make it into the Chelsea first team as regulars, but I have always felt Tammy was a near certainty.

Oddly enough, Ruben may have the toughest task of the three not just because of the players already in the Chelsea midfield but also due to those who might be acquired consequently. Does that sound negative? It shouldn’t do, because quite simply that is the harsh nature of the competition at this level. Yes, it might be hard to get a first-team berth at Chelsea, but that is the challenge you must believe you are capable of meeting. Ruben has the physique equal of just about anyone in the Premier League, he clearly has skill to cope at the top level, so what does he have to do?

If he scores between five and 10 goals this season, ups the number of assists and begins to boss midfields in the Premier League, then it will a no-brainer for the club I suspect. It is a high bar, but accept anything less and it will mean you will fail to be one of the top clubs in world football. It is rather strange that I have recently read that Tammy is being held back in his Chelsea career because he has been loaned out to Bristol City then Swansea, but that Ruben was held back because he wasn’t loaned out enough.

You can’t win really, but I personally feel that it would have helped Ruben to have been loaned out a year earlier. I suspect first Jose and then Antonio felt that they needed cover in case of injuries and suspensions, which is certainly the manager’s prerogative. It is hard to fault last season; Antonio didn’t have many injuries, suspensions or indeed many defeats in the end and lest we forget, even Cesc Fabregas couldn’t get a game many weeks because of the extraordinary run the team went on.

In short, there has been a bit of flak around but the Chelsea squad looks pretty strong right now and there are a number of young players on the cusp. Andreas, Tammy and Ruben aren’t the only ones! Some of the others who will not make it at Chelsea will have fine careers elsewhere after coming through the system at Cobham. Isn’t this something to be celebrated now and again rather than be continually sniped at?