Updated: Jan 8, 2022
From the late 2000s to the early 2010s, every club from around the world tried to replicate the academy production system of the famed La Masia academy in Barcelona. The Catalans produced one of the greatest sides of all time in 2011 under Pep Guardiola after the club's trust in their youth paid off heavily, winning the league title, UEFA Champions League, Spanish Super Cup, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup. In all of those competitions, they played with a starting 11 of majority academy graduates. In 2012, they even fielded 11 academy graduates which is pictured below.
In the years that followed, there had never been a rivaling club that comes close to what Barcelona accomplished and there most likely never will be. This is not to say that the lads from West London cannot try, though. Roman Abramovich's investment in Chelsea Football Club in 2003 brought new opportunities for the team to rebuild and support their academy system to create players that would be prepared to turn professional at an accelerated age.
The success came around a decade later when Chelsea's youth team won the UEFA Youth League title in 2014 and 2016, tying Barcelona's record of two titles as well. For domestic tournaments, Chelsea have won the second most FA Youth Cup trophies (9). From 2011 to 2018, the Chelsea squad won 6 out of 7 tournaments showing their dominance in the domestic competition amongst the other top English academies.
Moving onto Chelsea's first team, the club had to rely on their academy during the 2019-20 season when the club was handed a transfer ban for the year. Without new incoming transfers that other clubs were able acquire, Chelsea were left to fight with who they had from the previous season, not to mention those that left the club in the summer. With Frank Lampard as the manager and a group of mostly inexperienced youngsters, Chelsea did well to finish in a Champions League qualifying place that year. Standout academy players like Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Reece James, and Fikayo Tomori earned themselves permanent starting positions at one of the biggest clubs in Europe after only being in the academy or on loan the previous season.
In the 2020-21 season, the club's trust in their youth paid off as they triumphed over Manchester City in the Champions League while having 7 academy players on the roster and fielding 3 players in the match.
A couple of seasons later in the 2020-21 season, Mason Mount earned multiple matches as the captain of his boyhood club and rightfully so. He racked up 9 goals and 9 assists from a playmaking-midfielder position. Every time he is on the pitch he presses the opposition defenders and does not stop running and making things happen for the team.
This season, the impact of academy players has not changed. Since 2019, right-back Reece James has kept his place within the club as the top wing-back that they have at their disposal. This year he has already notched 5 goals and 5 assists, making him the clubs' leading scorer. His relentless contribution offensively overshadows his physicality and reliability on the defensive side of the game as well. He has become an extremely effective player for Thomas Tuchel.
Outside of the club, Chelsea have loan players or permanently transferred players from their academy such as Declan Rice, Valentino Livramento, Tariq Lamptey, Marc Guehi, and Connor Gallagher who have impressed greatly this season. The continuous growth and production of players from the West London club has earned themselves the nickname "La Cobham" after "La Masia" of Barcelona, showing the high-level of talent that lies in the academy.
Even if it was by chance and desperation in 2019 that the top academy players were given a shot in the first team, it once again shows the mighty pay off from investing in the academy and giving the youngsters the ability to shine when the time is right.