Christian Pulisic signing proves Chelsea youth system still as broken as ever
Chelsea have signed a star, but what does that mean for their brightest young talent?
Chelsea have confirmed the signing of USA international Christian Pulisic from Borussia Dortmund for a fee of £58 million, with the player staying on loan at the Bundesliga leaders until the end of the season.
While his signing undoubtedly adds to the level of quality in Maurizio Sarri’s squad, it has already led to increased scrutiny about the efficacy of Chelsea’s youth system. And with good reason.
In theory, the purpose of a youth system is to develop and cultivate talent to the point that players within it are considered as more viable alternatives to recruiting expensively from elsewhere.
Some clubs get lucky with their systems, when top coaching and a crop of era-defining natural talent combine to produce almost ready-made top class talent. Manchester United’s Class of 92 is the perfect example of this.
But while the likes of Beckham, Scholes, Giggs et al were freakish in their levels of natural ability, there’s every possibility that they wouldn't have enjoyed such fine careers without being given a chance at a young age. Sir Alex Ferguson's faith was, in many ways, the making of them.
Under the ownership of Roman Abramovich, Chelsea have consistently failed - or refused - to utilise their youth setup for what is objectively its intended purpose.
The club’s academy, even in the years prior to Abramovich, produced John Terry as its solitary star. The centre-back’s dazzling career is proof of what can be achieved when young players are given a chance, but given the fact that Jody Morris is pretty much the only other player to come through at the same time suggests Terry was something of a diamond in the rough.
The current youth set up at Stamford Bridge is much different to what it was at the start of the 2000s. Very much a global project, Chelsea have scouts everywhere and bring in players from around the world. Despite this, much of their best young talent still comes from these very shores.
One of their brightest prospects currently, and one who will likely not be participating in the celebrations over the Pulisic signing, is Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Just 18 years old, Hudson-Odoi has been touted as a potential future star by those who have watched his rise. The hype is such that it has seeped into conversations between supporters who are desperate to see one of their own nail down a place in the first team.
Sarri has already stated that the reason Hudson-Odoi hasn’t featured more is because winning is the main priority. While that may be understandable for a Premier League manager, what does it say to Chelsea's youngsters that the club's most promising talent has effectively been told he's at the back of the queue?
The story of another young Chelsea hopeful, Tammy Abraham, appears to be one ignored by the club in their pursuit of Pulisic.
Abraham is currently the joint top scorer in the Championship, where he is playing for Aston Villa on loan.
Like Hudson-Odoi, he has repeatedly stated his desire to be given a chance at Stamford Bridge. Like Hudson-Odoi, he was pushed aside in favour of an expensive acquisition: Alvaro Morata for the not-so-little sum of £60 million. Eighteen months later, Morata has flopped and the club is once again looking for a striker.
It is worth noting too that the side most heavily linked with Hudson-Odoi is not a Championship side willing to take a chance on an out of favour youngster, but Bayern Munich. The Bavarians have clearly taken note of the success of another young Englishman who was incapable of breaking into the first team of Premier League giants, and one whose story Chelsea should heed as a cautionary tale.
Jadon Sancho - like Hudson-Odoi - was the most highly considered player in Manchester City's youth team and who, like his Chelsea counter part, was continually overlooked in favour of expensively acquired big-name recruits.
He eventually lost patience and left the club for Borussia Dortmund for a fee of around £8 million. Now in his second season at the club, he has proven to be a revelation, scoring six goals and providing seven assists in 17 Bundesliga appearances.
This example is especially relevant not just because Sancho is young and English but because it was his very own meteoric rise which limited Pulisic to just five Bundesliga starts this season - and which no doubt strongly influenced Dortmund's decision to allow the American to leave.
His success has proved that young English players are not merely assets who are best kept aside to appreciate in value. Instead they are increasingly proving themselves capable of being thrown in at the deep end and succeeding at the very top level, even if that top level has been abroad.
With just 18 months left on his current Chelsea deal and with no desire to sign a new one without a guarantee of minutes, Hudson-Odoi would not be judged for seeing the signing of a player usurped by one of his own England under-19 teammates as the final nail in the coffin of his Blues career.
If he follows in Sancho's footsteps and decides to move on, he's unlikely to regret it. The same cannot be said for Chelsea.