CHELSEA manager Jose Mourinho insists the club are on the threshold of a productive new era of youth development and that the first fruits will be on display tonight against Sporting Lisbon.
Mourinho plans to hand midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 18, a first-team debut in an experimental side shorn of John Terry, Eden Hazard and Willian, having already won the Champions League group.
Long-serving captain Terry remains the last Chelsea trainee to graduate to first-team stalwart, but Mourinho believes the combination of more talented youngsters and his return to the club to embark on a long-term project have created a footballing hothouse.
“Every manager in the world wants to bring young people up; sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t. I can compare my first spell and now, and now the quality of young players is there,” he said.
“If you don’t bring kids from the academy the best thing is to close the academy. If the kids or the work aren’t good enough year after year it’s better to close the door and spend the money to buy players.
“You need to prove the academy works well. And it’s only possible if the manager stays for a long time. In this club in the last 10 years this was not possible. But now I’m trying to format Ruben and others in relation to what is important for me and his position. The relation between first team and academy is changing based on this stability.”
Mourinho handed Nathan Ake and Andreas Christensen starts and named Lewis Baker and Isaiah Brown on the bench for a Capital One Cup trip to Shrewsbury in October and only narrowly escaped with a win.
Loftus-Cheek, who captained last term’s FA Youth Cup winning team, appears to have overtaken some of his fellow prospects and is set to be officially promoted to the first team squad next month.
“He didn’t have pre-season with me but the way he’s training with us every time he comes gives me the guarantee of his quality and his ambition,” Mourinho added. “So I’m so happy to give the kids a chance and especially when I feel they have the tools to answer well and make a career at Chelsea. English player, 18, completely made in Chelsea – if he does it and succeeds it’s beautiful.”
■ Lewisham-born 6ft 4ins box-to-box midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek has been at Chelsea for a decade already, since the age of eight
■ He played for the Under-18s three years early, has captained England schoolboys and last season skippered Chelsea’s FA Youth Cup winners
■ Loftus-Cheek made 15 appearances, scoring one goal, as the Blues won the Under-21 Premier League earlier this year