For many years Chelsea’s youth academy was viewed somewhat as a laughing stock.
The commonly held perception was that a youth setup at the club was almost pointless when Roman Abramovich’s millions could buy the club any player they want.
But slowly but surely the club put more focus on developing academy players and the result is an academy that is now the envy of many Premier League clubs.
Perhaps the greatest illustration of this is the fact Chelsea has reached the final of the UEFA Youth League four times since its inception in 2013, winning it twice.
At the time of writing, no other English team has made the Final.
So let’s find out how to join the Chelsea Youth Academy.
How To Join Chelsea Youth Academy?
The best way to join the Chelsea Youth Academy is to get on what the club calls the ‘Player Pathway’. The first step to this is usually attending a Chelsea Soccer School in the school holidays, but you could also find out if there is a Chelsea Pre-Development Centre or Development Centre near you that you could have a trial for. This is how many of the Chelsea Academy started their journey with the club.
Chelsea Youth Academy: An Overview
The Chelsea Youth Academy encompasses a number of age groups ranging from Under 9 through to Under 23 level.
The main facets of the Chelsea Academy are:
The Development Squad
This is essentially the Chelsea reserve team in all but name, and is reserved for players 23 years old and younger. Occasionally older players do feature in the Development Squad, for instance as they make their way back from injury.
The Under 19s
Chelsea’s Under 19s take part in the UEFA Youth League, a junior competition that mirrors the UEFA Champions League Group Stages.
The Under 19s won the competition in 2014/15 and 2015/16 and were runners-up in 2017/18 and 2018/19, making them the most successful team in the competition to date.
The Under 19s and Development Squad, is generally one large pool of players, who move freely between the two teams.
The Under 18s
Chelsea’s Under 18s are more commonly known as the Youth Team and compete in the FA Youth Cup and Under-18 Premier League.
The Under 18s, Under 19s and Development Squad, play their home games either at Aldershot Town, Kingsmeadow, or occasionally, for bigger games, at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea’s youth teams are based with the senior squad at the club’s Cobham Training Centre.
The club’s move to Cobham came at the same time as Roman Abramovich bought the club.
Prior to this Chelsea had been training on what was regarded as a very outdated set of facilities at Harlington in Hayes.
Planning permission for a new state-of-the-art training centre in Cobham was granted in 2004, and the First Team began training there in 2005, although the facility wasn’t officially opened until 2007.
The final phase of the development was the opening of the facilities for the youth team in 2008.
The 140-acre site features 30 football pitches including three with undersoil heating and six to Premier League standards, along with “the latest in training, rehabilitation, medical, pitch and media technology”.
The move has borne fruit with academy graduates in the last few years including Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Mason Mount, Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Conor Gallagher and Trevor Chalobah.
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How the Current Cropped Made It to the Chelsea Academy
Before we dive into the subject more thoroughly I thought it might be useful to take a look at the latest intake of Chelsea Academy Scholars.
Each year a set of young Chelsea players are offered a scholarship agreement by the club. This is a more permanent tie to the club.
- Josh Acheampong: Joined a Chelsea development centre programme at the Under 8 level.
- Travis Akomeah: Signed as an Under 16-year-old from Watford.
- Ato Ampah: Signed as at Under 11 level from ‘grassroots football.
- Somto Boniface: Signed from Chelsea’s ‘local scouting network’ as an Under 9.
- Luke Campbell: Signed at the beginning of the Under 9 season.
- Chinonso Chibueze: Joined as an Under 10 from Fulham.
- Teddy Curd: Joined a Chelsea development centre programme at Under 9 level.
- Tyrique George: Joined at Under 8 level after coming through the club’s youth development centre program.
- Michael Golding: Signed from AFC Wimbledon at Under-12 level.
- Noah Hay: Came through the club’s integration recruitment programme to sign as an Under 15-year-old from grassroots football.
- Harrison McMahon: Signed at Under 15 level from West Ham.
- Donnell McNeilly: Signed at Under 12 level from grassroots football.
- Max Merrick: Signed from grassroots football at Under 13 level.
- Harrison Murray-Campbell: Joined as an Under 8.
- Reiss Alexander Russell-Denny: Joined as an Under 8.
- Kaiden Wilson: Signed as an Under 14-year-old from grassroots football.
I think we can surmise two things from this list:
- The vast majority of the players have been with the club for a long time and
- Chelsea development centres play an important role.
Attend a Chelsea Soccer School
Chelsea has something called the ‘Player Pathway’. This is the pathway from being a budding young footballer to ultimately, for the very lucky and very talented, playing for Chelsea First Team.
The first step on the player pathway is to attend a Chelsea Soccer School.
These are held in London, Sussex, Hampshire, Essex, Surrey, Middlesex, Wiltshire and Berkshire during the school holidays for those aged between 6 and 13.
A full list of upcoming Chelsea Soccer Schools can be found on the Chelsea Foundation website.
The club also runs some Player Pathway courses that are worth keeping your eye on, although most are by invitation only.
Find a Chelsea Development Centre or Pre-Development Centre
If you impress at a Chelsea Soccer School, then you could move onto the next step of the player pathway.
That next step takes place at Chelsea’s Development Centres and Pre-Development Centres, which have been a vital part of the club’s flourishing youth academy in recent years.
The club’s youngest academy team is at Under 9 level, the club chooses players for this via its regional development centres.
Pre-Development Centres (PDC) are for players aged from under 5 to under 12 and by trial or invite only.
Chelsea currently operates eleven Development Centres around the country and these are the next step up from the PDCs.
Players can only join Development Centres via a referral from a PDC or by trial or invite from the club.
The best pathway to joining the Chelsea Academy is via this route. Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have all come through the system.
Play for the Best Team You Can
Of the current intake of Chelsea scholars, only a couple didn’t come from either a Development Centre or from another professional team.
They were recruited from local grassroots football.
That does prove that if you are good enough the Chelsea scouts will spot you.
However, to give yourself the best chance of that happening, play at the best level you can.
That means if you aren’t with the academy of a professional team, see if you can join a semi-professional team.
There are plenty around London, including Dagenham and Redbridge, Dulwich Hamlet, Wealdstone, Boreham Wood, Barnet, Harrow Borough, Hendon, the list is endless.
They will be only too happy to have you if you are that good!
If you want to join Chelsea Youth Academy, then you want to try and get yourself on what the club calls the ‘Player Pathway’ as soon as possible.
Contact Chelsea to find out about any Pre-Development Centres or Development Centres near you, and find out about the possibility of a trial or an invite to attend.
If that isn’t possible then sign up to a Chelsea Soccer School during the school holidays and make an impression on the coaches so they have to give you an invite to a Pre-Development Centre or Development Centre.
Above all else don’t give up, the scouts are out there and if you are good enough you will get your chance one way or another.