Optimism reigns for Solanke and Chelsea’s new golden generation

 
Frank Dalleres
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Teenager Dominic Solanke is Chelsea’s youngest player to feature in European competition
IT IS perhaps the standout failing of Chelsea’s billion-pound transformation from also-rans to European superpower since Roman Abramovich snapped up the club more than 11 years ago.

Despite the Russian’s lavish investment – or maybe, in some respects, because of it – the Blues’ academy has not produced the conveyor belt of talent expected of such a well-resourced outfit.

Yet talk among the club’s coaches is that this season could be a watershed campaign, with a handful of youngsters such as Dominic Solanke and Lewis Baker on the cusp of first-team breakthroughs.

Some of those star pupils may be handed another audition tonight when the west Londoners visit League Two high-fliers Shrewsbury in the Capital One Cup.

Solanke, 17, became the club’s youngest player in European competition when he came off the bench last week against Maribor, while fellow teenager Nathan Ake put in an impressive cameo off the bench against the Slovenians.

Free-scoring England Under-21 midfielder Baker, who made his first-team debut in last season’s FA Cup, and forward Isaiah Brown have also been singled out by Jose Mourinho as stars in waiting, not just for Chelsea but also for their country.

Blues youngsters have been tipped to become first-team regulars before, only to fail to make the grade. Promising midfielder Josh McEachran has become a perennial loanee, while even Ryan Bertrand, a Champions League winner, could not nail down a regular starting spot.

Such case studies may be cause for caution when assessing the prospects of Chelsea’s Under-21 Premier League winning team, but what is undeniable is the genuine excitement at the club sparked by this newest golden generation.

FAB FOUR: THE BLUES’ HOTTEST PRODIGIES

Dominic Solanke
■ Striker only turned 17 in September and made European debut last week. At Chelsea since 2004, he scored 20 in 25 for Under-21 side and four in four for England Under-17s during the summer

Lewis Baker
■ Two-footed midfielder with eye for goal, Baker, 19, is another who has come through the ranks. Made first-team bow in January and signed new five-year contract during the close season

Isaiah Brown
■ Versatile forward, 17, joined from West Brom, to the Baggies’ fury, shortly after becoming the second youngest player in Premier League history when he made his debut for Midlanders in May 2013

Nathan Ake
■ Midfielder, 19, habitually compared to Ruud Gullit owing to his dreadlocks and cultured touch. Lacks some of his fellow Dutchman’s bulk but has most first-team experience of the current crop

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