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A Week In The Life Of A Youth Cup Finalist


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Chelsea's youth team have this week been at a training camp in Sardinia ahead of their FA Youth Cup final first leg on Thursday.

Preparations for the Stamford Bridge match, which has free admission for supporters and will be broadcast live on Chelsea TV, is a big break from the norm for this set of teenage football scholars.

With interest building in the development of young players at the club, chelseafc.com spoke to Gerry Harvey, the Academy's education and welfare officer, about a typical week for a member of the youth team squad. There is far more to it than just training and playing matches.

Central to their routine is Cobham where the Academy is based and will soon be moving into a brand new building which they will share with the Football in the Community project.

'Out of the 12 second years and eight first years in the youth team squad,18 live away from home with selected host families, either five or seven days-a-week,' Harvey explains.

'They report for training at 9 o'clock on Monday morning. They can have breakfast at home but generally they breakfast here because Nick Broad, the club's nutritionist, has a big campaign for them to eat properly in the morning.

'They start training at 10.30 but before that, a lot will carry out flexibility programmes or some sort of stretching. They will train until midday and then normally on Monday will do a reflection session on the previous Saturday's game. Any players who are playing for the reserves on Monday evening will not be with us.'

The routine of training in the morning followed by a different activity in the afternoon is a standard pattern for the week with Tuesday afternoons reserved for either a gym session or specific work on technique, depending on each player's individual needs.

Wednesday brings a departure from the pattern when continuing education kicks in, preparing the young players should their life path take a turning away from football in the future. It's an area for which Harvey takes responsibility.

'I have rescheduled college work because it was clashing with reserve games. Now on Wednesdays the boys go to college at 8.15 in the morning until about 10.15. They then train, have a meal and go for another two hours to college.

'Thursday mornings they do college again, they train and in the afternoon do another technical or gym session. They have a life skills programme then as well. Some are doing A-levels instead of the usual college work.

'Friday mornings is a single training session and then they either travel to the weekend's game on Friday afternoon or go home. Boys who can go home to their parents tend to go on Friday night if they can, it depends if they have a fixture on Saturday.

'After a fixture, the Saturday afternoon they are free and Sundays are downtime.'

In reality, time-off simply means time to rest reckons Harvey.

'They seem to sleep a lot at that age and their week is quite intensive when you add it up. Come the weekend, a lot are physically gone. It is a big step up from being a schoolboy and psychologically they are tired as well. They feel the big change.'

And if they do have any energy left?

'A lot meet on a Thursday night and they might go shopping in Kingston. At the weekend they like to go to Guildford as venue. They visit each other in the local houses to play Playstation etc. and if one of the boys lives with his parents in places like London or Essex, he takes some of the boys home for the odd weekend.'

With the line-ups that have made it through the Youth Cup rounds showing a roughly equal split between boys from abroad and those from within these shores, provisions are made for families and girlfriends living overseas to visit several times a year at the club's expense. The boys go home every five weeks - although the proliferation of youth international fixtures often increases this frequency.

As well as support at matches from real families, it's not uncommon for those families that are hosting youth team members to show up at games.

'It is amazing how much these families will do for them,' says Harvey. 'They will go way beyond the call of duty and I am frequently surprised about the kindness and how quickly they grasp the world the boys are in - the elite level they are at and the competition they face every day.'

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It's a world almost unrecognisable from a decade ago as West Brom's Neil Clement would testify. A former Chelsea trainee who made his debut in 1996 aged 18 and is youth team coach Paul's brother, he visited the Chelsea Academy recently.

'Neil could not believe what is available to them now,' reports Harvey. 'He said he hopes they realise what they have here in terms of support and information compared with what he and Jody Morris had at Harlington.

'I think the big change has come since we have been here at Cobham. They have access to the main building for all their conditioning, use of the pool, food. The big shock is when they go out on loan.

'The boys these days are very disciplined in their lives,' he concludes. 'There's no drinking, no smoking, no night clubs. I have seen a massive change in that.

'They phone home and they hear all their friends going out and being at parties and they really miss their girlfriends. There are a lot of sacrifices for a young person.'

For those who have the chance to play in the FA Youth Cup final over the next three weeks, there may be a feeling they are beginning to receive some reward for that.

The FA Youth Cup final first leg is on Thursday 3 April at Stamford Bridge with a 7pm kick-off.

Free access for home supporters is via the West Stand. If the West Stand fills, the East Stand lower tier south will be used. Access for away supporters is via the East Stand lower tier north.

The second leg is on Wednesday 16 April at the City of Manchester Stadium with a 7.45pm kick-off. Admission is £5 adults, £1 under 16s.

Chelsea TV will carry exclusive full live coverage of the first leg including build-up, analysis and interviews in addition to the 90 minutes. Coverage starts at 6pm.

To subscribe to Chelsea TV on Sky Digital channel 421, click here or call 08700 240 490. Existing Sky customers can subscribe through the Sky Products area on Sky Active via their Sky remote control.

Source: Chelsea FC

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