It’s no surprise that a large number of Chelsea‘s star-studded squad are featuring prominently for their countries during the international break. Leading the pack as expected are established first-teamers at Stamford Bridge, world-class players like N’Golo Kante (France) and Eden Hazard (Belgium), however it is 17-year old Ethan Ampadu who has caught the eye with a couple of impressive performances for Wales.
With a much smaller pool of players to work with, new Wales manager Ryan Giggs has had no hesitation in selecting Ampadu, who despite his youth and lack of first-team experience at the highest level, has played with a maturity and capability way beyond his tender years when called upon to represent his country.
In his time as a player with Manchester United and indeed Wales, Giggs was of course the living embodiment of the adage “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough,” and Ampadu has clearly drawn confidence from a manager whose record as the Premier League’s most decorated player will be a source of inspiration at this early stage of his career.
Deployed as a defensive midfielder by Giggs, Ampadu, who is also capable of playing at centre-back, impressed in recent starts for Wales against Ireland and Denmark and inevitably stoked the fires of enthusiasm among Chelsea supporters who down the years have traditionally championed the cause of younger players. It does, however, remain a source of deep consternation for these fans that they are still waiting for the next John Terry to emerge from the junior ranks at the Bridge and go on establish themselves as a first-team regular.
That element of “We’ve seen this all before” cynicism gradually smothers positivity. It’s been almost 20 years since Terry broke into Chelsea’s first team and went on to become its venerated captain, and in the seasons that have followed there have been plenty of young players who have come to the fore, principally graduates of the Blues’ academy, but have ultimately failed to make the grade at the Bridge.
Currently feeling frustrated no doubt are Andreas Christensen and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, both now 22 years old, who have progressed through Chelsea’s development sides to become full internationals for Demark and England respectively, but now find themselves on the periphery of a Blues first team managed by Maurizio Sarri.
Sarri replaced Antonio Conte in the summer and swiftly set about changing Chelsea’s style of play, and a 100 percent start to the new Premier League campaign has thus far vindicated his tactics and selections. It’s understandable that a new manager coming into a club will have his own ideas about the suitability of players to fit a particular style of play, and Sarri is no different.
It’s been a recurring theme at the Bridge under the ownership of Roman Abramovich. In the past 15 years since he bought Chelsea, the Russian has worked his way through a procession of managers and bankrolled transfers to suit a variety of styles of football. The 15 major trophies that have been won along the way are proof that the Abramovich way delivers results, however there has been plenty of collateral damage ensnaring managers and players alike.
During what proved to be Conte’s second and final season, centre-back Christensen had broken into Chelsea’s first team replacing David Luiz, with whom the Italian had fallen out. The young Dane wowed supporters with his composure and ball-playing skills and had a decent run in the side before being sidelined by injury. Loftus-Cheek meanwhile spent the season on loan at Crystal Palace, for whom he played well enough in midfield to earn a place in the England World Cup squad.
Had Conte’s reign as Blues boss continued, both Christensen and Loftus-Cheek would quite probably have been featuring in his first team this season. Instead, Sarri has opted to reinstate 31-year-old Luiz at centre-back while totally restructuring Chelsea’s midfield. The signings of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic — albeit the latter on loan from Real Madrid — have pushed Loftus-Cheek down the pecking order, and the form of these new players who have formed an excellent triumvirate with the indispensable Kante suggests that under Sarri there might be no way back.
What the future now holds at Chelsea for Christensen and Loftus-Cheek is unclear. A loan move? A permanent transfer? Waiting ever impatiently on the sidelines?
Ampadu will be under no illusions that the same fate of uncertainty and frustration could befall him. Having signed for Chelsea from Exeter City in July 2017, the youngster didn’t have to wait too long for Conte to recognise his prodigious ability and only an ankle injury sustained earlier this year prevented him from adding to his tally of seven appearances for the Blues under the Italian. There is every chance that Sarri will give Ampadu the opportunity to play for Chelsea in upcoming Europa League and Carabao Cup fixtures, however there are no guarantees, and the youngster, buoyed by the rave reviews he has received while playing for Wales, has already spoken about his desire to impress at the Bridge.
The future, of course, is unwritten. Ampadu could make the grade as a Chelsea player, but equally he could find his path blocked in a similar way that Christensen, Loftus-Cheek and so many more young players before them have been thwarted in their ambitions as Blues managers have come and gone. This of course won’t stop the latest flurry of enthusiasm from the fans and seemingly, irrespective of what has gone before, it never will.