We continue to mark this week’s 15th anniversary of Roman Abramovich becoming owner of Chelsea by summarising the changes to training facilities in that time…
If Chelsea, back in 2003 when Roman Abramovich bought the club, were destined to become a power in the world game, we would need world-class facilities to prepare for matches.
That, without any doubt, was something we most definitely did not possess 15 years ago. In fact, we did not even own a training ground.
Chelsea had been successful in winning trophies in the late 1990s and become a Champions League club, but people not involved at that time who later experienced the basic, cramped, wind-swept, noisy, student sports ground and pavilion we were hiring from a London university expressed surprise we had been able to compete with the best.
Under the new ownership of Mr Abramovich, money was soon spent on improving Harlington but then in 2004, the longer-term upgrade commenced with the first team and Academy waving goodbye to the strip of land between the M4 Motorway and Heathrow Airport, and moving to the more tranquil Surrey countryside near Cobham.
Initially for the senior players there were high-spec portacabins and for the juniors, another former student building, but importantly the pitches were now under the control of full-time Chelsea groundstaff and were just what the coaches ordered.
A new multi-million-pound training ground building rose steadily between those pitches and in 2007 the players moved in. A year later and close by, an Academy and Community building opened too. Both designs were sympathetic to the green-belt location and the players now had first-class gym and medical facilities, to the degree that all but major surgery could be carried out on site. Hydrotherapy was on hand too. The underwater treadmill with depth and incline controls and video monitoring was the first in the UK.
The training ground as a whole is spread over 140 acres, with more than 30 pitches including plenty with undersoil heating.
The Academy’s headquarters accommodates approximately 150 players from Under-9s up to the development squad and over 70 full-time staff. It also has the space for parents who attend in the evening.
Although it too has gym equipment, medical facilities and a canteen, it is not merely a copy of the senior building across the driveway. Being a centre for development, there is equipment for players to study their own performance and also two classrooms that cater for our full-time education programme. An adjacent school is utilised for further classrooms, science labs and other education facilities.
Outside, a small-scale stadium is a venue for competitive matches right up to UEFA Youth League level.
As reported yesterday, Chelsea Women are also housed at the training ground, with their own indoor and outdoor facilities.
Cobham has not stood still since the initial investment. The main building had a major extension below ground level completed in 2014, increasing gym floor space and the rehab areas, and adding a better, dedicated room for team meetings. TV studios were also added.
The pitches have been upgraded too to keep up with those found in Premier League stadiums and in 2016, a new, permanent indoor arena was built, situated close to the Academy building.
Player preparation at Chelsea is indisputably world class.