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Age Concern at Chelsea


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When Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson suggested Chelsea's experienced squad was too old to contend for major titles at the start of last season, he received plenty of scorn in return from his west London rivals.

Only a misguided referee in the Champions League semi-final tie against Barcelona denied Chelsea's aging stars the chance to prove Ferguson wrong in the grand manner, yet the United chief could claim to have been proved right in the end as the Blues finished the campaign with merely FA Cup winners medals.

Daniel Sturridge's arrival from Manchester City during this summer was an attempt to bring a youthful presence to the squad, yet the reality is Chelsea are heading towards the new campaign with a group of veterans who are threatening to give the club an unwanted reputation.

After striker Didier Drogba was handed a new three-year contract earlier this week and with little sign of fresh talent being injected into the playing pool, Chelsea are rapidly becoming known as the outpost for former greats edging towards their final curtain calls.

Frank Lampard, Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira, Nicolas Anelka, Michael Ballack and the returning Andrey Shevchenko find themselves in the '30-something' club at Stamford Bridge, with skipper John Terry and Ashley Cole soon to join them. Even transfer target Andrea Pirlo at AC Milan is the holder of a few 30th birthday cards.

It leaves departed boss Guus Hiddink to suggest the chief priority for the club should be dragging down the average age of a squad which is losing its marketable value at a rapid rate.

"A club needs young players with their heart in the project to have a spirit," suggests Hiddink. "This has obviously been a problem for Chelsea because they have a lot of players in the 30-plus category and not so many in the young and promising age range.

"I have mentioned to the people at Chelsea that they need to address the issue as youth development is vital to any club. You don't want to be viewed as a team that merely buys ready made players, but this is the perception some have of Chelsea just now.

"They are a club at the very top of the game, but when you consider the very biggest names in the world, Chelsea are not there yet. In my view, they can reach this level in the not too distant future, but the only way to get there is with some time and stability at the top.

"The location of the club and the ambition of the owner has already helped Chelsea to come from the middle of the table to be one of the most dominant sides in England, so the next step has to be Europe. They have been so close in the Champions League over recent years and then they missed out in a penalty shoot-out in the 2008 Final.

"I know they want to sign the top players in the game and have tried to do so. Their ambition cannot be doubted, but it can be hard when they compete with the established clubs to get the big talents."

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Yes the age of our top players is a concern, it is not an easy situation to remedy. Bringing in Sturridge and Zhirkov has been a good move for us. And we would like to think that next season we could bring in a couple of our own younger player (Di Santo, Stoch, Bertrand, Sinclair, Cork ect..) But we do need to be looking at building for the future.

It takes time for a new manager to truly build his team. Ancelotti will over this season get a true idea of what he has and what he needs.

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My opinion is that the lack of youth development in the side has been down to the constant switching of managers at the club. Because of the high pressure at the club to deliver instant results , managers have been completely focused on the present rather than looking to the future because they know that if they do not deliver in the present then they will be fired. Thats what the situation is like.

However the good news is that Carlo Ancelotti seems to understand the need for youth , bringing in Sturridge and Zhirkov were excellent moves , not only that but the fact that he has loaned Di Santo and Sinclair out to premier league clubs shows that he cares about the development of these clearly talented young players and wants them to be better when they return. Considering that last Summer Carlo Ancelotti was the first choice manager to talk the helm after Grant left , its obvious RA values him highly as a coach , thus Ancelotti will surely be given more time than Scolari. With that being said I think we will push ahead with the signings of younger players and I think Ancelotti is proving his commitment to the development of young players with these buys and by sending some of our young players out on loan.

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We have to remember that bringing kids through is a process that takes time. It is about getting them at the right clubs before they move on to the CFC first team. Mancienne performed at a club that was top of the championship and got his chances with the first team. It may be he needs a Premiership loan still but that is the standard we are looking at. We have Di Santo and Sinclair in the premiership, we have Bertrand at Reading and Stoch at FC Twente. When these loans are done we will know what level these players can compete at.

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Fletcher's only 25, which REALLY surprised me, I thought he'd be 30 at least! I think its just because he's been at United for so long that you think he's an oldie.

But I agree with the above post - the players we've signed this summer are very young, with Zhirkov at 25 being the oldest. IMO, it doesn't make a difference how old players are as long as they deliver. Look at Frank; you'd think he was in his twenties the way he runs around everywhere. I wouldn't get too worried about us being an "old squad" when we have people like Mikel, Mancienne, Kalou and Sturridge in the squad.

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