The midfield first-team prospect now running a property firm, a title-winning keeper who retired due to depression and players at every level from Premier League to non-league: Chelsea have had 50 academy debuts under Abramovich – so where are they now?
- Thomas Tuchel handed debuts to three academy graduates in Brentford win
- Xavier Simons, Harvey Vale and Jude Soonsup-Bell started Carabao Cup tie
- It took the number of Chelsea academy debutants under Abramovich to 50
- Some have performed well enough to establish themselves in the first team
- But a significant number are forgotten names who moved elsewhere to prosper
A combination of Covid, injuries and the fact it was the Carabao Cup offered a brilliant opportunity for some of Chelsea’s latest crop of academy graduates on Wednesday night.
Thomas Tuchel handed debuts to youngsters Xavier Simons, Harvey Vale and Jude Soonsup-Bell in the quarter-final win at Brentford.
That means Chelsea have fielded 50 graduates of their Cobham academy since Roman Abramovich took ownership of the club back in 2003.
Xavier Simons (left) in action during Chelsea’s Carabao Cup quarter-final against Brentford
Harvey Vale was another Chelsea youngster handed his debut on Wednesday night
Jude Soonsup-Bell completed a trio of Chelsea academy graduates playing their first game
This trio will be hoping to carve out a successful Stamford Bridge career, following in the footsteps of Mason Mount, Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Andreas Christensen in treading the path to the first team.
But the majority on the list haven’t been able to make the breakthrough at Chelsea, continuing their careers elsewhere.
So what happened to the 47 other players who made their Chelsea bow during the Abramovich era?
50 Chelsea academy graduates have been handed a first-team debut during the post-2003 Roman Abramovich era at Stamford Bridge
Alexis Nicolas – The first Chelsea academy product to make a first-team debut under Russian ownership – against Scarborough in the fourth round of the FA Cup in January 2004. Made just one more Chelsea appearance before moving to Brighton. Left football aged only 24 to become a chartered surveyor and then set up a commercial property investment company.
Steven Watt pictured in Chelsea colours
Steven Watt – Joined Chelsea from the academy of hometown club Aberdeen and made his debut in a FA Cup tie with Scunthorpe United in January 2005, earning praise from manager Jose Mourinho. Made his Premier League debut, as an 89th-minute substitute, against Newcastle at the end of that season. Joined Swansea in 2006 and later played for Ross County, Grimsby Town, Dover Athletic and Maidstone United. Most recently manager of Isthmian League club Hythe Town.
Anthony Grant – Midfielder who replaced Joe Cole in the final minute to make his debut in a 3-1 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford in May 2005. Was given the shirt number 42 the following season but didn’t play. A series of football league loans followed with Grant ultimately signing for Southend United. Now 34, he is playing in League Two at Swindon Town.
Lenny Pidgeley – Goalkeeper who made his debut as a sub for Carlo Cudicini in the final home game of the 2004-05 Premiership season against Charlton. Served as third choice behind Cudicini and Petr Cech either side of loans at Watford and Millwall. Would join the Lions in 2006 and went on to play for Carlisle, Bradford City and Newport County among other clubs. Pidgeley was left ‘angry and hurt’ after his final club Farnborough Town announced he had retired from football because of depression. Farnborough said ‘the timing is shocking’ in a club statement with Pidgeley saying it left him ‘in a dark place.’
Anthony Grant (left) and Lenny Pidgeley (right) during their Chelsea appearances
Jimmy Smith – The reserve team’s leading goalscorer in 2005-06, Smith was rewarded with a debut in the final game of the 2005-06 season away to Newcastle. That would prove his one and only Chelsea appearance before four loan spells. Smith left to sign for Leyton Orient in 2009 and later played for Stevenage and Crawley Town. Now 34, he is a youth coach at Chelsea.
Ben Sahar – The Israeli striker spent two months on trial at Chelsea before they paid £320,000 to sign him from Hapoel Tel Aviv in May 2006. Made his debut in the FA Cup against Macclesfield Town the following January but made just a handful of appearances before going out on loan four times. Moved to Espanyol in 2009 and now plays for Maccabi Haifa.
Israel international Ben Sahar in action against Everton in a 2007 Premiership fixture
Michael Woods – The subject of a dispute when Chelsea signed him at 16 with Leeds United chairman Ken Bates accusing his former club of ‘tapping-up’ Woods and two other academy players. Chelsea settled out-of-court for £5million. Woods, a midfielder, was Chelsea’s fourth-youngest player ever at 16 years and 275 days when he featured in that Macclesfield Cup tie. Left the club in 2012, playing for Harrogate, Hartlepool and Dover. Now in the National League North with York City.
Scott Sinclair – The winger didn’t make his debut against Macclesfield but did against Wycombe Wanderers in a League Cup semi-final four days later. Scored his first goal for Chelsea against Hull in the following season’s League Cup and would play 14 times for them in all, scoring once. Interspersed with this were six loan spells, mostly in the Football League. Sinclair has gone on to play for Swansea, Manchester City, Aston Villa and Celtic and is currently with Championship club Preston North End.
Scott Sinclair scores for Chelsea in a 4-0 League Cup win over Hull City in September 2007
Sam Hutchinson – Joined Chelsea at nine and worked his way through the youth ranks to make his senior debut at the age of 17 against Everton in May 2007. Hutchinson actually retired from playing at the age of 21 because of a recurring knee injury but the issue improved and he was able to continue with his career. Has played mostly for Sheffield Wednesday, his current club.
Miroslav Stoch – Chelsea’s scouts spotted Stoch after he made a breakthrough aged only 16 in the Slovakian top league with Nitra. Made his Chelsea debut against Arsenal in November 2008 and would play five times for the club. After a season on loan at Twente in Holland, the winger moved on to Fenerbahce and now plays in the Czech league for Slovan Liberec.
Michael Mancienne – Although Mancienne went on Chelsea’s summer tour of the United States in 2006 and subsequently made the bench in a few games, it was some time before he actually made his debut. That came against Watford in a 2009 FA Cup tie. Despite this, he signed a contract until 2013, only to be loaned out to Wolves. Left to sign for Hamburg in 2011 and now plays in League One for Burton Albion.
Fabio Borini – Italian striker was picked up from Bologna’s academy in 2007 and made his first team debut as a late sub for Nicolas Anelka in a league game with Tottenham. Played eight times in total for the Blues. Left in 2011 to join Parma and returned to the Premier League with Liverpool in 2012, where he played more frequently. Now 30, Borini plays for the Turkish club Fatih Karagumruk via Sunderland, Milan and Hellas Verona.
Fabio Borini in action during his full Chelsea debut, against QPR in the League Cup
Jeffrey Bruma – Chelsea paid £100,000 to bring Dutch defender Bruma from Feyenoord’s academy and he was 17 when making his first-team debut against Blackburn Rovers in October 2009. Played only 10 times for Chelsea and spent time on loan at Leicester and Hamburg. Returned to Holland with PSV Eindhoven in 2013 and now also plays in Turkey, for Kasimpasa.
Gael Kakuta – Another contentious transfer, with Kakuta ultimately banned for four months and fined for breaching his contract in order to join Chelsea from Lens in 2007. Chelsea were initially banned from signing players for two transfer windows but took the case to CAS and won.
His debut came against Wolves in a November 2009 league game but despite 16 appearances it never really happened for the French winger. Like many others, he had loads of loan spells before eventually leaving in 2015 to sign for Sevilla. Now back at Lens.
Gael Kakuta pictured on his Chelsea debut – a Premier League game against Wolves in 2009
Patrick van Aanholt – Another player surplus to requirements who became lost in a maze of loan spells. Five in total for the Holland international defender who played only eight times for Chelsea but spent five seasons out on loan. His debut came in March 2010 in a 5-0 thrashing of Portsmouth at Fratton Park. Now plays for Galatasaray.
Josh McEachran – There were high hopes that midfielder McEachran could crack the Chelsea first team after impressive displays for the reserves. Made his senior debut in a Champions League game against Zilina in September 2010 with a Premier League debut against Man City following soon after. Carlo Ancelotti liked his abilities and McEachran played 17 times in that first season. Andre Villas-Boas and his successor weren’t so keen and he was sent out on five different loans. Signed for Brentford in 2015 and is now with MK Dons in League One.
Josh McEachran in action for Chelsea against Fulham in a League Cup fixture in 2012
Jacob Mellis – The midfielder made his one and only Chelsea appearance in November 2010, also against Zilina in the Champions League. Went out on loan to Barnsley but upon his return, was sacked by the club for setting off a smoke grenade, causing the evacuation of the Cobham training ground. Carved out a good career in the Football League and now plays for Southend United.
Ryan Bertrand – Quite an extraordinary Chelsea career – Bertrand had loan spells with Bournemouth (twice), Oldham, Norwich (twice), Reading and Nottingham Forest before finally receiving his chance at Stamford Bridge in 2011. His debut came in a win over Birmingham. Used as a back-up to Ashley Cole but started the 2012 Champions League final on the left side of midfield. In the end, made 57 appearances for the club before heading to Southampton. Signed for Leicester last summer.
Ryan Bertrand started the 2012 Champions League final, which saw Chelsea beat Bayern
Lucas Piazon – Chelsea saw off competition from a number of top clubs to sign the Brazilian wonderkid Piazon from Sao Paulo in 2011. His competitive debut came in a League Cup debut against Wolves in the 2012-13 season. Piazon played three times for the club before embarking on a ridiculous loan odyssey that saw him play for Malaga, Vitesse, Eintracht Frankfurt, Reading, Fulham, Chievo and Rio Ave. Astonishingly, he only properly left Chelsea in 2021 to join Portuguese club Braga.
Lucas Piazon makes his debut for Chelsea in a 2012 League Cup fixture against Wolves
Nathan Ake – Another acquisition from Feyenoord, Dutch defender Ake was handed a Premier League debut by Rafael Benitez in a league game with Norwich in December 2012. Ake was voted Chelsea’s Young Player of the Year that season but would be loaned out to Reading, Watford and then Bournemouth, making just 17 appearances for the Blues. Ake’s career only really took off when he signed for Bournemouth in 2017 and three years later he was joining Man City in a £41million deal.
Tomas Kalas – Czech defender Chelsea paid around £5m for to sign from Sigma Olomouc in 2010. Sent back there initially on loan, Kalas then spent two seasons with Chelsea’s Dutch partner club Vitesse. Finally, Jose Mourinho gave him his debut against Arsenal in the League Cup in 2013 but comments made to a Czech TV show revealed frustration: ‘I am a player for training sessions. If they need a cone they put me there instead.’ That didn’t stop Kalas hanging around until 2019, spending time out at Cologne, Middlesbrough, Fulham and Bristol City. He made a permanent switch to City in 2019.
Tomas Kalas in action in one of his four Chelsea appearances – against Liverpool in 2014
Lewis Baker – There were high hopes for the midfielder, a star of a highly successful Chelsea youth side. His professional debut came as a late replacement for Oscar in a FA Cup tie against Derby County in January 2014. In a familiar story, Baker, now 26, is still on Chelsea’s books but that remains his one and only senior appearance. It’s been loans all the way – Sheffield Wednesday, MK Dons, Vitesse, Middlesbrough, Leeds, Reading, Fortuna Dusseldorf and Trabzonspor. Now back in Chelsea’s extended squad, Baker might have played against Brentford but tested positive for Covid.
Lewis Baker has made just one Chelsea appearance but remains with the club
John Swift – A promising midfielder in the Chelsea ranks who was rewarded with a senior debut in an end of season match against Swansea in 2014. Spent time out on loan at Rotherham, Swindon and Brentford before cutting his losses in 2016 by signing for Reading. The 26-year-old has since made almost 200 appearances for the Royals.
Dominic Solanke – One of the most prolific strikers to rise through the academy ranks at Cobham, with Mourinho famously saying he would blame himself if Solanke didn’t also play for England. Replaced Oscar to make his first team debut in a Champions League win over Maribor in 2014. That would be his sole Chelsea appearance. Spent time with Vitesse, came back and didn’t play and then signed for Liverpool when his contract ran down. Now scoring plenty of goals in the Championship for Bournemouth.
Andreas Christensen – Came to Chelsea in 2012 from Brondby in his Danish homeland. The defender played his first game away to Shrewsbury Town in the League Cup in October 2014, playing at right-back. Two seasons on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach proved the making of Christensen, who became a regular upon his return and has been ever since.
Danish defender Andreas Christensen rose from the academy to become a first-team regular
Ruben Loftus-Cheek – Another who has established himself as a regular this season but has required patience along the journey. Loftus-Cheek was a very impressive member of a Chelsea youth side that won the FA Youth Cup and the UEFA Youth League a decade or so ago. His senior debut was against Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League in December 2014. He was a regular during 2018-19 but has also been on loan to Crystal Palace and Fulham. Finally, under Tuchel this season, he might get opportunities again.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek pictured on his Chelsea debut against Sporting Lisbon back in 2014
Izzy Brown – A bright spark in the Youth Cup winning sides of 2014 and 2015, Brown is another member of the ‘just one senior Chelsea appearance’ club. That came as a sub for Loic Remy in a match against West Brom in May 2015. Another who was loaned out constantly, joining Vitesse, Rotherham, Huddersfield, Brighton, Leeds, Luton and Sheffield Wednesday at one point or another. Only left Chelsea earlier this year to join Preston.
Bertrand Traore – Chelsea beat Manchester United to the punch to sign Traore from the academy of Auxerre in 2010. After two seasons on loan to Vitesse, the attacking midfielder was promoted into the first team in 2015 and Mourinho gave him a debut in the Champions League against Maccabi Tel-Aviv. He would make 16 appearances that season but was moved out on loan to Ajax and then signed for Lyon, where he received far more regular football. Now at Aston Villa.
Bertrand Traore celebrates scoring a goal for Chelsea against Stoke City in March 2016
Jake Clarke-Salter – The defender won praise from John Terry after being handed his first-team debut against Aston Villa in April 2016. But aside from a couple more cup outings in 2017-18, that has been it for a player still on Chelsea’s books. He’s been loaned to Bristol Rovers, Sunderland, Vitesse, Birmingham City and, currently, Coventry.
Jake Clarke-Salter in action for Chelsea against Arsenal during a pre-season game this year
Tammy Abraham – Another familiar name. Abraham smashed all manner of records in Chelsea’s academy system, scoring 74 goals in 98 matches in two seasons alone. Guus Hiddink, the interim manager at the time, noticed Abraham’s talents and gave him a debut against Liverpool in May 2016. After loans at Bristol City, Swansea City and Aston Villa, Abraham was favoured by Frank Lampard and played – and scored – regularly in the 2019-20 season. Despite 12 goals last season, it was clear he’d be bumped down the pecking order as Romelu Lukaku arrived and he joined Roma for £34m.
Fikayo Tomori – The centre-half was given a flavour of first team action when he played against Leicester on the final day of the 2015-16 campaign. Tomori was then loaned out to Brighton, Hull and Derby before playing semi-regularly under Lampard at Chelsea. After a loan move to AC Milan, he moved to the San Siro permanently in June 2021.
Ola Aina – One of seven players awarded a first team debut during Antonio Conte’s two years as manager. The wing-back played six times in the 2016-17 season, making his debut in an EFL Cup tie against Bristol Rovers as a replacement for John Terry. Loaned first to Hull and then Torino, Aina decided to sign for the Italian club in 2019.
Defender Ola Aina on the ball during a pre-season tour match in Australia in July 2018
Nathaniel Chalobah – A Chelsea academy player from the age of 10, Chalobah went through loans at Watford, Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough, Burnley, Reading and Napoli before getting a taste of the first-team under Conte in 2016-17. But he moved on to Watford after that season and now plays for Fulham.
Charly Musonda – Brought in from the academy of Anderlecht after Chelsea saw off competition from several leading clubs. Musonda was sent on loan to Real Betis before making his Blues debut in the 2017 FA Community Shield against Arsenal. After seven outings that season, he has since spent time with Celtic and Vitesse, where he suffered a posterior cruciate ligament injury and required a lengthy and intensive rehab. Musonda only returned to action for Chelsea’s under-23 side back in September, after two years out the game.
Charly Musonda made a handful of Chelsea outings but has been afflicted by serious injury
Jeremie Boga – The Ivory Coast midfielder was a surprise starter in Chelsea’s first game of the 2017-18 season against Burnley having previously been out on loan to Rennes and Granada. Unfortunately, this debut lasted just 18 minutes as he was sacrificed when Gary Cahill was sent off. He subsequently went to Birmingham on loan for the season before leaving Chelsea to join Italian club Sassuolo.
Jeremie Boga plays for Chelsea in a pre-season International Champions Cup fixture in 2017
Dujon Sterling – The right-back was a star in the Chelsea youth side that won back-to-back Youth League titles in 2015 and 2016. The following year, Sterling made his senior debut in an EFL Cup third round tie against Nottingham Forest but played only once more. He remains a Chelsea player but is in his third loan spell – Coventry, Wigan and now Blackpool.
Callum Hudson-Odoi – Now a Chelsea regular, the 21-year-old winger is a rarity in that he hasn’t been out on loan. Like the latest trio of youngsters, it was the EFL Cup that proved a gateway to first team football for Hudson-Odoi. He first appeared in the matchday squad for a tie with Bournemouth in December 2017 before making his debut in an FA Cup game with Newcastle the following month.
Kyle Scott – Scott was desperate to make a breakthrough into the first team and at one point reportedly handed in a transfer request. In 2017-18 he was promoted into the first-team squad but played just the one game – a 4-0 win over Hull in the FA Cup. That was his lot at Chelsea and the 24-year-old went to Newcastle and is now in MLS with FC Cincinnati.
Kyle Scott pictured on his one and only Chelsea outing – a game with Hull City in the FA Cup
Mason Mount – No introduction required! Mount could yet prove to be the best Chelsea academy graduate there has been. His debut was actually pretty inauspicious – a 4-0 defeat at Manchester United on the opening weekend of the 2019-20 season.
Billy Gilmour – Another hot prospect. The Scotland midfielder is spending the season on loan at Norwich City to gain Premier League experience. Lampard gave the then-teenager his Premier League debut early in the 2019-20 season against Sheffield United and Gilmour was soon a regular fixture in the first team squad as he is likely to be in the future.
Billy Gilmour comes on for Tammy Abraham to make his Chelsea debut in August 2019
Reece James – Lampard appreciated the role of the academy perhaps more than any other Chelsea manager and he handed debuts to eight youngsters in total. James is another who has gone on to achieve great things, holding down the right-back spot for Chelsea, establishing himself for England and developing into one of the best in his position. Whatever James now goes on to accomplish, he’ll never forget his debut against Grimsby Town in the EFL Cup.
Marc Guehi – Guehi’s debut was another noteworthy feature of that 7-1 drubbing of Grimsby in September 2019. But he only played two games for the club, spending considerable time out on loan at Swansea City before signing for Crystal Palace at the beginning of the current season.
Marc Guehi challenges Jesse Lingard during a Carabao Cup tie against Manchester United
Ian Maatsen – Came off the bench in that Grimsby match to make his Chelsea debut. The Dutch left-back, 19, went out on loan to Charlton Athletic last season and is spending this campaign with Championship club Coventry City.
Tino Anjorin – The fourth academy graduate to make his debut against the Mariners that night. At least he played subsequently, including in a Premier League match against Everton that same season. He joined Lokomotiv Moscow on loan at the start of the season and they have an option to buy the midfielder.
Tariq Lamptey – Came off the bench to replace Tomori and make his Chelsea bow against Arsenal in a 2-1 league win in December 2019. Played in a couple of FA Cup wins after that before moving to Brighton.
Armando Broja – The Albania international was the last to be handed a debut by Lampard. He came on for Olivier Giroud in a 4-0 home win over Everton in March 2020, just after signing his first professional deal. Went to Vitesse last season and is now impressing on loan for Southampton.
Armando Broja comes on for Olivier Giroud during Chelsea’s 4-0 win over Everton in 2020
Trevoh Chalobah – Following in his brother’s footsteps, Chalobah made his Chelsea debut in last season’s Super Cup win over Villarreal. That followed loan spells at Ipswich Town, Huddersfield and Lorient. The defender will be hoping for many more games to follow.
Meet the latest debutants
Vale, 18, first joined Chelsea at Under-13 level and went on to pen his first professional deal in September of last year after climbing the club’s academy ranks.
The attacking midfielder, who registered seven goals and 11 assists in 28 academy outings last term, is considered one of the Blues’ brightest youth prospects right now and has been named on the senior bench twice by Tuchel for Champions League and Carabao Cup fixtures against Malmo and Southampton.
Harvey Vale challenges Brentford’s Ethan Pinnock for the ball on Wednesday night
Simons, 18, signed for Chelsea after leaving Brentford upon the closure of their academy programme back in 2016 and swiftly captained the club’s Under-16 side to Premier League glory.
The Hammersmith ace operates mainly as a defensive midfielder, producing strong displays up at both Under-18 and Under-23 level, and was handed professional terms in February of last year.
Xavier Simons on the ball under pressure from Rico Henry during the win at Brentford
A 17-year-old forward who states Cristiano Ronaldo as his idol and who tries to emulate the Portuguese star. He was initially a midfielder but coaches in the Chelsea academy soon recognised his potential as a forward.
Became the first Chelsea player to score four times in a FA Youth Cup tie during an 8-1 win over Barnsley. Trained with the first team squad for the first time last season and now has received his first opportunity.
Jude Soonsup-Bell makes a break between two Brentford players on Wednesday night
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