Once again, Chelsea risk letting great youth prospects slip through their fingers.
How must Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek be feeling right now? The midfield duo must have thought they stood a chance of actually breaking into Chelsea’s first team this year, but alas, for newly-appointed head coach Maurizio Sarri had other plans.
Mateo Kovacic, the man Real Madrid hope will eventually replace fellow Croat Luka Modric in the Los Blancos midfield, has packed his bags for Stamford Bridge and looks set to take a starting spot in Sarri’s first eleven, alongside Jorginho and N’Golo Kante.
Hoping to recapture the form that persuaded Antonio Conte to part with £15 million in January, Barkley might have been relishing the prospect of playing a greater role for Chelsea this year, with Sarri’s switching of the formation from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3 naturally creating space on the pitch for an extra central midfielder.
The role in question, as the most forward-thinking of a midfield trio also containing a deep-lying playmaker and a defensive midfielder, seemed tailor-made for a player of Barkley’s talents. Standing at 6 foot 2 and with the build of a boxer, the Liverpudlian clearly has the physical attributes required to play in a midfield three; whilst his ability to beat a man, thread a pass or shoot from distance were all evidenced during his time at Everton. And how he must have been encouraged by Sarri’s comments on his pre-season form, with the Italian telling the media that Barkley “will be a very useful player for us”.
Loftus-Cheek – Consistently neglected?
But however frustrated Barkley must currently feel, spare a thought for Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Here is a real talent, a man blessed with athleticism and technique in equal abundance, almost certainly the best young midfielder England currently possesses. And last year he showed that it wasn’t all hype, as he started 21 Premier League games for Crystal Palace, impressing so much during his time in London that he was called up to England’s World Cup squad.
At the tournament he continued to impress, with his display in the third/fourth-placed play-off against Belgium leading Eurosport to name him “England’s brightest and best player” on the day. However, Sarri did not even name Loftus-Cheek in his squad for the Community Shield final against Manchester City, and in loaning Kovacic has placed another obstacle between the 22-year-old and the first team.
What’s worse, Loftus-Cheek hasn’t even been afforded the opportunity to return on loan to Palace, where he could have gained another season’s worth of invaluable first-team experience. It looks very well as if 2018-19 will be a season of stasis for one of our country’s top talents, and that is something that should concern not only Chelsea fans but England fans in general.
It’s a familiar story for Chelsea…
Chelsea have lost three of the Premier League’s shining lights in recent years in Mohamed Salah, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku, due primarily to a philosophy (or lack thereof) centred around short-term gain, that percolates like poison through the club. Managers have an exceptionally short shelf-life at Stamford Bridge, with Roman Abramovich remorseless in his wielding of the axe, and we are now clearly able to witness the consequences that this instability has on youth development..
Mourinho, Conte and now Sarri have not felt secure enough in their posts to invest time in the development of younger players, preferring instead to place their faith in ready-made talent and older heads. Perhaps one day we will be adding Loftus-Cheek, or even Barkley, to the list of players that Chelsea will sincerely regret losing.
Article written by Will May