Neil Bath, Chelsea's head of youth development, has been presented with the Eamonn Dolan award as a recognition of his exceptional work with young players at the club.
The accolade was presented to Bath during tonight's Virtual Premier League Academy Awards. The Eamonn Dolan award was established in honour of the former Reading Academy manager, who passed away in the summer of 2016 after a battle with cancer.
Bath, who first joined the Chelsea schoolboys coaching staff in 1993, has witnessed over 45 senior debuts since becoming Academy manager in 2004, eight of those having come in the current 2019/20 season under head coach Frank Lampard.
‘I’m really pleased about this achievement,' Bath told the official Chelsea website. 'When you receive an award like this, it is for the efforts that have come from a team set-up. I’m very happy to be awarded personally but I also receive it on behalf of all the staff and players at the club because this is recognition of the work of many people.
‘I feel very proud because it’s an achievement for playing your part in developing players but also in developing staff and I get as much satisfaction in seeing staff at the club grow as I do players.'
Bath has overseen the most successful period for the Academy in terms of tournament achievements. Following the FA Youth Cup triumph in 2010, our first success in the tournament since 1961, we have lifted the trophy in 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
The feat of winning five years in a row has only ever been accomplished once before in the history of the competition, by the Manchester United Busby Babes side of the 1950s.
Other Academy achievements in Bath’s time have included being crowned Under-21 Premier League champions in 2013/14 and back-to-back UEFA Youth League titles in 2014/15 and 2015/16.
As well as silverware success, the childhood Chelsea fan has overseen an incredibly successful restructuring of the youth development programme at the club, making it more holistic in its approach to nurturing the next generation of local talent.
The fact that 29 per cent of Chelsea's Premier League minutes this season have been played by Academy graduates, most of whom signed at the age of eight, is a huge testament to the pillars of recruitment, coaching and off-field support overseen by Bath, the reassuring ever-present in charge of the operation - always innovating, adapting, modernising and believing that a homegrown core of players could form the basis of the Chelsea squad.
‘Over the years, we've always strived for players from the Academy to get more opportunities in the first team,' he said.
'However, in this particular year and under the management of Frank Lampard, who has been prepared to play and give them an opportunity if he feels they are deserving, it has been an incredibly successful season.
‘It’s a very timely award because when you look at the minutes that our Academy has contributed to the men’s first team, it will be the most we’ve had in modern history.’
The Premier League Academy Awards has been running for three years, with the inaugural ceremony held at Cobham in 2017, where all in attendance learned of Dolan's huge influence on the game and those he worked with. He was regarded as a creative, innovative coach and mentor to staff and players alike, before passing away at the age of 48 after a battle with illness.
‘Eamonn was a man who I knew well,' said Bath as he reflected on the award and Dolan's influence. 'Whenever we played against each other, we would always meet prior to kick-off and have a cup of tea together. We would reach out to each other during the year and catch up.
'I know he was passionate about developing people as well as players so to receive an award in memory of Eamonn makes me very proud.’