In the shadow of the Alps, under the springtime Swiss sunshine, on this day five years ago, Chelsea’s Under-19s were crowned European champions for their age group when they lifted the distinctive UEFA Youth League trophy.
A 3-2 victory over the Ukrainians Shakhtar Donetsk finished the job started seven months earlier as a team brimming with the most promising young talent on the continent justified the individual hype by getting their hands on collective silverware.
An impressive eight of the starting 11 in Nyon have gone on to play senior football for Chelsea, accounting for 182 appearances between them to date. Tammy Abraham, then just 17-years-old, came on for the final five minutes of the final, having netted our fourth goal in a 4-0 semi-final win over Roma three days previously. Fikayo Tomori was an unused substitute.
Izzy Brown, on loan this season at Luton Town in the Championship, was a particularly busy man that weekend. As skipper of the side, he played 90 minutes against Roma on the Friday afternoon before flying back to London and featuring in the squad for our Premier League trip to Queens Park Rangers, a game in which we ground out an important three points in our quest for the title as Cesc Fabregas struck a late winner at Loftus Road.
Brown was back in the air before Jose Mourinho’s players had time to comprehend the significance of their victory on the other side of west London and he struck early in both halves against Shakhtar two days later to play his part in our European triumph.
The image of Brown lifting aloft the trophy at the Stade du Colvoray even made some of the UK newspapers' back pages the following morning, such was the perceived significance of our triumph in just the second edition of the Youth League competition.
‘I’ve won the FA Youth Cup and the Under-17 European Championships with England but this just tops it all off,’ said Brown after the game. ‘To be on the bench for the first team and then come back here to play has been a great experience for me and I’m just so happy we’ve won the competition.’
A fresh-faced Ruben Loftus-Cheek patrolled the midfield for the Blues, a month prior to his first senior start at Stamford Bridge, and he recalled it as a tough contest in which the Chelsea Academy’s familiarity with high-pressure games proved telling.
‘It was a tough game in which we had to really dig in,’ reflected Loftus-Cheek. ‘Going 1-0 up and then conceding, you have to be strong mentally to deal with that. Having been in finals before, we were all used to that pressure.
‘We won nine out of 10 games in the competition so it was a brilliant achievement and showed our quality all the way through.’
Neil Bath, our head of youth development summed up the achievement at the time: ‘It really is a fantastic accomplishment to have won this competition. It is the pinnacle of youth football in Europe with all the top clubs involved.’
The fact our youngsters went on to retain the title a year later, before finishing as runners-up in 2018 and 2019, is indicative of the Academy’s competitiveness among European football’s elite.
However, it is perhaps the fact that so many of that group have kicked on into the senior game that remains the greatest achievement for the class of 2015. All 11 starters are still playing in top-flight European football or the Championship, four of the 18-man squad have featured regularly under Frank Lampard this term.
What happened in Switzerland five years ago was a special triumph for a special group of players but what we have learned since is that it was really only the end of the beginning for them.