Chelsea played their first competitive game in three months at Villa Park on 21 June as part of the Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’ following football’s suspension due to coronavirus. Here, the official Chelsea website takes a look at how staff and players from our Academy supported the efforts to get back on the pitch…
One of the purposes of the Academy is to support the men’s team whenever and however is needed, with that support this season clear to see with the large amount of players who have made the step up, whether in training with Frank Lampard’s group or as part of the matchday squad.
However, when the Premier League announced plans to curtail the remainder of the Academy season back in May, weeks before those working in our youth development programme were due to disperse for a period of rest, some players and staff were called upon by Lampard to assist the men’s team in our bid for a strong finish to the 2019/20 campaign.
Development squad head coach Andy Myers, Under-18s head coach Ed Brand and Under-23s athletic development coach Elliott Axtell made a safe return to Cobham along with members of the men’s team to help integrate some of the young professionals into their new training routines. Armando Broja, Henry Lawrence, Tino Anjorin, Lewis Bate, Tino Livramento, Dynel Simeu and Ian Maatsen were among the group of youngsters drafted into the schedule.
Brand, who before the season’s curtailment spearheaded an impressive run with the youth team to the FA Youth Cup semi-finals, has been enjoying his summer secondment so far.
‘It’s a very new role for me,’ he told us. ‘I had a conversation with Neil Bath [head of youth development] and it came about as a result of the circumstances we find ourselves in with the pandemic.
‘The role of a “COVID-coach” was invented as the Premier League wanted an A-Licenced coach to be part of the planning process of training and to observe sessions before compiling a risk assessment with a coach’s eye.
‘I’ve been reviewing practice and exercises to identify high-risk drills and sitting in on all the session planning meetings with the coaching staff. After each one I write a report which I send to all technical staff, breaking each drill down into categories, which helps to form a review of every session marking it as a moderate risk, low risk or very low-risk day.’
Brand relishes being involved in such a big project and can see the benefits it will have within the Academy when a return date for them is eventually confirmed.
‘For me personally, it’s a fantastic opportunity to be involved,’ he admitted. ‘I’m learning from the head coach, who is organising a team to compete in a very short space of time, which will be a similar job for Academy staff when we eventually return to play.
‘It’s almost like being a fly on the wall, listening in and trying to learn as much as I can. The link between the Academy and first team being as strong as it is, it’s great to be a part of it all and I think Andy [Myers] would echo that.
‘From observing and speaking to the younger boys, I think they feel as I do - happy to be in and around the first team environment, where they have been able to learn off the players and staff by training with experienced professionals, and they’ve done well. They’ve all earned their place after good seasons in the Academy and when the manager has asked something of them, they haven’t let anyone down.’
Teenage midfielder Bate has had his first taste of consistent sessions delivered by Lampard this summer after featuring regularly for our youngsters this season. The 17-year-old explains what he’s learned from working closely alongside the senior professionals and recalls the moment he got the call to return to Cobham.
‘I was sitting in my garden with my family and I got a call from the club doctor saying I needed to come in for a COVID-19 test the next day because I was joining the first-team bubble,’ Bate reveals.
‘I thought it would be just in case they needed us but within two days I had joined in training in small groups at Cobham. We began working on fitness because the first team had a week’s training on us already but then after a week we all joined in together and it’s been consistent ever since.
‘I trained with them four times during the normal season and the tempo and quality is high but training with them day-in, day-out just highlights how much quality they have - even after three months without playing! It’s been a good experience and playing with the world-class players we have will only make us better footballers.
‘N’Golo Kante is a central midfielder like me and I’m learning from him - the way he conducts himself on and off the pitch is good. One day I’ll be on the same team as him in training and the next day I’ll be up against him trying to play as the opposition do, which will only help make me a better player as I have to raise my game.’
As they continue to support Lampard’s squad in the final weeks of the season, it seems our youngsters will themselves be in good shape for when the Academy programme resumes, having played their part and used the current circumstances to their advantage over this unusual summer period.