Chelsea youth graduate Mason Mount goes in strongly for a tackle on the edge of the box and shrugs off a challenge from someone much bigger and more imposing than him. The young Englishman comes out the better, running through the shadow of the giant he’s left behind. He balances himself well and sees an ocean of green grass in front of him, begging to exploited.
Mount glides into space with an air of confidence around him as he’s the man starting this attack, there’s a bubble around him, a forcefield holding others off. With no fans in the ground for this game, something a youngster is used to, he can hear a teammate calling for a ball over the top.
Mount steadies himself but all the while continues to make good ground on the opposition in front of him, he hardly even lifts his head before the ball pings off his laces. Now he lifts his head. His teammate is running through on goal, one touch, two touch, right foot, left foot, steady. Celebrate.
If this were a simulation, it could have been Cesc Fabregas aiming a homing missile in front of Eden Hazard before he calmly slots the ball home. It’s not. Due to the apparent ease of this move, it could have been an U18s game, no fans, great technical ability but something about that was just too simple.
Chelsea: The Mount-ain of youth
Maybe there’s a moment of unspoken realisation as the pair hug. Mount looks into the eyes of another Chelsea youth product ,Callum Hudson-Odoi ,and they know. There doesn’t need to be an acknowledgment out loud, this isn’t the pinnacle, this is the start.
It says something about the quality of Mount and Hudson-Odoi that if the pass didn’t get through or the shot didn’t go in, it would have been disappointing. Such is the level of trust between the pair, and also the manager in the duo.
If the pass were under-hit it would be easy to shake it off and say “unlucky Mase, that was a hardball to play” or “don’t worry Cal, you’ll get another one” but in this context, there might not be another one.
This is a Champions League group stage game. It’s away from home. Victory all but secures a passage into the knockout stages with a valuable two games to spare. This is where these two belong.
Chelsea goes on to beat their French opponents Rennes through a last-minute winner. If Mount’s pass wasn’t pinpoint, it might have cost them the game.
Ready for the fight
These are the fine margins that professional footballers play in every game. Even against a weaker opponent, there’s no room for complacency. You’ll get found out.
But here we have two Chelsea youth academy graduates, with less than 2 years of Champions League experience between them. This isn’t a risk. They haven’t been thrown in at the deep end. This is their time, their career, and their era.
Without offence, in youth football, you can put a good compilation together of the most talented players. There are multiple chances, if you’re at a big academy you’ll dominate the game, you might even still get huge scores of 6, 7 or 8-0 every other week. If you miss that long-range pass, then you’ll probably get another chance soon.
If you’re doing this at senior level, in any league, it’s completely different. You’ve got veterans around you. Seasoned professionals whose livelihoods are at stake. A loss can lead to relegation, which can lead to losing your job. That small missed pass has a direct effect on people’s lives.
Now you’re surrounded by this. Every one of your 11 teammates has their own individual needs and desires. You under-hit that pass and the chance goes begging, you cost the people you have to share a changing room and bus with their livelihood.
Where Cobham is different
This might seem farfetched but it’s true. It’s something that every one of Chelsea’s academy players is ingrained with. There are a few that come away saying it’s too much, it’s too relentless. They couldn’t cope with the pressure to win. Cobham is a breeding ground for the elite. The cream of the crop rises to the top. That’s why when Mount and Hudson-Odoi are called upon from the bench or from the start in a foreign country, there’s no doubt what they’re coming onto the pitch with.
Every Cobham graduate has more than just the ability to score a goal or put together a decent compilation. They have the years of relentless winning drilled into them. The standards are set at the bottom so that when called upon by the top, they’re ready.
There are no excuses. These aren’t young players that aren’t ready. They’re products that have been trained, nurtured, and finalised. The young boys that enter the club between the ages of eight and 18 are transformed.
This all sounds very sinister but it isn’t. It’s the upholding of standards throughout the club. The willingness at every level to understand that those around you are trying to do the same thing.
So, when it’s time to make the step up into senior football there is no shock. Chelsea players won’t crumble under the scrutiny of those above them because these guys have had it all in the youth teams.
When the most talented players are playing with each other then the trust between them builds up. The reliance on each other is formed. It’s the mentality that separates the good from the better and the better from the best.
At Cobham, you don’t get through unless your mind is better than the best.
So, is it harsh and unfair that so many don’t succeed at Chelsea? Maybe. But, it represents from the ground upwards what it is that you need to play at the club. That is where all the elite clubs go beyond the rest.
When Tammy Abraham went on loan to Bristol City, Swansea City, and Aston Villa he did more than passing the tests on the pitch. He grew up on and off the pitch. He scored a hatful of goals but also realised the impact of his output.
Abraham made his Chelsea first-team debut shortly before his 19th birthday, at that age you can only be so ready. Three years later, three long, hard, and grueling senior years later, he is ready for Chelsea. He’s had John Terry to learn from, he’s had the experience of three senior managers, a fully adult changing room, and two bites at the impossible Championship. He sees the tough, unforgiving nature of professional football and he improves. Abraham worked harder and harder.
He’s already had to outscore every boy his age since he was 10, he can put in some extra work to get bigger, stronger, and rip the league apart. This is why we see him soak in every first-team moment he gets. He lives and breathes every shot from his teammates because he’s built up the experience of being with others. He recognises how a team wins and that his teammates provide the foundation for him to have a successful career. This is an unselfish view of football, a very selfish sport.
Here’s the man of the hour. Boyhood Chelsea fan, academy born and raised, nurtured in the best showground world football can offer.
Mount went on his first loan at 18. He went to Dutch side Vitesse and spent a year as a young boy in a foreign country with a new language and a multinational dressing room. There shouldn’t have been any surprise when Mount came back to England and was too good for the Championship. Just like there was no surprise when he came to the Premier League and slotted in seamlessly.
Just like Abraham relied on his work ethic and his experience of other leagues and other people, Mount has had to prove everyone wrong with his own hard work. The characteristics that were necessary to lead his youth sides to victory also pave the path for him to make the step up to the first-team level. It’s just not a surprise though.
What’s at Cobham right now
Why isn’t it surprising that Chelsea has ties with Nathan Ake, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Dominic Solanke, Tariq Lamptey, Patrick Van Aanholt, Conor Gallagher, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, to name just a few. These are all Premier League standard players that made their trade at Cobham.
These players were forced through the best of the best. They had to hit the highest standards to be considered good in their own teams so when they went away and had to prove themselves again it was no shock that they succeeded.
Among Chelsea’s current crop yet to play for the first team we have Conor Gallagher, Marc Guehi, and Armando Broja all on loan whilst Tino Livramento, Lewis Bate, and Jude Soonsup-Bell are just some of the next batch awaiting a loan to prove their worth.
Although there is a lot of hype surrounding all of these players, just being able to put together a compilation isn’t enough. They need to prove their mentality is strong enough and good enough to be put through the pressure of senior football. Until that time comes, reserving judgment on youth players is advised because seeing extremely talented youngsters drop off happens all too often.
To further dampen a few myths, the players that don’t ‘make it’ at Chelsea aren’t torn apart, let down, and left stranded. They leave with a better understanding of adult life, professional life, and what is expected of them in all the world.
Chelsea just hold their standards higher than most and also hold everyone who represents them accountable. This creates a cycle of players that if they succeed with their talent, should have the mentality to push themselves into a career in professional football.
Written by Tom Coley @tomcoley49
Edited by Jai Mcintosh @jjmcintosh5