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18 minutes ago, Jason said:


if we fail on Sancho or Havertz or (drop-down) Chukwueze 

we seriously may well have to super twist Willian's arm to take a 2 year  contract (he has dropped his £200K per week wage demand, he just wants the same salary (per a shedload of articles wherein Arsenal was whinging about his £120K per week wages now), so only £12m total, AND a two year contract would mean we could sell him next summer and surely get at least £8-10m or so, so it would be a net wee gain)

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Which was Chelsea’s greatest Premier League title win?



Even if Frank Lampard’s rebuild goes entirely to plan, it could be some time before Chelsea win their sixth Premier League title. Manchester City have raised the bar to an unprecedented level under Pep Guardiola, and Jurgen Klopp’s rampant Liverpool are on course to record the greatest title-winning season ever. Neither team looks likely to drop off significantly anytime soon.

In the meantime, Chelsea supporters can treasure the memories of the five times their club has already won the title since the turn of the millennium. Each one has a slightly different flavour: Jose Mourinho’s historic first triumph in 2004-05, the dominant title defence in 2005-06, Carlo Ancelotti’s devastating 103-goal side in 2009-10, above, Mourinho’s glorious encore in 2014-15, and Antonio Conte’s unexpected juggernaut in 2016-17. Which one do you rank as the most impressive?

Any attempt at a forensic comparison is hampered not just by how drastically the landscape of the Premier League has changed in the last 15 years, but also by how many more statistical tools we have to measure performance on the pitch now. Detailed metrics are simply not available for Mourinho’s first spell at Chelsea, and are considerably more limited for Ancelotti’s title winners than they are now. The greatness of those teams can only really be judged on their overall records.

We can, however, make a far more direct comparison between Chelsea’s two most recent runs to the Premier League title — not least because both teams have considerable overlap in terms of key players. Which side should be considered the peak of that cycle, and which season should be regarded as the greater achievement?

Considering how much Mourinho and Conte dislike one another, the stakes are pretty high here. So without any further ado, let’s take a closer look…

The tactics

Mourinho and Conte may have won the Premier League with many of the same key players, but they did it in very different ways.

Chelsea in 2014-15 invariably lined up in a classic 4-2-3-1 formation, with Cesc Fabregas starting alongside Nemanja Matic at the base of a very progressive midfield. Against more dangerous opponents, the Spaniard was sometimes deployed as a No 10 instead of Oscar, with Ramires slotting in next to Matic to provide greater protection for a defence led by John Terry. Cesar Azpilicueta’s conservatism at left-back balanced the tactical freedom given to Eden Hazard in front of him.

Two years later, Conte favoured an imaginative 3-4-3 system. Oscar was sidelined as Hazard and Willian became wide forwards either side of Diego Costa. N’Golo Kante patrolled central midfield with Matic, relegating Fabregas to an impact substitute. Terry and Branislav Ivanovic, stalwarts of Mourinho’s team, were peripheral while Azpilicueta was shifted to the right of a back three. Victor Moses was re-invented as a right wing-back, with summer signing Marcos Alonso on the left.

Mourinho knew what he wanted to do tactically from day one, having played the same system in the 2013-14 season. Conte arrived at Chelsea intending to play 4-2-4, then navigated the opening weeks of the season with 4-3-3. It was only in September, following damaging defeats by Liverpool and Arsenal, that he shifted to the 3-4-3 system that maximised his personnel and gave the rest of the Premier League a problem it couldn’t solve.

Here, the debate is which deserves more credit: Mourinho’s clarity of vision and the effectiveness of his Plan A, or Conte’s tactical creativity in the face of adversity and ability to adapt his tactics on the fly? The latter feels marginally more impressive, if only because it’s so rare.

The fundamentals

Mourinho and Conte both won the Premier League in dominating fashion. Chelsea in 2014-15 claimed the title with three games to spare and racked up 87 points, finishing eight clear of Manchester City. They lost just three times all season and went undefeated at Stamford Bridge. Their success was built on the meanest defence in the division: 32 goals conceded, 17 clean sheets.

At the other end, Mourinho’s side were good rather than great. They scored 73 goals, 10 fewer than City, and the advanced numbers suggest that was pretty much the tally they deserved: while their expected goals (xG) rating was just 64.24, their expected goals on target (xGOT) rating — the metric which factors in how difficult shots are to save — was 71.14.

Under Conte two years later, Chelsea only secured the title with two games to spare, but finished with 93 points, seven clear of closest rivals Tottenham. They lost more times (five) than Mourinho’s team but they also won 30 of their 38 Premier League matches — more than any other champion had managed in the history of the competition up to that point.

Conte’s team conceded 33 goals, the third-best defensive record in the division, but their expected goals against (xGA) rating of 28.62 suggests they were marginally unlucky, and at least on par with Mourinho’s side at that end of the pitch. Their attack, though, is what separates them.

Chelsea scored 85 goals in 2016-17, more than they had managed in any single campaign since Ancelotti’s side netted 103 times en route to the 2009-10 title. Even more remarkably, the advanced attacking numbers for Conte’s team read like some sort of glitch: an xG of 56.76, which only translates to an xGOT of 63.58 when quality of finishing is taken into account.

How do we explain Conte’s team scoring at least 21 goals more than expected? Part of it can be attributed to Chelsea benefiting from some unusually bad opposition defending and goalkeeping, but part of it is also down to how the matches actually played out.

Chelsea in 2016-17 were supreme front-runners who specialised in getting themselves into winning positions, then closing things out. They scored more goals (12) in the opening 15 minutes of games than any other team in the division and, overall, scored first in 29 of their 38 matches. Conte’s team rarely attacked with full intensity for 90 minutes and, once ahead, they generally favoured managing the lead over gunning for more goals.

As a result, their xG value is not fully reflective of how dangerous their attack was — in the same way that Usain Bolt’s winning time for a 100-metre sprint doesn’t tell the full story of his superiority if he coasts to the finish line once he realises he’s got the race won.

Beyond the number of goals scored, it seems clear that Chelsea in 2016-17 were a significantly better attacking side than two years earlier. But what about the individuals?

The key men

Costa hit 20 Premier League goals in both 2014-15 and 2016-17, but that is pretty much where the similarity between the two best seasons of his Chelsea career ends. A lingering hamstring injury limited him to just 26 appearances in the league on Mourinho’s title run, and he played almost 1,000 fewer minutes (2,111) than he managed at the point of Conte’s attack two years later (3,101).

That, of course, makes his production under Mourinho much more impressive. Costa comfortably outperformed his xG in both title-winning campaigns, but his xG per 90 minutes of 0.61 in 2014-15 was considerably better than in 2016-17 (0.46), highlighting how much more consistently dangerous he was.

It’s tempting to wonder how different the story might have been had Costa not fallen out with Conte amid the possibility of a move to China in January 2017. Prior to the training ground row, he had scored 14 goals in 19 Premier League matches and was clearly the most impactful player in England. In his 16 league appearances after the row, he netted six times, and often looked disinterested.

Hazard came up big for Conte as Costa faded, scoring seven goals in 11 Premier League matches between the start of March and the end of May. Overall he netted 16 times on the run to the 2016-17 title, the best league tally of his Chelsea career (though one he matched in his final season at Stamford Bridge under Maurizio Sarri two years later). But the Belgian still regards 2014-15 as his best Chelsea season, and it’s easy to see why.

In addition to 14 league goals, he also contributed nine assists, four more than he managed in 2016-17. Assists are not always the most reliable measure of a player’s impact, but Hazard’s expected assists per 90 minutes (xA90) was 0.30 in 2014-15, but 0.19 in 2016-17, reinforcing the idea that he was less of a creative influence on Conte’s team.

Fabregas was the creative hub of both teams and he presents the most interesting comparison, primarily because his role changed most significantly. In 2014-15 he was the ever-present conductor of Mourinho’s midfield, playing 2,895 minutes. Two years later under Conte, he spent much less time on the pitch — 1,294 minutes, with 16 of his 29 appearances coming from the bench — but was transformed into one of the most effective impact substitutes the Premier League has seen.

Mourinho brought out Fabregas’ last great season as a starter. He racked up 18 assists, the highest single-season tally of his Premier League career and only two shy of Thierry Henry’s competition record. Beyond that, his job was to set the tempo and direction of Chelsea’s possession while Matic focused more on the midfield dirty work. It was a masterful balance.

Two years later under Conte, Fabregas played in bursts. Introduced in the second half as games were becoming stretched, his passing range and vision became more valuable than ever. He registered 12 assists with an xA90 rating of 0.55, compared to 0.32 under Mourinho. He also averaged 4.2 chances created per 90 minutes, up from 3.0 per 90 minutes in 2014-15.

Fabregas as an impact substitute was the ultimate ace up the sleeve for Conte, and one he could only enjoy because of the signing of Kante from Leicester in the summer of 2016. The addition of a peerless midfield destroyer completely changed the look of Chelsea’s team, compensating for a decline in Matic’s form, as well as generating more valuable opportunities to attack in transition.

Marginally, Mourinho eked more out of Chelsea’s best players as individuals, but under Conte they formed the core of a superior team — in no small part because of Kante.

The context — and the conclusion

Mourinho returned to Chelsea in the summer of 2013 tasked with turning a new group of players into winners. He came remarkably close to winning the Premier League without an elite striker in his first season, and the additions of Matic, Fabregas and Costa subsequently pushed them over the top in impressive style — at least for the first six months of 2014-15.

Conte took over a Chelsea squad with recent winning pedigree, but also a group scarred by the disastrous unravelling of the Mourinho era. He revived Costa and Hazard, made Kante rather than Fabregas the hub of his team and crafted an unorthodox system that maximised many of the other players at his disposal, changing their positions where necessary.

Chelsea led the Premier League for 274 days in 2014-15, more than any other side in the competition’s history up to that point. Mourinho’s side started fast and maintained their charge as a chasing City faded and even as their own energy levels dipped, grinding out a series of ugly victories in the spring to close out the race.

Conte’s records are even more impressive: in addition to the 30 games won and 85 goals scored, the 13-match win streak from September to January was a spectacular validation of his tactical adjustment. By the time Premier League opponents had come up with anything to counter his 3-4-3, it was far too late to stop Chelsea.

Both coaches exploited windows opened by Chelsea’s rivals. Mourinho’s closest challenger was an ageing City side in need of fresh legs and new ideas. Conte was able to seize the moment while City were finding their way under Guardiola and Klopp was still building at Liverpool. Mauricio Pochettino’s bright young Tottenham team were the biggest threat, and they weren’t quite ready.

It must be noted that Mourinho’s 2014-15 title triumph was achieved alongside a Champions League campaign — albeit one ended by Paris Saint-Germain at the first knockout stage — and a League Cup win. His team played 54 matches, seven more than Conte navigated in winning the Premier League and reaching the FA Cup final. Those midweeks free from European competition in the autumn of 2016 undoubtedly helped Chelsea by the time spring of 2017 rolled around.

Ultimately though, 2016-17 still edges it. Mourinho, as he so memorably reminded Chelsea fans who called him “Judas” after a feisty return to Stamford Bridge as Manchester United boss in March 2017, is still the club’s No 1 manager. Conte, however, masterminded the more impressive achievement in 2016-17 — and Chelsea’s declining fortunes since have only underlined how remarkable it was.

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The Younghusbands: From Chelsea to Philippines icons because of Football Manager



In the age of the virtual quiz, here’s a question that would grace any sports round: which brothers born in England have each earned more than 100 international caps?

The answer is Phil and James Younghusband, two Chelsea academy graduates who brushed off disappointment in England to become football superstars in the Philippines, playing key roles in one of the most fruitful decades in the history of the country’s national team.

It is a remarkable story and one made possible by their mother Susan’s decision to move from Manila to London in 1985. There she met Philip Younghusband, a chartered accountant and the man she married. They had three children: James and Phil, two football-mad sons born only 11 months apart, and a daughter named Kerry.

Yearly summer holidays to the Philippines and some traditional Filipino cuisine ensured the Younghusband brothers always treasured their dual heritage but Susan also embraced English sporting culture. “She got more into football because that’s all we’d watch,” James tells The Athletic. “Her pronunciation of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Tottenham made us laugh.”

James and Phil grew up supporting Manchester United but Chelsea made the biggest impression and ultimately won the battle to sign them as coveted youngsters in 1997. “Gianluca Vialli was still the manager,” Phil recalls. “The first time we went to Harlington for training, I remember the scout who found us telling us, ‘You just missed the manager hitting golf balls’.”

Their football education at Chelsea gave the brothers front-row seats for the most transformative years in the club’s history. “Frank Sinclair was still playing right-back for Chelsea when we first got there,” Phil adds. “I remember him coming out to his car carrying all of his stuff in a black bag (when he was sold to Leicester in 1998).”

They first found out about Roman Abramovich’s takeover watching CNN while on holiday in the Philippines with their parents in the summer of 2003. “We went through the whole transition when Roman came in,” Phil says. “It was nice to see something fresh and new but it was also sad to see old faces leave. It was a really interesting time and it all happened so fast.”


“We were doing pre-season, which was a lot of running back then, and week after week, there were more big signings and the papers were constantly linking Chelsea with players,” James adds. “It was exciting. There was obviously a lot more competition but the advantage was we got to watch these players and learn from them.”

As the older brother, James — a right midfielder who modelled his game on David Beckham — was first to get a taste of training with the seniors. He hasn’t forgotten the time he was paired with Juan Sebastian Veron. “He was a really nice guy,” he says. “I remember one time, he nutmegged me. I tried to get him back and he saw it coming and laughed.

“I beat him in the one-on-one game with one goalkeeper, but in his mind he was only trying to get his fitness back. I had something to prove. We talked afterwards about his time in Manchester. He was a really nice guy. You don’t realise until afterwards how lucky you are to be in those situations.”

James also got a taste of working under Jose Mourinho. “He was encouraging but he’d always keep you on your toes. I remember I tried to get out of one tight situation and he said, ‘No, James. That’s not the place to do it’. You really wanted to impress him because he was always watching. Even the captain of the club, John Terry, would be switched on when we were doing rondos.

“He set the standard so high and we could see that even he wanted to impress Mourinho. It lifted the whole squad. I was a youngster exposed to that and it really helped me in my career.”

Both brothers were still getting their game time in Chelsea’s academy and reserve teams. Aware of their Filipino heritage, some of their team-mates encouraged them to declare for the Philippines.

“They said we should do it, that we’d be on billboards over there, and we just laughed,” James says. “We didn’t take it seriously because we didn’t know much about Philippines football until we googled it. The PFF (Philippine Football Federation) had a good website and we found out they at least had a national team but we didn’t know how we’d go about it.”

Only two weeks after that conversation in 2005, head of youth development Neil Bath presented the brothers with some unexpected news: the PFF had been in touch, having been alerted to James and Phil’s potential eligibility by a teenage Chelsea fan who had spotted their dual nationality while playing Football Manager. They jumped at the chance.

“A bit later, after we qualified for the Southeast Asian Championship, we went to a bar to celebrate and there was this kid who was 15 or 16 years old,” Phil says. “He was very shy but he did say he was the one who found us on the game. I was very thankful to him.

“We loved Football Manager. I think James liked to put ourselves in the Chelsea team. I just played normally but it took up a lot of our time at that age.”

Having dropped outside the top 200 in the FIFA rankings in the early 2000s, the PFF launched a fresh drive to bring more foreign-born talent into the Philippines national side. Chad Gould, who played his youth career at Bournemouth and Southampton, and the Greatwich brothers — Chris, Phil and Simon — were also part of the English influx but the Younghusbands were the headline recruits.

James and Phil first trained with the Philippines national team in the summer of 2005. Chelsea academy team-mate Jimmy Smith, on holiday in the country, joined them for the session to keep up his fitness. It was rainy season and a far cry from the plush facilities at Cobham.

“There was a brick on the field and people throwing javelins close by,” James says. “It was quite a compact sports facility. We changed at the side of the pitch. The thing I struggled with was the humidity. I couldn’t breathe. I was too busy trying to get my breath back to run and the local players really gained my respect.”

Both brothers were included in the Philippines squad for the 2005 Southeast Asian Games. “It was different,” Phil says. “We had to drive an hour to where the team was staying, up in the mountains in Bacolod. It was a lovely big white house but, every time we had to train it was a two-hour round trip to the stadium. Security was the armed forces with their AK-47 rifles sitting next to us.”

The rest of the players agreed to give the Younghusbands the only TV in the house so they could binge watch Lost between training sessions. There were also singing and acting competitions to help the diverse squad bond ahead of the tournament. “The thing that kept us there was how nice everyone was,” James says.

Football is the main sport in Bacolod, the Filipino province that hosted the tournament, and the strength of passion took the brothers by surprise. “There were people climbing up trees just to get to the games,” Phil says. “Outside the gates, there were thousands of people just waiting. Coming from Chelsea reserve games to playing in front of 30,000 sold-out crowds was amazing.

“The president of the Philippines came to watch the last game and we had to go up and shake his hand. It felt like we were in the FA Cup final.”

James scored his first international goal against Cambodia in the second game, a 30-yard shot that arrowed into the bottom corner. Phil, the striker and more frequent goalscorer, opened his account with two headers against Malaysia. “Filipinos don’t cheer — they scream,” he says. “It was a very high-pitched stadium but it was a wonderful feeling.”

Both brothers quickly came to regard their international adventures with the Philippines as a welcome change of pace from the day-to-day battle to break into the Chelsea first team but their paths soon diverged for the first time. James was released when his contract expired in the summer of 2006, plunging him into the perilous world of life as a triallist in English football’s lower leagues.

“By the time James’ contract ran out, we’d been at Chelsea for almost 10 years,” Phil says. “For those 10 years, every time I’d been to Chelsea, I’d gone with my brother. Every single time. So the first pre-season when I had to go on my own felt very weird.”

James had trials at clubs across the country as well as stints with AFC Wimbledon and his local side, Staines Town. Chelsea’s technical director Frank Arnesen at the time even arranged a trial with Dutch club Den Bosch but nothing panned out. “It was a big lesson for me that if you go to a football club, you need to do your homework as a trialist,” he says.

“You need to find out if the coach is looking for the type of player you are and if the team is looking for your position specifically. Even if you’re better than the player they already have, it’s very unlikely they’re going to take him out because he’s already contracted and has a good relationship with them.

“I needed a bit of a break from football, so I did some other things in London. I did a bit of modelling, a bit of TV work. It even got to the point where I was picking up cars from people who couldn’t afford to pay for them anymore, just for some extra money. It was a good learning experience for me of how the football system worked.”

Phil, meanwhile, was still trying to glean everything he could from Chelsea. “Jose would ask me about the Philippines: the culture, the football, how everything was,” he says. “I had a few conversations with Didier Drogba and he was always nice. He’d speak about Africa and I’d speak about Asia, and we’d compare.

“I had more conversations with the English boys – John Terry, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole. I could have gone on loan to LA Galaxy and Joe Cole was saying it would be a good move. That was about a month before David Beckham went there.

“I remember practising free kicks with Arjen Robben at the end of one session. I think it was his last day before he went to Real Madrid. It was very windy and I hit one that was going well wide but it came back and ended up going in off the crossbar. He just said, ‘Phil, go in. End on that one’.”

By the time his own contract at Chelsea expired in 2008, the struggles of his older brother had convinced Phil that the Philippines offered more in the way of opportunity than England – and thanks to the profile the Younghusbands had generated through their exploits for the national team, those opportunities stretched beyond football.

“We were able to get some modelling jobs and endorsements,” he says. “I even did a singing competition similar to X Factor (called Celebrity Duets). They got professionals from different industries; I was the athlete, there was a politician, a newspaper columnist and so on. We partnered with different local professional singers for a duet each week and then the public voted.

“There were eight contestants and I was the fourth voted off. I sang Umbrella by Rihanna and a few others. Maybe that kept me in — not my actual singing; my song choice!”

But the peak of the Younghusbands’ fame in the Philippines was still to come. The family had settled in the country by the time the 2010 Suzuki Cup rolled around and both brothers were able to play a key role in the most glorious moment in the national team’s modern history.

The Philippines had only just qualified for the tournament with a fortuitous 0-0 draw against Cambodia and were rank outsiders in a group that featured defending champions Vietnam, Singapore and Myanmar. Preparations for the competition were less than ideal.

“We did a camp in Thailand and the last game we played before the tournament was against a Thai club team,” Phil says. “We had to drive three hours there but the bus was late, which meant we only arrived 10 minutes before kick-off. We had to get changed in the bus, run out, warm up for 10 minutes and then play. We ended up losing 9-0. I think they were second or third division!”

But the tournament itself followed a very different script. James set up Chris Greatwich for a last-minute equaliser against Singapore in the opening group game to pave the way for an even bigger shock against Vietnam — a match still remembered in the Philippines as “The Miracle in Hanoi”.

Vietnam had beaten Myanmar 7-1 in their opening group game and the commentator predicted a cricket score. But the Philippines held them at bay, thanks to some heroic defending and spectacular saves from Neil Etheridge, the former Chelsea youth goalkeeper that the Younghusbands had helped to recruit to the national side.

The game was an ordeal for Phil for other reasons. “The night before the Vietnam game, I didn’t sleep at all,” he says. “I was on the toilet, I was vomiting. I went down for breakfast and could only have a bit of a banana before going back to bed. I had a bit of a temperature and it was clear I had food poisoning.

“It was a question of whether I felt up to playing or not but going to the game and seeing the stadium filling up; the adrenaline took over. I felt I was OK to play.”

He did more than just play. Vietnam poured forward after Greatwich had given the Philippines a surprise lead shortly before half-time, leaving space for Phil to lead a counter-attack and score the decisive second goal with 11 minutes to go. “After I score, you can see me touching my stomach and telling the coach that I don’t feel well,” he says. “I felt dehydrated and I was cramping up. Getting that goal made me feel like I’d done part of my job.

“There are videos on YouTube of everyone celebrating in the changing room after the game and the camera pans to see me vomiting in the bathroom.”

Vietnam did not take the defeat well, switching the lights off in the away dressing room. “They were so angry that when we got into the changing room, they told us to get out,” James says. “They kicked us out of the stadium — we weren’t even allowed to shower!”

The result left Philippines needing only a point from their final group game against Myanmar to reach the knockout stage for the first time ever. They got it and the impact back home was seismic. “The responses on Twitter were overwhelming,” Phil says. “We arrived back in the Philippines and the amount of media was what you’d get for a Manny Pacquiao fight.

“We had the press conference in the airport when we landed and there were hundreds of cameras. It was something we’d never seen before and that was the point we realised we’d done something special. We trained in Manila ahead of the semi-finals and the stand was sold out for the session.”

The adventure ended in the semi-finals but interest in football spiked in the Philippines as a result. Fresh investment flooded into the United Football League (UFL), founded in 2009, and the brothers turned down a lucrative offer from Indonesian club Jakarta FC in order to help it grow.


Both have played their club football in the Philippines ever since and almost always for the same teams. Unlike many brothers split apart by professional football, they have always been inclined to stick together. “That’s just always worked for us,” James says. “Some people have asked us, ‘Why don’t you separate?’ and we always said, ‘Why, though?’. My brother and I are best friends. I was best man at his wedding last year.

“We’ve done everything together and we were even in the same year at school. Our mum and dad always wanted it that way, so it made sense to keep doing that.”

Their chemistry extends to the football pitch; Phil estimates that James has played a part in setting up around a third of his 52 international goals — a tally that makes him the Philippines’ all-time record goalscorer. “In our school team, I’d take up a Thierry Henry position on the left,” he says.

“James was playing on the right and would do a long diagonal between the right-back and centre-back. I’d run in between them and got a lot of my goals that way.

“James’ strengths are his crossing and his energy to get up and down. I’m a striker, so naturally, I’m in the box. He knows what runs I’m going to make and we’ve had that understanding in all our teams.”

Both were ever-present throughout the 2010s as the Philippines attained their highest-ever FIFA ranking of 111, recorded their first-ever win in World Cup qualifying and reached the group stage of the Asian Cup for the first time in their history in 2019. That tournament was Phil’s swansong before retirement and it was not a happy one under new coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.

“He went for a more defensive shape, which meant he changed everything that we’d been doing before,” Phil says. “He played 5-4-1, which meant my role as a No 10 didn’t fit into the system, so my last games for the national team weren’t the most memorable.

“He’s what you see on the TV: very softly spoken, very nice, very polite. I got on well with him, but I felt he changed everything that had worked for us within five minutes of coming in. He hadn’t been able to work with the team long enough. His contract was only for three or four months. We were very amicable but in terms of what he brought to the Asian Cup, it didn’t make sense to me.”

Phil, now 32, retired on 108 international appearances, and has returned to England with his pregnant wife to raise their son. James, 33, on 101 caps, is still in Manila and isn’t ready to hang up his boots just yet. Both want to continue helping to raise the profile and the quality of football in the Philippines, working with investors to build on the soccer school they opened early in their international careers.

“I’d like to coach but I don’t want to get straight into it,” James says. “But I also love movies and I’d like to see how that industry works. I’d love to do a road trip across the US. I want to explore other cultures and other interests, but I’ll always be involved in football.”

Phil intends to take a different path. “I want to grow in football and if I want to be educated, I can’t be in the Philippines right now,” he says. “I need to be in a European country where I can learn and grow, and one day bring that back. I think I can help the Philippines — not so much on the coaching side but more the economics, the marketing, the organisation and the structure.

“If there’s any way I can be around a club and see how it’s structured, then I can bring that back and really help football in the Philippines.”

They both still follow Chelsea and have watched Lampard’s youth revolution with delight this season. “I really want them to qualify for the Champions League and see what they build when they start signing players again,” James says. “I’m sure he’ll get the right balance.

“I see some of the first team posting flashback photos on social media in their academy gear and I remember wearing that gear. It makes me feel much older! They were little kids when I was in my teenage years. Your career goes so fast.”

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On 5/3/2020 at 8:42 PM, Jason said:

Making profit of face masks? We would be better off producing them for the health care workers. 

Profits would be for the NHS. 

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35 minutes ago, BXL70 said:

Profits would be for the NHS. 

Wouldn't it be better for clubs to just directly donate to the NHS or something? Makes no sense for them to spend extra money for production at a time like this and then get nothing in return from sales. 

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31 minutes ago, Laylabelle said:

Doesnt feel like it was last year! Feels so much longer then that.

Just crazy how far away the stadium was then how far away the cameras were. That and how easy it went!

Happy days!

Exactly -feels like it was ages ago. Sarri, Hazards only euro final -Giroud immense. Spoilt by Savages commentary :P

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What is it really like to be a Chelsea loanee?



The frustrated tone in Jamal Blackman’s voice is palpable. He has just been asked about the way Chelsea’s use of the loan system has been portrayed over the years.

“Chelsea is a business but football is the main thing,” he tells The Athletic. “That’s what they should be known for and talked about: how well they are doing. But is there still a misconception about what they do? Yes.”

Blackman is one of many on Chelsea’s books that has never played a senior game for the club and has had to join another team to play on a perennial basis. During this season, 30 players — including unwanted first-team members — have gone elsewhere on loan. In the last campaign, the total reached 49.

For the club’s army of critics, it’s another stick to beat them with. Type in “Chelsea” and “loans” into Google and an array of negative headlines will crop up.

Indeed, when FIFA announced plans, which are yet to be approved by their council, to restrict the amount of loans allowed from next season, it was regarded as a measure targeting sides like Chelsea in particular.

The scrutiny is understandable. With competition for places intense at Stamford Bridge, the vast majority of people involved in the practice will never get to represent them.

But is that the full story? The Athletic has spent the last few months talking to some of those involved to get their version of events and an insight into what it’s really like to be a Chelsea loanee.

How and why loans are arranged

Blackman is right to mention loans as part of Chelsea’s modus operandi. Since the Roman Abramovich era began in 2003, it has been a means to earn revenue, as well as giving individuals game time.

For example, the £7 million sum agreed with Genk for keeper Thibaut Courtois in 2011 was paid off in fees paid by Atletico Madrid to have him as their No 1 for the following three seasons. Not only did Chelsea have a ready-made replacement for Petr Cech when they recalled Courtois in 2014, he was effectively a free transfer.

Even if someone doesn’t become part of the club’s plans like Courtois did, vital funds can be earned which can be ploughed back into the academy system. A demonstration of this was defender Tomas Kalas, who was bought for around £5.2 million from Sigma Olomouc in 2010.

The Czech Republic international was on the books for nine years, yet made just four appearances for Chelsea. He was loaned out seven times before being sold to Bristol City for a £2.8 million profit last year.

Just like the make-up of the academy, though, the focus has changed. When Frank Arnesen joined as sporting director in 2005, the Dane generally identified foreign youngsters such as Gael Kakuta, Jeffrey Bruma and Slobodan Rajkovic to swell the ranks and they were placed at other venues to develop.

Over the past decade, the focus has increasingly changed towards British talent, especially as many of the homegrown players who joined as boys, like Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham, have come of age.

When it comes to deciding who goes out on loan, there are clearly two factions. Firstly, senior men who are not part of a manager’s plans and need to play in the hope of getting a permanent move or maintaining some transfer value. In terms of this season, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwater fall into this category. Secondly are the next generation coming through and this is the focus of this piece.

It quickly becomes obvious that not everyone is treated the same here, either. “When I was young, the club’s former technical director Michael Emenalo was the one pushing me to go on my first loan to Vitesse Arnhem (in 2015),” explains Izzy Brown, who has spent this season on loan at Luton Town in the Championship. “I could have gone to the Championship but he thought it would be the best for my development. At first, I was a bit scared to leave England but I realised he knew what he was talking about.

“But after that, it has been more my decision about where I go. If you have a few clubs, it’s about what you think is best for you. Chelsea give you a lot of freedom in that respect. They let me and my agent sort it out.

“You kind of know what they have in store for you. In pre-season, you’re either with the first team on tour or you’re sent back with the loan group. I’m 23 now and feel like I should be playing as much football as I can, I have to do what’s best for me but there is no pressure in the decision you make, it’s very easy.”


Dujon Sterling, who is a highly-rated right-back, is another who appears to have a lot of say in where he plays. In 2018-19, he was at Coventry and this season, he joined Wigan.

“The first thing is me, my agent and my mother find where is best for me to go,” says Sterling, 20. “Then we go to Chelsea and say which we think is the best place. We’ll take Chelsea’s input but it has to be an agreement.

“Chelsea asked me if I wanted to go abroad. I said no for now. I think it’s better to stay in England. I’m still young, so there’s no rush. I just thought after League One for my first loan, the obvious step was to go up a step into the Championship.”

Conversely, defender Richard Nartey followed a different path before a belated first switch to Burton Albion 11 months ago, when a 21st birthday was approaching.

Richard Nartey Burton Albion Chelsea

“There’s no age limit; they look after you and make sure you’re ready to go on loan,” says Nartey. “They don’t look at what everyone else has done. You speak to them each year and they say what they think is best for you, then you go from there. I developed later, so I knew I had to be patient.

“Chelsea always say that it’s got to be the right loan. Bradley Collins was at Burton last year, so they knew a bit about Burton, and they said it would suit my football and it’s a good introduction to the league. It was perfect for me.

“I was speaking to (head of youth development) Neil Bath a lot. He was telling me what he thought was best each year and what he thinks I should do. I’d always take what he says on board because he’s helped so many players improve and develop over the years.”

Goalkeeper Nathan Baxter is 21 and has already played for five clubs at various levels. “All my decisions from the age of 17, when I went to represent the Metropolitan Police (in non-League), were primarily made with Neil and my loan coach Christophe Lollichon – the same when I had a choice this season between Ross County (in the Scottish Premier League) or somewhere in League One. It’s very much a joint decision of where I end up. I also spoke to (technical and performance advisor) Cech and other members of the loan team. They’re all helpful with what decisions I take.”

Not everything is part of some master plan. In Josh Grant’s case, news of Plymouth’s interest was broken by assistant academy director Jim Fraser on deadline day.

“I was training at Chelsea when I got the call from Jim Fraser that I had interest from Plymouth,” the 21-year-old defender says. “Within a few hours, I was speaking to their manager (Ryan Lowe). He showed me how they played and it was a very good style.

Josh Grant Plymouth Argyle Chelsea

“People have this impression that League Two isn’t a very high standard but I did my homework. He’d got Bury promoted the previous season and everyone was talking about him, so I decided it was something I wanted to be a part of.”

Billy Gilmour is very much the exception to the norm. Bought from Rangers for £550,000 in 2017, the 18-year-old midfielder has been fast-tracked to the first team this season. It would be a surprise if the Scot isn’t one of head coach Frank Lampard’s options in 2020-21, too.

Chelsea will continue to use loans to help balance the books. Abramovich made it clear from an early stage he wanted the club to be self-sufficient — a battle which continues, given he invested another £247 million in 2018-19 and they still made a £96.6 million loss (year ending June 30, 2019).

Level of contact with the club

If anyone believes it’s a case of “out of sight, out of mind”, then think again. The overwhelming consensus from everyone The Athletic spoke to is that everyone is well looked after.

It helps that Chelsea have a healthy staff of ex-players in this regard. Carlo Cudicini is the loan technical coach, with Paulo Ferreira, Tore Andre Flo and Claude Makelele acting as senior assistants.

Each man is assigned a group of players under their wing to not only act as a mentor but as a regular source of contact and someone to provide detailed analysis and/or coaching.

As midfielder Conor Gallagher disclosed, words of encouragement aren’t only restricted to the quartet. While enjoying spells at Charlton and Swansea before football came to a halt in March, his phone would be going off fairly regularly from other key personnel. He says: “(assistant first team coach) Joe Edwards messages me quite a lot because he was my (under-23s) coach last season.

“He always likes to message me saying well done and asking me how I’m doing. I got a message from Frank as well, saying, ‘Well done and carry on what you’re doing’. All the coaching staff are really supportive.”

Gallagher isn’t the only one who turns to Edwards for words of wisdom. When Grant was offered the opportunity to join Plymouth permanently in January, the 21-year-old consulted him and subsequently turned it down.

Primarily, the input comes from one of the four specialist men, though. In Trevoh Chalobah’s case, he has found Ferreira a great help while adapting to life at Huddersfield having been at Ipswich last season.

“Paulo comes to watch a lot of my games and we speak afterwards,” says Chalobah. “He was at the match in November when I was sent off against Swansea. Was he having a go at me when we met up? No. He was reassuring. He just wanted me to get my head up and move on.

“I’m always being sent clips by him regarding areas I need to work on. I’m used as a midfielder (he can also play at centre-back) at Huddersfield, so the onus is on scanning what is around me and looking over my shoulder.

“I’ve been given clips of other players in that position like Jorginho. There will be a clip of what I did in a game and then one of what Jorginho did in a similar position on the pitch so I can compare. It shows me the movements I need to do and make. It’s good for me to be watching that to understand where I need to improve.”

Brown enjoys a similar rapport with Flo, although Makelele has also been to Kenilworth Road to see him in action. People working for the Championship club told The Athletic how impressed they’ve been with Chelsea’s level of interest and commitment to their employee.

“Tore messaged me during the week; watched a lot of my matches and came to see me every month,” says Brown. “We sat down in a Costa near the training ground and chatted for half an hour. He showed me clips from all the games and just tells me as it is. That’s how I like it.

“He talks about creating chances, saying, ‘This is good, you’re making the right decisions’ but then he will show me the opposite, explaining, ‘You could have been more selfish here and had a shot, rather than passing it to someone else’.

“I didn’t know about it when Makelele came to see me, too. It gives you such a boost. I watched players like that growing up. They were my idols, so to get advice from them is special. They know what they’re talking about. They have done what you want to do, so you have to listen.”

It should be pointed out that these men aren’t just around to talk about matters on the pitch. They become close confidants. Grant has established an important bond with Cudicini.

“The best advice I’ve had from him is the mental side of the game,” he says. “He makes me feel I’m not alone. Carlo works with many players, and has done over the years, so will tell me things like, ‘Everyone has had the same thoughts as you are now’. He is someone I can phone up and it doesn’t have to just be about football.

“As an academy player, you have your bad games but it’s easier to deal with because no one is really watching. It’s up to you and your coach to deal with it. But playing in front of thousands; you feel like the whole world is upon you.

“Carlo has watched what I would consider a ‘bad’ game of mine but then shown me clips of what I’d done well. He’d be like, ‘It’s easy to pick at the wrong things but look at what you did well — use those things for your next match. Work on the things you didn’t do well.’

“It’s massive for me because after a disappointing game, you feel like you’re alone. You feel bad, you don’t want to talk to anyone. But then someone is showing you that you played better than you thought. It picks you up. Your confidence is lifted. You brush it aside and are ready to go again.”

Contact hasn’t stopped during the COVID-19 crisis. This week, Grant was part of a meeting with coaches and players on Zoom. It was arranged to keep spirits up; discuss their general welfare, as much as giving reminders of technique.

Naturally, moving away for the first time can be intimidating but Chelsea will be on hand to help or make sure players have found accommodation and means of transport.

People aren’t ignored when they pick up injuries, either. Baxter sustained a shoulder injury early on in his loan at Ross County and was back at Chelsea for rehabilitation. Not only did he have expert advice from the physios, Cech was on hand to provide some tips having suffered a similar problem during his esteemed career.

Sterling, who picked up a hamstring strain at Wigan, provided further insight. “When you’re injured, there’s a loan section and a first-team section (at Cobham). But most of the time, we integrate together and even though we won’t have the same programmes, we’ll be in the gym and outdoors together.

Dujon Sterling Wigan Athletic Chelsea

“When I was outdoors, I was working with Victor Moses before he went back to Inter Milan. Me and him were on a similar programme, so we did similar drills outside. That’s what Chelsea try to do — they don’t want you to do things by yourself. That’s when people feel like they’re not wanted.”

As well as contact with their respective loan coaches, there is a general WhatsApp group. This mainly comprises of special moments which the staff want to highlight, like a goal or assist, for everyone to see and applaud.

It means there isn’t that much chat on the channel. More light-hearted or personal exchanges are up to the players themselves to arrange. There are two occasions every year though when the hub they all share explodes into life.

“Oh, the main WhatsApp group is always busy during the transfer window,” says Blackman. “Around those times, when people are moving, it’s buzzing with lots of messages as loan moves are being arranged. We find out who is off and where. Everyone enjoys that.”

Living away from home

The first taste of independence can be exhilarating and nerve-wracking. Things are easy during training sessions when they are doing what they love but how do players fill the time in those hours afterwards — with friends and family miles away?

“If I’m not watching football, I’m watching Netflix or on my PS4,” Chalobah says. “I had my own apartment in Huddersfield. I’m comfortable in my own company. I love being on my own.

“I missed the home-cooked meals the most, the African dishes my family would make. But there is a family WhatsApp group, which my brother Nathaniel (at Watford) is also on, and we talked regularly.

“I watched Chelsea when they were on TV. I am really close to Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham. We played a lot in the youth team and won a lot of trophies. I spoke to Mason and Tammy pretty much every day, we are tight.”

There is one thing Chalobah doesn’t leave to chance though and that is his haircut. His distinctive style, with dreadlocks bleached blonde on one side, needs special treatment.

“My hairdresser comes up from London and does it,” he says with a smile. “I do give him a tip! If I have a few days off, I will go down there. It takes about three hours to do. I wouldn’t trust my hair with anyone else. He was the one that came up with this style. I have had it for three years now. It’s my identity. It helps me stand out on the pitch.”

Brown counts Huddersfield as one of his six loans since 2013. As a veteran of the process, the attacking midfielder is more accustomed to packing his bags, although chose Luton this time around because the home he shares with his partner and two kids is nearby.

An anterior cruciate ligament injury suffered in 2018 led him to start exploring other methods of healing on top of what Chelsea were advising — he read a book series called The Secret.

But it was at Luton, while recovering from a hamstring injury which was expected to keep him out for three months, that Brown discovered something remarkable. “Now I do this healing thing at night with my brain,” he says. “It’s kind of a meditation thing. So before a game, you just imagine different things happening to your body. How you’re feeling.

“I first started it when I did my hamstring (in November) and I couldn’t walk. I was on crutches. Someone told me about this healing technique and I was prepared to try anything. He told me I’d feel a bit sick the day after. This isn’t a book, though. I got sent a text and I just read it in my head. The next day, my throat was bad, I couldn’t swallow anything. It was really weird. But two days later, I was off crutches, I could walk and had no pain. I was back training after six weeks when I should have been out for three months.”

Inevitably, football skills aren’t the only things being put to the test. What these young men can do in the kitchen is put under the microscope. “You mature quicker because you start having to do things for yourself,” says Sterling. “I had 17 or 18 years of my mum doing everything for me. I’m an alright cook — before I had a chef, but I’ve been cooking myself recently. My mum’s been helping me with certain dishes on the phone.

“This season, I’ve changed the way I eat. I didn’t really take it seriously before but now it’s something I’m fully focused on and I try to make it more balanced and healthy. I think it’s making me stronger, even in terms of general health. Last year, I was ill quite a lot and this year I haven’t missed a day of training through illness.”

Surely, for those like Blackman, who has been sent to seven teams overall, the process of packing and unpacking regularly is a little draining?

“It does feel like I’ve been on the road a lot,” the 26-year-old concedes. “But everywhere I’ve gone has been very welcoming. I like travelling and seeing new places, anyway. I’ve played in other countries which is a positive. It does help. I am moving a lot but you get settled. My mother is getting a bit fed up having to keep putting my stuff into boxes, though!”

All seem to be in agreement that despite just signing on a temporary basis, the dressing rooms they walk into attempt to make them feel part of the group.

In Nartey’s and Baxter’s case, they have lived with team-mates, so their adaption to new surroundings has been made fairly comfortably.

From boys to men

One thing these guys have in common is being part of a dominant academy at youth level. No English club has won more. There have been 21 trophies over the past decade.

Domination has become second nature, so going on loan provides a culture shock. “Physically, it’s tougher,” Gallagher declares. “You’re playing against grown men. They’re stronger than what I’m used to.

“On the ball, you don’t get as much time. In the youth system at Chelsea, we always had more of the ball and we had loads of time, so it was easier. You’ve just got to get used to the speed of the play, which I think I’ve done quite well — but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

“One of the important things that Joe Edwards tried to get into us last season as the under-23s, was that we needed to get ready for men’s football — League One, Championship, wherever we’d go. In training, he might just boot it on and make us try to win the header and battle for second balls, to make it more realistic.

“There are loads of things — dealing with longer balls — that we’re not used to as Chelsea players but we’re going to have to get used to if we’re going to go on loan.”

Sterling continues: “You can definitely see the difference in level and quality. The best thing I’ve learned this season is staying 100 per cent focused during games. There are top players in the Championship who can punish you straight away if you have a lack of concentration.

“Physically I’d say it’s more demanding. When I was at Coventry in League One, there were games where I’d get through 60 minutes and then could cruise through the last 30. But in the Championship, I need to be on it for the full 90. I’ve been taking the gym and strength training much more seriously. Before, I didn’t really like doing it. I wasn’t motivated for it but now I am.”

There is also the reality check of coming across veterans who have long since given up their dream of making it at the highest level and the vast riches it can bring.

“You’re playing with people now who need to win — for the bonuses because they’ve got families,” says Nartey. “You can feel the difference of how much more it hurts when they lose and what it means when they win. You feel that pressure on you to perform in every game. In under-23s, you want to play as well as you can but it’s not like coming here and seeing the passion.”

At Plymouth, Grant believes he has been taken out of the comfort zone. He joined Chelsea at the age of seven and has benefited from the best facilities money can buy.

He was captain of the under-19s, which beat Real Madrid on the way to reaching the UEFA Youth League Final in 2018, a competition the club won back-to-back in 2015 and 2016.

He says: “I would say you learn more from a League Two game. On a technical level you learn more against Real Madrid’s kids because obviously they will have some of the best youngsters in Europe. But it is more mentally challenging when you play a senior game. You also learn about yourself, your body, how to adapt, to recover.

“In the academy, everything is given to you in a way. You get the best advice, the luxury of top food. The budgets are different, so there is obviously a big difference in what is provided. It’s the same ideas but there is a lot less to choose from. We still have breakfast and lunch provided at Plymouth but you’d get two options whereas at Chelsea, you have 10 different dishes. It makes you hungrier to push yourself back to that level because it is so good, all the facilities.

“You are kind of in a bubble in the academy. Going on loan is also about life experience — to mingle with different people who don’t have that celebrity title. They are regular people playing football. It is their livelihood. At Plymouth, I have to do a lot more for myself.”

There is the rather uncomfortable scenario of being targeted for abuse by opponents. Naturally, seeing a rookie from Chelsea’s academy is deemed an opportunity for some people to test their mettle.

“Stuff gets said to me all the time,” says Chalobah. “A lot of them do it in this league. I hear a lot of things. I just block it out and focus on the team. They will refer to my age and stuff like that.”

Trevoh Chalobah Huddersfield Chelsea

Not all criticism is designed to have a detrimental affect. Brown found former Luton captain Alan Sheehan on his case after apologising to fans on Twitter for a bad performance against QPR. “He messaged me saying, ‘I don’t want to see you write a tweet like that ever again. You know what you can do. Just keep believing. We know how good you are.’

“Leeds was the hardest time because after coming back from a year out with the ACL, I was ready to play, I was fit but I wasn’t getting picked. I was getting angry. It was affecting me on the training pitch.

“It felt like I was working hard for no reason. There wasn’t much Chelsea could do. You’re on your own then, really. Chelsea don’t pick the team. If the manager (Marcelo Bielsa) isn’t selecting you, it’s on you. It’s not Chelsea’s problem. It’s only you that can get out of the problem.”

Are Chelsea doing anything wrong?

The hierarchy don’t think so. The FIFA transfer ban, which was reduced to one window on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport for breaching rules over the signing of foreign youngsters, put their practices in the spotlight again.

Chelsea always maintained their innocence but from this sizeable setback came the sight of former loanees Andreas Christensen, Fikayo Tomori, Kurt Zouma, Reece James, Abraham and Mount all playing regularly under Lampard. Another eight academy graduates featured, too.

The way Chelsea have been perceived in the media regarding loans has mystified those involved. Grant says, “It’s not what it looks like from the outside. Are there too many negative headlines? Yes, definitely.

“You have to look at the amount of players who have come through the academy and are getting the chance to play football at the top level. It’s an achievement in itself. Yes, you may not make it at Chelsea but you will get the chance to be a professional footballer.

“I have always seen loans as something they do to help a player. The main goal is to get someone in the first team but the realism of it is not everyone will do that.

“I would never say it’s just a money thing. It really is like a family there. You might not make it for them but they will always help you make it somewhere.

“I experienced that first-hand when Plymouth wanted to sign me permanently in January. People were saying, ‘Here’s my number, call me.’ If I left for good, they were saying, ‘Please still call us.’ Just because I’m not at Chelsea anymore, it didn’t mean I had to stop calling for advice and so on.”

One of the biggest stories Chelsea have been mocked for is their link with Vitesse Arnhem. It all began in 2010 when Abramovich’s friendship with then owner Alexander Chigirinsky effectively turned the Dutch side into a feeder club.

Over the past decade, 28 Chelsea personnel have been sent there — the last of which was Blackman for the first half of this season, although he didn’t make a single appearance due to spending most of his tenure recovering fitness after a broken leg.

One wonders if being sent to Vitesse Arnhem is regarded as a bit of a joke among the youth players, that it’s almost a case of taking it in turns to go there. Far from it.

Blackman says: “Obviously, a lot of players have gone to Vitesse — there is a strong link between the clubs. But people seem to forget the standard of football that Chelsea players are playing in — up against teams like Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord. We all see it as an advantage to go out there.

Jamal Blackman Bristol Rovers Chelsea

“Playing football anywhere is a positive — that’s all we want to do. It’s a good league. If you show what you can do there, it’s a good thing. Just look at what’s happened to Mount.

“The players out there are welcoming to the Chelsea lads. I knew some of the players before I went out there because I’d met them through some of the other Chelsea players who had been on loan there before. It’s easy to integrate for a Chelsea player there.”

The notion that Chelsea’s model is one to be sneered at or treated with suspicion is not a view the loanees share. “I will always say it’s a good thing,” Baxter, who won five player of the year awards at Yeovil in League Two last season, argues. “It’s helped me. It’s helped a lot of players. It is a stepping stone for anyone coming from the academy looking to get into first-team football. You will always need games and experience behind you.

“The support they give me is second to none. I feel a big difference from the way I’m treated at Chelsea to the way other clubs treat their loanees. Managers are blown away by the amount Chelsea come and watch me.

“I know that I can pick up the phone if there is an issue and they will help me. I feel part of it. I don’t feel that I’m on loan and anyone has forgotten me. I know, from talking to players from other clubs, that they sometimes don’t feel like that.

“I have now played 135 matches, which is a lot for a keeper at my age. It has given me the belief that I can play for Chelsea.”

Lampard’s presence and his willingness to give youth a chance has also helped improve the self-belief of all those involved. Blackman concludes: “Being around the loan system for so long, I’ve seen players come and go but you can see a new direction the club is going in. There are more homegrown players going out on loan from the academy and trying to make a name for themselves. There is more focus on developing homegrown players, developing English talent.

“I don’t think Chelsea should be criticised for it. It’s a chance for players to get out and play. Not everyone makes it at Chelsea. Going on loan helps. You go through a number of leagues across Europe and you will see a player from Chelsea there. It shows how Chelsea do produce good players of their own. Football is evolving.”

So what does the future hold?

Of the eight we spoke to, half have contracts with a year or less left. Only Gallagher, Sterling, Baxter and Chalobah have the comfort of more than that although negotiations over extensions are bound to take place with some.

In all likelihood, Chelsea will attempt to move many of this season’s 30 loanees on sooner or later but it doesn’t faze them. Take Grant’s stance as an indication. “I’ve started to think I will have to go elsewhere,” he says. “That crosses everyone’s mind.

“Coming up through Chelsea, you have a dream of playing for the first team but the reality is that it’s very hard to do, so you have to consider taking a different route to come back.

“People see my loan to Plymouth as dropping down from Chelsea to League Two — but there is more to it than that. I don’t see it as a disappointment. You have to be positive, otherwise you will just crumble.

“There are a number of players who have played at League Two level and even lower and got to the top. That is enough motivation. Other people have done it, why can’t I?”

With his 27th birthday in October, the need for Blackman to finally leave for good is likely as well. “I’m coming to an age now where I want to settle and play regularly, to fight and keep the job as No 1,” he says. “You never know where it will be.”

For other individuals though, the ability to go elsewhere on loan is something they’re looking forward, too. Baxter will surely benefit should Blackman depart by climbing higher in the pecking order.

“It’s important to play matches, especially for a keeper,” says Baxter. “Any season the aim is to play regularly and as high a level as possible. I may have to sacrifice one to get the other, but I’m extremely confident.

“I will go back to Chelsea in pre-season, work hard every day to show I’m ready if called upon, and then play as high a level as I can. I back myself to play in the Premier League and the Championship. It’s about earning that opportunity and if you get the chance, take it. To use the five loans and take that into the next one.”

With Cesar Azpilicueta and James in situ at right-back for the first XI, Sterling has set his sights on using Chelsea’s expertise to find him another temporary base. “I’ll sit down with Frank in the summer but personally, I want to go on another loan next season because this one has been disrupted by injury,” Sterling reveals. “I want a full year of 30-40 games and then see where it takes me.

“But what is happening at Chelsea shows that everyone has a chance, whereas before maybe one out of 50 of us might get into the squad. Now, the door is open — if you’re good enough on loan, you’ll play.”

After hearing the testimonies of these eight men, will Chelsea’s loan methods start to be seen in a more positive light?

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Who is Chelsea’s greatest manager?



“Until the moment they have a manager that wins four Premier Leagues for them, Judas is number one.”

That was the memorable way that Jose Mourinho put forward his case to be regarded as the best manager in Chelsea’s history, back in 2017. It did not go down well with the patrons at Stamford Bridge.

Mourinho’s Manchester United side had just been beaten by his first English club in an FA Cup quarter-final and the Portuguese responded to the jeers from the home supporters as he walked off the pitch afterwards in typically bullish fashion.

But despite all the barbs aimed at the quality of Chelsea fans’ support over the years and a decision to now manage their fierce London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, Mourinho is right to say he stands out from the rest.

It is all too easy to let events of the past few years overshadow the immense impact Mourinho had on Chelsea. Without him, their status as the most successful English club since Roman Abramovich bought them in 2003 — a tally of 16 major trophies — might never have happened.

Critics will always point to the amount of money Mourinho had at his disposal when he arrived from newly-crowned Champions League winners Porto in 2004 and declared: “We have top players and I am sorry — I’m a bit arrogant — but we have a top manager. I’m European champion, so I’m not one of the bottle. I think I am a special one.”

Mourinho has clarified many times that he said “a” rather than “the”, but he has been known as the self-proclaimed “special one” since that remarkable debut press conference.

In fairness to the man, he lived up to that billing from the outset.

Whenever there is a discussion about the greatest Premier League sides to win the title, his Chelsea vintage of that debut 2004-05 season, or even their 2005-06 successors for that matter, rarely gets a mention. Those achievements are certainly not spoken about with the same awe as the great Manchester United sides of 1998-99 and 2007-08, Arsenal’s 2003-04 Invincibles and Manchester City’s 100-point record-breakers in 2017-18.

But ruling the roost in 2004-05 was still an impressive feat. Mourinho did the hardest job of all: changing Chelsea’s reputation for being just a cup side into one that could finish top of the pile.

He did benefit from Claudio Ranieri putting the foundations in place. Key players John Terry, Frank Lampard, Claude Makelele, Joe Cole, Damien Duff, William Gallas and Eidur Gudjohnsen were already first-team members, while deals for Petr Cech and Arjen Robben had been secured in advance.

Chelsea had been runners-up to that unbeaten Arsenal side the season before and had shown their significant threat by knocking Arsene Wenger’s team out of the Champions League quarter-finals. But there was still something missing, that little edge that separates the winners from the nearly men — there was a significant 11-point gap between first and second place in the Premier League in 2003-04.

It also shouldn’t be forgotten that after defeating Arsenal in Europe, they contrived to lose to Monaco in the semis — even though the Ligue 1 outfit were reduced to 10 men for most of the first leg’s second half.

There were some more key additions that summer, such as Didier Drogba, but Mourinho changed the mindset right from the start of the next season. Only last week, Terry was reminiscing about it on BeIN Sports, saying: “As a group of players, we were texting each other saying, ‘Oh no, this’ll be tough, this’ but from day one, he blew us away with his sessions.

“Like all of us, you go in (to training with a new manager) and say, ‘OK, let’s see what the manager’s got’ because it’s down to them to impress the players, and he certainly did that. He did that on a personal basis, on the training field… he was special, that’s for sure.”

Tactically, Chelsea could do it all under Mourinho. They could play for a 1-0 or, with Robben and Duff let off the leash, destroy opponents with devastating attacking play.

Substitutions were used to have an impact on the thinking in the dressing room as much as on the opposing team — complacency was never allowed to settle in. Press conferences before and after fixtures were another tool Mourinho used to get inside peoples’ heads, whether those heads belonged to Chelsea colleagues or others.

A controversial penalty awarded by Howard Webb for a Paulo Ferreira challenge on Manchester City striker Nicolas Anelka, who subsequently scored from the spot, was the only thing that stopped Chelsea matching Arsenal’s feat of going the whole league season unbeaten. Their achievement would have eclipsed Arsenal’s for many, as they drew fewer games.

The “Invincibles” team ended up 12 points behind in second place, while a Manchester United side with Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney in attack were a further six points adrift.

Chelsea not only retained the title the following season, but led from start to finish. There were such fears over their dominance becoming dull, one national newspaper offered prize money to the first player to score against them in the top division. Aston Villa’s Luke Moore obliged, albeit in a losing cause, in Chelsea’s seventh league fixture.

With Mourinho using a siege mentality to galvanise his squad, they were still on course to win the quadruple when the 2006-07 campaign got to May. They lost out to Manchester United and Liverpool in the Premier League and Champions League (in the semi-finals, on penalties) respectively but adding the FA Cup to February’s League Cup win meant Mourinho had five pieces of silverware in three seasons.

Even after leaving for the first time in September 2007, his DNA stayed on the team for years to come. While he missed out on winning the Champions League — there were three semi-finals across his two spells as coach — Mourinho took a lot of satisfaction from seeing some of “his” players have key roles in Chelsea’s 2012 triumph.

The now 57-year-old’s second period in charge between summer 2013 and December 2015 isn’t as fondly remembered, which is a little surprising. His third title with the club in 2014-15 was achieved with entertaining football, certainly for the first half of the season, when Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, Oscar and Eden Hazard were combining to great effect.

But people only seem to remember the manner in which he departed and how quickly things all fell apart. The unseemly row with club doctor Eva Carneiro that began during the opening league game of the 2015-16 season arguably did more damage to his reputation than being sacked with the defending champions just a point above the relegation zone.

As far as the Greatest Manager accolade goes, who could knock Mourinho off his pedestal?

A glance at the club’s history books means Ted Drake, their first manager to win the title in 1955, has to get a mention. So too Dave Sexton, who won the FA Cup in 1970 and the European Cup Winners’ Cup a year later. John Neal is also fondly regarded for the team assembled in the early 1980s, too, but it is the modern era where you will find most of the men that can rival Mourinho’s stature.

Take Ruud Gullit, for example. The football in the 18 months under him from the start of the 1996-97 season was some of the best played by any Chelsea XI. And significantly, he ended the club’s 26-year wait for a trophy by capping his first year in charge with victory in the FA Cup final. His man-management wasn’t universally popular in the dressing room, though, with Frank Sinclair telling The Athletic it was one of the reasons the Dutchman lost his job in February 1998.

Gullit’s successor Gianluca Vialli is still revered by many. In terms of trophies won, the Italian is second only to Mourinho, having picked up the League Cup, FA Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup during his two and a half years. He was also in charge for Chelsea’s first-ever Champions League campaign in 1999-2000, where they were just seven minutes away from beating Barcelona to a place in the semi-finals. The season before, Vialli’s side finished just four points adrift of treble winners Manchester United in the Premier League.

Carlo Ancelotti is probably more popular than countryman Vialli, though, and he achieved something even Mourinho didn’t — steering Chelsea to the only double of league title and FA Cup in club history.

Ancelotti was popular in, and outside of, west London. As current employers Everton are beginning to experience, his relaxed demeanour and smart sense of humour go down well with players and the watching world.

Chelsea played with a lot more freedom when Ancelotti was at the helm. Their 2010 title winners scored a club record 103 league goals — a feat the more heralded Manchester City team of 2017-18 bettered by just three. What counts against Ancelotti is that he delivered silverware in just one of his two seasons in charge and never got beyond the quarter-finals in the Champions League.

Antonio Conte can arguably lay claim to masterminding Chelsea’s most impressive title win. It was definitely the least expected. After inheriting the mess left by Mourinho from the season before, the Italian inspired the group.

Once Conte changed to playing with three at the back, Chelsea won a club-record 13 league games in a row and 30 in total during 2016-17. It could have ended with another double too, but they lost to Arsenal 2-1 in the FA Cup final having played the last 20 minutes with 10 men.

Despite a year of rancour behind the scenes, Conte led Chelsea back to Wembley a year later and this time oversaw a victory over Manchester United to add the FA Cup to his title win. Still, all the tantrums and failing to qualify for the Champions League via a top-four finish in that 2017-18 season goes against him.

Roberto Di Matteo famously got Abramovich his white whale in the 2012 Champions League final but lasted less than a year overall, while Rafa Benitez and Maurizio Sarri were also gone within 12 months despite both delivering silverware in the Europa League.

So, for all his faults, Mourinho is my undisputed No 1.

Now, who’s yours?

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Lol that article forgets someone

None of the titles, or Abramovich, or Mourinho would have happened without the genius John Neal

John Neal signed Kerry Dixon, Speedie, Spackman, Joey Jones, Micky Thomas which saved the club, and propelled Chelsea upwards and onwards from disappearing

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3 hours ago, Fulham Broadway said:

Lol that article forgets someone

None of the titles, or Abramovich, or Mourinho would have happened without the genius John Neal

John Neal signed Kerry Dixon, Speedie, Spackman, Joey Jones, Micky Thomas which saved the club, and propelled Chelsea upwards and onwards from disappearing

Were you at the preseason game against Wimbledon where Spackers, Speedo and Kerry made their debuts? At least I think it was their debuts. There might have been an earlier game outside London but I can't be sure. Then, as now, I only went to games in the capital.

I think we might have beaten the Dons 3-0 that day, but I do remember for sure that there was a feeling of a new start and that Uncle Ken was claiming the credit. Of course.

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