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Why Chelsea’s winning DNA doesn’t come from the academy

This piece is a response to ‘Chelsea’s winning DNA’ written by Harry Williams. You can find his article here  Chelsea's Winning DNA My c...

This piece is a response to ‘Chelsea’s winning DNA’ written by Harry Williams. You can find his article here Chelsea's Winning DNA

My counter argument is that our academy products are not the answer to re-capturing Chelsea’s winning DNA because academy products get too much too quickly. The academy players need to be coupled in the squad with brilliant players who haven’t reached their peak who are hungry for success. 

Our winning past 

Most successful club since Abramovic took over but only Terry was from the academy. The rest of the spine was bought in from all over the world. It is impossible to say what exactly contributes to our club’s brilliant trophy record. It is difficult to argue that a big part of the sustained success hasn’t been the mentality. 

To win trophies you have to win matches and to win matches you need top players and a bit of luck. When we used to be challenging on all fronts with top managers and top players we had a spine consisting of Cech, Terry, Lampard, and Drogba. Adding in around them top players such as Carvalho, Makelele, Cole, Ivanovic, Essien, Ballack, Cahill, Azpillicueta, and Hazard. It is top quality players or class A eggs as Mourinho would put it that contributes to long term success not managers or philosophies or systems. 

Abramovic arrived and steamrolled the league with big signings of players and managers and changed managers at will. The pressure to succeed was immense. And Diamonds were made under pressure. A ruthless spine was formed who knew they had to win at all costs because that was the tone that was sent down by the owner. Ancelotti was sacked in the corridor at Goodinson park for finishing 2nd.  If this remained the dominant ideology at the club Jose wouldn’t have lasted as long as he did in his 3rd season, Conte would have been sacked after falling out of the title race in February & Sarri would have been sacked after losing 4-0 to Bournemouth, we wouldn’t even have seen Sarriball getting whipped 6-0 at the Etihad.  

Our current climate 

The winning DNA does not come from the players alone, it stems from the top of the club down to the manager, and then to the players. At this moment we have Marina leading the club backward as she chases profits and margins off the pitch, a manager who’s biggest achievement in management is losing the playoff final and a group of players with very few having experienced winning leagues and cups. It is no surprise we are falling further and further behind the league winners. 

The key to long term success is short term thinking. When we won leagues and challenged in Europe under Mourinho and Ancellotti the club achieved long term success as the team was built of quality players who all knew they had to win at all costs. One loss was a crisis. Now it is part of a process.
In more recent times our success has largely come from managers who are serial winners and hazard. The Mourinho season showed how the players had lost that hunger they had the season before winning the league at a canter. Conte brought that winning mentality back to the players but even then it couldn’t be sustained finishing outside the top 4 but winning the FA cup which clearly became the target as the season progressed. Winning the Europa League last season wasn’t exactly an example of our club's winning mentality as we didn’t face anyone who was at our level until the semi-finals when we beat Frankfurt on penalties and Arsenal in the final. Now we have a manager who was part of the spine that saw us win so much for so long, it seems to be the perfect man to bring back that mentality.

The media have a role to play as they can deceive you into thinking that philosophies are better than winning, that profit off the pitch is better than success on it. Top 4 never used to be a big deal. Until the TV companies realized that the league was boring as the winner was clear by February so to generate revenue, they decide that top 4 is like winning a trophy. It is not something to celebrate it should be a given. We are Chelsea after all. The media will have you believe that due to the COVID-19 it's unrealistic to improve your squad because no-one’s got any money. But unlike other clubs, we still have money from player sales which could be used. So don’t let them convince you that it is okay to sign dross for £20mil instead of a top player. 

Different environments 

We know over 99% of children who are registered with academies won’t sign a professional contract. And 75% of those who do are not in the game by 24.  Therefore, it is no surprise that players feel they’ve made it once they sign their first professional deal or make their debut or score their first goal. The dream growing up is to make it. 

For Chelsea to go back to challenging for titles these youth products need to change their mentality to want to win every game for the rest of their career. Our youth products are already in the top 1% but they need to aspire to become the best players in the world. By the start of next season, all of our breakthrough products mentioned will be on over £100k a week. Promising players for sure but Bayern Munich showed us how far off they are. 

Comparably, Cech was signed by Mourinho for £7mil and had to win a place in the team against Cudicini. Drogba didn’t sign his first professional contract until age 21. He moved between the ivory coast and France during his childhood. Upon joining Le Mans in France his manager said it took him 4 years to be capable of training and playing every week. Clearly these were players who had been through a lot in their lives and had to work incredibly hard to achieve what they did. These players arrived at our club not having won trophies already but as young hungry players who had earned the move to a bigger club. Terry got his head kicked and he was stretchered off in a domestic cup final because he wanted to win the ball. I’m yet to see our defenders blocking shots frequently with their bodies, all too often they turn away from it instead of trying to stop it. Couple this with a manager like Mourinho with his arrogance but also an incredible desire to win. 

What was built was a machine that would go onto win trophies with and without Mourinho. They had an arrogance that they could beat any team in the world but also kept the hunger to stay at the top. 
Generally, players are motivated very differently from what they were before. Terry said that in pre-season in Mourinho’s second season at the club he said he’d sell Terry and buy another centre back for £50mil. Terry’s response was one of aggression in a sort of ‘I’ll show you how good I am’ moment. I imagine more players today would be thinking ‘okay go on then, I’ll leave and go somewhere else’. That siege mentality seems to be fading away, not just at Chelsea 


I suggest what Chelsea needs to is sign top quality players who still have the hunger to win trophies. Players already playing at a good level but yet to hit their peak years.   

Importantly our scouting set up needs to go beyond the performance output and look at the psychological aspect. What is this player like as a person? How motivated are they? How do they deal with adversity and anxiety? 

When thinking of a winning mentality I ask you to question yourself. Do you want us to sign a world-class player for a big fee or a lesser player who is cheaper? Sancho or Boga? Do you want us to sign an elite player to challenge our youth products or do you want us to sign someone worse so the youth can play more? Werner or Mertens? 

Ultimately it comes down to one question… Do you want Chelsea to be challenging for titles next season? 

Written by - Ben Bell
Twitter - @benbell98

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