The strange case of Chelsea’s missing players, and their unusual approach to youngsters

By Andrew Crawshaw and Tony Attwood

Following our detailed review of Arsenal’s youth teams and youth policy (a link to these articles is at the foot of this piece) we then took a look, by way of contrast, at Chelsea’s approach to youth in the article Chelsea lead the Premier League in the number of players that they have out on loan.

Having published that, the idea came up of taking this further by looking in a little more detail at Chelsea, starting with a review of their first team squad and those members thereof who had come up through the ranks.

The current Chelsea first team squad is:-

  • GK Thibaut Courtois, Asmir Begovic, Eduardo
  • Defenders – Cesar Azpilicueta, Branislav Ivanovic, Kurt Zuma, Gary Cahil, John Terry, Ola Aina (U21), Marcus Alonso
  • Midfielders – Eden Hazard, N’Golo Kante, Nemanja Matic, Oscar, Willian, Nathaniel Chalobah (U21), Cesc Fabregas, Ruben Loftus-Cheek (U21), John Mikel Obi, Victor Moses,
  • Strikers – Diego Costa and Michy Batshuayi
  • Loan – Matt Mizaga,

The graduates from their Youth Academy are indicated in bold.

Chelsea would appear to have only 20 senior players.  They have Gary Cahill and John Terry who are English and Cesc Fabregas who is ‘home grown’ by virtue of his time at Arsenal and the remaining 17 are overseas players.  They could therefore increase their squad size by 5 senior players providing they count as ‘home grown’.  Additionally they have three U21 Chelsea Youth Graduates players named in the squad who would all count as homegrown when they turn 21.

This is most curious.  Chelsea have no shortage of money, and are as prone to injuries as the next premier league team.  So why not make full use of the “25” by including at least a few more “home grown” players at least as a hedge against injuries.   In the first half of last season Chelsea were recorded as having 27 player injuries – according to Sky Sports figures – six more than Arsenal, leaving them 11th in the league of clubs with the most player injuries that far into the season.

OK so Chelsea don’t have a great record at retaining their Academy Graduates into their first team so where are they?

Looking back for Graduates who have played for Chelsea over the past 10 years this is the 25 man list according to Wikipedia

Player Club International Cap First Chelsea Appearance
Ben Sahar Hapoel Be’er Sheva Full Israel Caps Age 18 v Macclesfield Town, 6 Jan. 2007
Michael Woods Hartlepool United England U19 Age 16 v Macclesfield Town, 6 Jan. 2007
Scott Cinclair Celtic England U21 Age 17 v Wycombe, 10 Jan. 2007
Sam Hutchinson Sheffield Wednesday England U19 Age 17 v Everton, 13 May. 2007
Miroslav Stoch Febernahce Full Slovakia Caps Age 19 v Arsenal, 30 Nov. 2008
Michael Mancienne Nottingham Forest England U21 Age 21 v Watford, 14 Feb. 2009
Fabio Borini Sunderland Full Italy Caps Age 18 v Spurs, 20 Sep. 2009
Jeffrey Bruma VfL Wolfsburg Full Netherlands Caps Age 17 v Blackburn, 24 Oct. 2009
Gael Kakuta Hebei China Fortune France U21 Age 18 v Wolves, 21 Nov. 2009
Patrick van Aanholt Sunderland Full Netherlands Caps Age 19 v Portsmouth, 24 Mar. 2010
Josh McEchran Brentford England U21 Age 17 v MSK Zilina, 15 Sep. 2010
Jacob Mellis Bury England U19 Age 19 v MSK Zilina, 15 Sep. 2010
Ryan Bertrand Southampton Full England Caps Age 21 v Birmingham, 20 Apr. 2011
Lucas Piazon Fulham (loan) Brazil U23 Age 18 v Wolves 25 Sep. 2012
Nathan Ake Bournemouth (loan) Netherlands U21 Age 17 v Norwich, 26 Dec. 2012
Tomas Kalas Fulham (loan) Full Czech Republic Caps Age 20 v Arsenal, 29 Oct. 2013
Lewis Baker Vitesse Arnheim (or Metropolitan Police) (loan) England U21 Age 18 v Derby, 5 Jan. 2014
John Swift Reading England U21 Age 18 v Cardiff, 11 May. 2014
Dominic Solanke Chelsea England U21 Age 17 v Maribor, 21 Oct. 2014
Andreas Christensen Borussia Monchengladbach (loan) Full Denmark Caps Age 18 v Shrewsbury, 28 Oct. 2014
Ruben Loftus-Cheek Chelsea England U21 Age 18 v Sporting Lisbon, 10 Dec. 2014
Jake Clarke-Salter Bristol Rovers (loan) England U19 Age 18 v Aston Villa, 2 Apr. 2016
Tammy Abraham Bristol City England U19 Age 18 v Liverpool,  11 May 2016
Fikayo Tomori Chelsea England U19 Age 18 v Leicester, 15 May 2016
Ola Aina Chelsea England U21 Age 19 v Bristol Rovers,  23 August 2016

What impact do the number of loans have on the clubs they join?

As far as we can tell any Club is allowed as many loan players as they wish with a maximum of 4 from any individual source.  The number of loanees from any one club was reduced a few years ago when Watford fielded a team containing 7 loan players in a Championship game v Crystal Palace.  At the time Watford had a total of 11 loan players, 10 from parter club Udinese.

The current rules allow a club a maximum of five loan players in any match day squad.  In League games a loaned player is ineligible to play against his parent club but they can in a Cup competition (I believe with the express permission of the parent club).

With the majority of loans being to clubs lower in the football pyramid, the effect is generally to enable clubs to have access to better players than they have within their own youth team set ups.  Clubs with Category 1 Academies tend to attract the best players through their own scouting of the other clubs.  These Academies comprise 15 Premier League and 9 Championship Clubs.

PL – Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Leicester City, Liverpool, man City, Man United, Southampton, Spurs, Middlesbrough, Swansea, Stoke, Sunderland, West Brom, West Ham

Championship – Derby County,  Reading, Aston Villa, Blackburn, Brighton, Fulham, Newcastle, Norwich, and Wolves.

But the loan system has changed this year, with the much abused emergency loan system now stopped by order of Fifa.  The emergency loan system allowed lower league clubs to keep on boosting their squad all the way through the year.  It’s abolition could have a huge impact this year.

What impact do the loans have on the players?

To a degree this question depends on the reason for the loan.  Using the 5 Loan types as defined in Part 1 of The Chelsea Way, we can see it this way…

A Type 1 Loan – young player needing regular experience of playing football in a competitive league.  Assuming the player actually gets the playing time (and that is by no means guaranteed e.g. Arsenal player Gnabry at West Brom last year) then they will either prove that they can compete or that they can’t.  With over 100 loans each year across the Premier League the number that succeed is relatively small.

Type 2 Loan – Player coming back from injury who needs game time to regain match fitness and confidence.  Currently with loans only available during the July/August and the January transfer windows these are likely to be relatively rare and I could identify none of the 38 Chelsea players with this kind of Loan.  I would suggest that Wilshere on loan to Bournemouth is probably one.  Again the impact on the player will depend on the game time he gets.  With the changes to the PL 2 football – now open to U23 players rather than U21s it is probable that for most players returning from injury this will become the preferred route back to first team football.

A Type 3 Loan – kick in the pants.  Historically I suspect at Youth level these transfers are littered with failures where the player is incapable of taking the hint and continues to underperform.  At around 17/18 years old young men typically become distracted (cars, alcohol, friends outside football, girls etc).  Only those with the strongest characters (not necessarily those with the best footballing ability) manage to retain their focus.  If the loss of focus happens at the parent club it is probably unlikely that a transfer to another environment will necessarily break the spell.

A Type 4 Loan – First step out of the door.  The aim is to present the player where he can effectively showcase his talents and enable the player’s agent to organise a transfer to another club.  Clearly with the salaries that are prevalent in the PL this can still cause problems for all but the wealthiest clubs in other leagues.  Chelsea wages may also be too high for clubs in the middle or lower tiers of the PL..  E.g.  Loic Remy is believed to be on £85k per week.  It is unlikely that Palace will be meeting the full extent of these costs under the terms of his loan deal.  Loic will still be able to play at a high level (although not in European competitions) and, assuming he is able to influence games for Palace, should provide his manager with something to work on.

A Type 5 Loan – one for the future but not yet ready for the parent club.  This probably the most difficult for a player.  If from outside the EU and they don’t have a UK Work Permit then their loan spells are likely to be extensive as a residence of about 3 years in an EU country with the more relaxed type of immigration rules (typically Spain or Portugal) is normally needed (at least that’s how long it took Arsenal player Wellington).  Players who have to go out on loan year after year are likely to become increasingly frustrated with their parent club and will be more likely every year to want to stay at their loan club instead.

Lucas Piaizon (on loan at Fulham) is probably typical.  This is the fifth successive year he will have been on loan.  In 2012 he was in Spain at Malaga where he played 14 times; in 2013/14 he was at Vitesse Arnheim where he made 31 appearances and scored 11 goals; 2014/15 saw him at Eintracht Frankfurt 23 appearances and 2 goals and last season he was at Reading, 22 appearances and 5 goals.  He was quoted in the Metro on Monday as saying :-

“I’m tired of moving abroad.  One, two or three loans, maybe that’s enough.  Its time for me to stay somewhere longer than one year.  It makes no sense to go on loan all the time.  It is not good for any player in my experience – or the experience of the other boys.

I don’t see it as a positive thing any more.  To be in a different place every year isn’t good for me at 22.

It is difficult to get a place in the team.  They have their own players.  You do your best, try to get a place in the squad, minutes on the pitch, score and create goals.  That’s all you can do.”

So investigating Chelsea we have a double puzzle:

Puzzle 1: Why have they only got 20 registered players instead of 23 to 25 players?  We know that it is because they can only take some more home grown players – but why haven’t they brought in some home grown players?  Are there really none to be had?  Or is it that other PL clubs won’t sell their Englishmen to Chelsea?

Puzzle 2: Why are they putting so many players out on loan?  It seems not to bring them back to play for Chelsea, nor seemingly to “farm” them and sell them on for a profit.  Why keep them?  Why not just sell them?   Surely this is giving Chelsea a bad name among youngsters who are offered terms at Chelsea.

This whole situation looks extraordinarily odd.  Of course it is easy to put it down to incompetence, but it could also be that Chelsea has a different sort of plan.  It is just one that we can’t quite work out at the moment.

With the conundrum of Arsenal’s under 18s performance against Arsenal’s under 23 performance, and players playing out of position, we did offer a possible logical explanation.   But we are struggling here to find one for Chelsea.

The Untold Review of the Under 18, Under 19, and Under 21 squads.

Part 1 – The teams’ performances

Part 2 – The players in detail

25 Replies to “The strange case of Chelsea’s missing players, and their unusual approach to youngsters”

  1. The loan system is intriguing, especially at Chelsea where they appear to be stockpiling a lot of average players.
    There is of course one simple solution to curtail the extravagance of the system and that is to make the owning club pay the wages in full. This would highlight the players that are in genuine need of experience at another club.
    Just cannot see the authorities do battle with the big clubs on that one.

  2. Haven’t they just signed David Luiz back, he isn’t home grown?
    So a existing player from the squad will have to be dropped.

  3. Well Dr Watson, according to Wiki (which can be wrong but isn’t that often when it comes to the history of footballers) “Moses began his career in the Championship with Crystal Palace, before his performances caught the eye of Wigan Athletic, where he made his Premier League debut in 2010.”


    Begović started his professional career with English club Portsmouth, signing for them in the summer of 2003. After a sequence of loans, he made his Premier League debut in May 2009 and deputised for the injured David James early on in the 2009–10 season, before Portsmouth’s financial problems led to him being sold to Stoke City for £3.25 million in February 2010.

    If you have info to dispute this it would be good to have some source information.

  4. My error – I took the phrase to mean developed by Chelsea, not that they are home grown like Fabregas. Totally my mistake. I shall go and lie down for a while.

  5. Tony,

    I think Begovic and Moses are more of a Fabregas type of homegrown. Not Chelsea graduates but… graduates of other English clubs, Portsmouth and Palace respectively. Begovic spent 6-7 years at Portsmouth since the age of 16. And Moses spent nearly 10 years at Palace since the age of 11-12. Just a slight correction to be made. 🙂

  6. Not quite sure what this article is trying to prove but Chelsea have registered 56 players with the PL . Quite a few, 34 are under the age of 21 the majority are HG but that is irrelevant as they don’t occupy one of the 25 allocated spaces. Of that 34 some are out on loan but players like Solanke have already been allocated a squad number . Should a major injury rush cause a problem there are a few who are lined up to play and I suspect if the opportunity arises they will indeed play.
    On the other hand Arsenal have registered 78 players in their PL squad nothing wrong with that But it’s one hellava lot of players who won’t get anywhere near the first team.
    There is no obligation to fill the 25 berth and it is commonplace not to indeed a quick look at Burnely they have used 21, Bournemouth 22, Palace 24.

  7. G. Man
    In accordance with FA rules all players contracted to English clubs on a permanent basis have to be paid through the owning clubs payroll even if a player goes out on loan.
    Of course it’s the norm that a few is paid when a player goes out on loan but it is far from uncommon for that fee not to cover the players wages.

  8. “Puzzle 1: Why have they only got 20 registered players instead of 23 to 25 players?”

    It’s not unusual for a club to have less than 25 over-21 players on their books. Arsenal have operated with 22 or 23 in the past. Look at the link I gave you in my 6:03 post and you’ll find a number of PL clubs this season operating with less than 25, including Leicester, Liverpool, Man C, Man U and Tottenham.

    PL FFP wage caps may have something to do with it, or they may have U21 players who play regularly (eg the likes of Bellerín), or there just may not be enough decent English/Welsh/home-grown players to go round.

  9. “Puzzle 2: Why are they putting so many players out on loan?”

    Clubs have three major revenue streams: matchday income, broadcasting and commercial income. However, there is a fourth stream – player sales – that some clubs have relied on, such as Southampton or Arsenal during the austerity years.

    Chelsea have clearly made a business decision to use the loan system to provide them with a constant stream of player sales.

    Here’s a quote from Swiss Ramble:

    “In the seven years between 2005 and 2011, Chelsea averaged £10 million profit from selling players, but this has shot up to an average of £38 million in the four years since then.

    In particular, Chelsea’s figures have benefited from £107 million from player sales in the last two seasons. Their reliance on this activity is underlined by the fact that they would have made a loss of £46 million in 2014 instead of a £19 million profit without these transfers…

    Given that very few of these players [on loan] have succeeded in establishing themselves in Chelsea’s first team, it would appear that the primary purpose of this strategy is to develop players for future (profitable) sales, while effectively placing them in the shop window… Clearly, not every player will bring in big money, but this approach only needs a couple of lucrative sales to be successful.”

  10. Thanks Mike. I believe MC are actually paying £13M in wages to loaned out payers. No doubt several
    clubs are in the same boat, further proof that the rich clubs can have as many players as they can afford on their books and in some cases it could be limitless.
    Gives less chance for the poorer clubs to pick them up.

  11. Robert

    “In the seven years between 2005 and 2011, Chelsea averaged £10 million profit from selling players, but this has shot up to an average of £38 million in the four years since then.”

    I’m not sure what you, or Swiss Rambler are trying to infer here, but if it’s that this loan system is somehow turning Chelseas transfer policy into a relatively efficient, neigh profitable system, then it seems to be failing dismally.

    The above paragraph cited from Swiss Rambler is very misleading, indeed when talking about transfers having the words ‘profit’ and ‘Chelsea’ in the same sentence is surely a joke.

    These are Chelseas net profit a loss figures for the last 10 years as published in


    2016………£108 Million loss
    2015………..£9 Million loss
    2014………..£5 Million loss
    2013……….£50 Million loss
    2012……….£72 Million loss

    That’s a net loss on transfers of close to £250 Million over 5 years, or £50 Million per season.

    2011……….£63 Million loss
    2010……….£82 Million loss
    2009……….£17 Million loss
    2008……….£10 Million profit
    2007………..£7 Million loss
    2006………..£7 Million profit

    That’s a net loss on transfers of over £150 Million over 5 years, or around £30 Million per season.

    Over the 10 year period, 2006 to 2016 that’s a net LOSS of approximately £400 Million, or £40 Million per season.

    Can someone please explain how, under any circumstances, those figures correlate with the following statement from Swiss Rambler ?

    “……..but this approach only needs a couple of lucrative sales to be successful.”

    Hmmm ? Well maybe so, but these figures suggest that those ‘couple of lucrative sales’ Chelsea ‘only’ need have categorically failed to materialise.

    Unless I’m missing something Robert, that Swiss Rambler article you cite is seriously flawed, or at best simply misleading.

  12. Jambug, Swiss ramble seems to have rather lost the plot a few years back.
    He was by far the best info on the finances of clubs for a few years, definately the ‘Go-To’ site for it.
    He had the ability to stand back and look at the facts where possible and make balanced calls on stuff which wasn’t clear but since he returned from his serious health issues he hasn’t been the same. He seems to have a rather clouded vision on his guesses which are now more often wrong than right.

  13. The oddest part of the big/CL participating teams having less than 25 (ok, less than 23) players rather follows on from the way $iteh moaned a few years back when uefa restricted their squad numbers for the CL due to FFP failure.
    I can’t remember the number exactly but I think they were limited to 20 players and they whinged & moaned about how it would cause them problems for their 6 games (or a few more if they got through the group stage).
    Now they have 38 PL games and have restricted themselves to 16 international players and 4 home-grown players, although I do appreciate they have 3 or 4 talented options in their U21 squad.

  14. There is a shadow benefit in having squads of loan players. That is ‘if’ you get banned from transfers for some reason. The stock will cover the ban period. There are some strange goings on when clubs get banned from transfers & agents don’t get punished. It takes 2 to Tango but agents don’t dance!!

  15. Jambug

    Without applying the agreed accounting practises in relation to players as assets it’s impossible to get a true picture of what is appearing in accounts from looking at transfer league or any like site
    For instance buy a player for say £ 40 million on a 5 year deal and sale that player for £30 million after 3 years a profit of £6 million is shown in the accounts yet transfer league would show a loss of £10 million

  16. Jambug just a little more meat on the bone

    If you buy a players on 5 year deals for £50 million. For each of the 5 years he costs £10 million the process is called amortisation. So each year in the accounts you don’t show the transfer spend you show the amortised sum.If you sell a player as I described earlier all of the profit is shown in the year of sale

  17. Mike T

    If I said grass was green you’d argue with me.

    Your reasoning leaves me cold, so it’s a case of whatever with you I’m afraid.

  18. Jambug

    Hold on now I am not disputing spend, far from it what I was doing is trying to explain how the Swiss Rambler and indeed any accountant will present the figures.
    You really need to stop being so sensitive and at least look at the arguements rather than just dismissing them out of hand.

  19. Jambug, profit on player sales is defined by accounting standards, and true figures will only be found in the statutory published accounts of clubs. And those accounts are the source for Swiss Rambler’s analyses.

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