Chelsea Football Club is one of the most widely known and supported football clubs in the world today, surrounded by teams such as Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, and Manchester United. However, this has not always been the case. Only twenty-five years ago, any mention of “The Blues” alongside the likes of the more obvious European giants at the time, including AC Milan and AFC Ajax, would’ve caused incredulous staring and mockery.
In fact, for the first fifty years of Chelsea’s existence, their trophy cabinet remained untouched. The West London club founded in 1905 won its first league trophy in 1955 and followed it up with a Charity Cup win a few months later. Over the next fifty years, the club amassed no more than fifteen trophies, including only one First Division title (the equivalent of the Premier League title prior to 1992). Then, in 2003, a Russian oligarch named Roman Abramovich with a nearly $9 billion personal fortune came along and bought the club for just under $175 million.
Abramovich proved his worth almost immediately. In his first summer at the club, Abramovich backed a $175 million shopping spree on fourteen new players and almost matched it the following year with $145 million on nine new players. These players included Chelsea’s greatest striker of all time, the Premier League’s greatest goalkeeper of all time, and one the sport’s best wingers of all time. However, maybe an even more important signing than Didier Drogba, Petr Cech, or Arjen Robben was the Portuguese manager that lifted the Champions League trophy with FC Porto just the season before. With the passionate and boastful José Mourinho at the helm, Chelsea won back-to-back league titles in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons along with four other domestic trophies between 2004 and 2007.
However, Abramovich sacked Mourinho in 2007 due to a poor start to the season and has since only supported the idea that he impulsively fires managers. In fact, Abramovich has paid out nearly $120 million in severance pay to all of the managers he’s fired in his time at Chelsea. That hasn’t stopped Chelsea from winning though. The Blues won another league title in 2010 as well as a couple more domestic trophies and even made it to the final of the Champions League in 2008, where they lost to Manchester United on penalties. Then, in 2012, the pinnacle of Abramovich’s financial backing finally arrived in the form of Chelsea’s first and only Champions League trophy.
In recent years, Chelsea’s form has been a little less consistent, to say the least. In the past five seasons, Chelsea has won the league twice, finishing the league in 1st, 10th, 1st, 5th, and 4th respectively and are currently on track for another 4th place finish this season. In this time, Chelsea has had five managerial changes. However, it is not their recent inconsistency that characterizes Chelsea’s current season as transitional and their future as promising, but rather their emerging academy talent and the appointment of their former midfielder as manager.
Some of the first players that come to mind when talking about Chelsea FC include Didier Drogba, the Ivorian striker known for scoring important goals in important matches, Petr Cech, the Czech goalkeeper with the most clean sheets in the Premier League, and John Terry, the stalwart defender who captained Chelsea to all five of their Premier League titles as well as their Champions League win. However, maybe the most notable and beloved member of Chelsea’s squad in the 2000s and 2010s is the man who bolstered their midfield and went on to become Chelsea’s all-time leading scorer and the fourth-highest scorer of all time (now fifth) in the Premier League.
Frank Lampard, or “Super Frank” as Chelsea fans know him, left in 2014 on the tail end of an illustrious career that has rightly etched his name into the discussion of the Premier League’s best-ever midfielders. Five years later, much to the ecstasy of Chelsea supporters, Super Frank returned to try to etch his name into another discussion: the Premier League’s best ever managers. More importantly, though, Lampard returned to lead the club he loves into a new era.
With the retirement of legendary captain John Terry in 2017 and the Belgian winger Eden Hazard’s departure to Madrid in 2019, the stage was set for new players to come in and a new manager to bring them up to speed on what it means to represent Chelsea Football Club. So, even after just one season as a professional manager at second-tier side Derby County, Frank Lampard didn’t hesitate to accept Abramovich’s managerial offer.
Another reason Frank Lampard didn’t hesitate to accept the managerial role at Chelsea is that he knew no one expected too much of him. In early 2019, FIFA, the governing body of association football, handed Chelsea a two-window transfer ban for breaching rules involving the registration of minors. In other words, Chelsea played nearly 70 unregistered players under the age of 18 over the course of several seasons. Therefore, when Chelsea’s last manager, Maurizio Sarri, left for Juventus after the 2018-19 season, Abramovich was faced with the daunting prospect of not being able to splash any cash on new players for an entire year. What manager would come to a club under these circumstances? Super Frank would. And would Roman Abramovich risk prematurely firing a Chelsea hero in the middle of his first season at the club if Chelsea were to have a poor run of form?
Not if he wanted to keep the peace, he wouldn’t.
And thus, Chelsea’s 2019-20 season became known as a transitional one. Out with the old, in with the new, and all under the tutelage of a bona fide Chelsea hero. Without any reinforcements during the 2019 summer transfer window, Frank Lampard focused on promoting Chelsea’s youth academy and incorporating younger players into the first time squad.
Academy & Youth
This represented an even more significant turning point than one might imagine because up until that point, Chelsea had actually been known to neglect and deny opportunities to their younger players, an ironic reputation for a team that earned a two-window transfer ban for playing minors. But the number of players Chelsea have loaned out over the past decade speaks volumes. In fact, Chelsea’s “loan army” has become a running joke in English football. At the beginning of last season, Chelsea had 29 players out on loan, fourteen more than the team with the second-most loaned out players, and by the end of the season, the number had shot up to 43.
So, when Frank Lampard came in and injected youth and creativity into a system that had started to age and rust, the Chelsea faithful saw the potential of what their club could be. Over the course of the current season, Frank Lampard has mostly selected starting XIs with an average age of around 24 and 25 and only once played the same starting XI back-to-back in the league. This injection of youth as well as Frank Lampard’s ability to understand and relate to a generation of players that grew up watching him is a hopeful sight for Chelsea supporters. Here are some of the players that make Chelsea’s future look so bright.
Tammy Abraham joined Chelsea at the U-8 level in 2004 and joined the senior squad in 2016. In his first season as a senior player, Tammy went on loan to Bristol City in the second division of English football and scored 13 goals in 29 appearances, an impressive tally for a 19-year-old. The following season at Swansea City in the Premier League was less impressive, as Tammy only recorded 5 goals in 31 appearances. However, the Englishmen caught fire again in the 2018-19 season, scoring 25 goals in 37 appearances to help Aston Villa win promotion into the Premier League.
After three consecutive seasons out on loan, Tammy Abraham finally got to prove himself in Chelsea colors this season under Frank Lampard. In 27 Premier League games, the 22-year-old has recorded 13 goals and been integral in Chelsea’s attempt at Champions League qualification for next season. At 6’3″, Tammy Abraham already looks a formidable force in front of goal, but his speed is what then sets him apart from the rest of the pack. Having scored a mix of headers, tap-ins, and outside-of-the-box strikes this season, Tammy Abraham looks well on his way to improving his status at his boyhood club and earning a name for himself among the Chelsea greats.
Another academy product that has rocked Stamford Bridge and the Premier League this season is 21-year-old Mason Mount. Not only has the English midfielder proven himself to be a personal favorite of Frank Lampard, both through his time with Super Frank on loan at Derby County last season and his incredible performances for Chelsea this season, but he’s even been tipped by the GOAT himself, Lionel Messi, to be one of the best in the world.
Although Mount’s six goals and five assists this season don’t necessarily corroborate Messi’s claim, it’s Mount’s work rate that makes him stand out. Chelsea’s first goal of the season epitomizes this, as it was Mount who pressured and chased down a Leicester midfielder, stole the ball, and slotted home a lovely finish. Mount has a bright and exciting future ahead of him, and the fact that his manager is one of the best goalscoring midfielders of all time certainly won’t hurt him in his development.
Currently, the debate among England fans about who their best choice right-back is involves Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool and Aaron Wan-Bissaka of Manchester United. With the postponement of the 2020 Euros, England manager Gareth Southgate has a little bit more time to answer that question himself. However, there may be an extra twist to the tale if Chelsea’s homegrown right-back Reece James continues to improve and play first-team football.
At 20 years of age, the Englishman is already a powerhouse of a defender. His strength is unmatched, and Chelsea supporters like to think of him as the perfect combination of Alexander-Arnold and Wan-Bissaka, embodying TAA’s crossing ability and AWB’s tackling ability. He still may be just below Captain César Azpilicueta in the pecking order, but he won’t be for long.
Billy. Gilmour. Here’s a 19-year-old Scottish kid who grew up playing football in Glasgow, yet modeled his game after two players in the Catalonia region of Spain. As an academy player for Rangers FC, Gilmour idolized Xavi and Iniesta of FC Barcelona, the greatest midfield duo of all time. He then signed for Chelsea in 2017 and made his debut this season, before being promoted by Frank Lampard to the Chelsea first-team squad on a permanent basis in February. And even after only a few months at the senior level, Billy Gilmour has caught the eyes of many.
In March, Gilmour earned back-to-back man of the match performances in an FA Cup tie against Liverpool and a Premier League match against Everton. Still a teenager, he somehow controlled those entire games. His passing ability and awareness in the midfield rivaled that of any veteran and even caught the attention of former world-class midfielder, Cesc F‡bregas. What may have stood out the most though was his confidence, exemplified by a brilliant nutmeg on Liverpool’s Fabinho in the FA Cup match. Not much football has been played since then, but Gilmour will hope to continue his form for the remainder of the season and could surely turn into one of Chelsea’s best players.
Finally, although he isn’t an academy product, you can’t talk about Chelsea’s 2019-20 season and the club’s future without talking about Christian Pulisic. The 21-year-old American from Hershey, PA arrived from Borussia Dortmund last summer after being signed in the 2019 January transfer window. Although he’s struggled with injuries this season, when he’s been fit, he’s been unstoppable. He has bagged 8 goals and 6 assists in all competitions so far this season and, since the restart of English football, he’s scored 2 goals in 2 Premier League matches and won man of the match in an FA Cup tie. He’s arguably been Chelsea’s best player this season and has surely earned his spot in a strong Chelsea squad going forward.
Squad Depth & Signings
Chelsea has plenty of other stars and youngsters at their disposal as well. Their midfield options are limitless with the likes of Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and the indefatigable N’Golo Kanté. Furthermore, the 22-year-old Fikayo Tomori has looked promising in the backline and the 19-year-old Callum Hudson-Odoi has looked a threat on the wing.
The true last piece of the puzzle, however, is what Frank Lampard has accomplished since the end of Chelsea’s transfer ban. In February, Chelsea confirmed the summer transfer of Ajax attacker and Moroccan international Hakim Ziyech, who helped Ajax knock out Real Madrid and Juventus in the Champions League in 2019, before losing to Tottenham Hotspur in the semifinals on a late goal. Since the 2017-18 season, Ziyech has totaled 31 goals and 40 assists in 81 games, averaging almost one goal contribution per game.
Lampard also just recently secured the signature of 24-year-old German striker Timo Werner from RB Leipzig this summer. Werner had an incredible season, scoring 34 goals and getting 13 assists in 45 appearances, and has been coveted by many big-name clubs, specifically the current champions of Europe, Liverpool FC. He can play upfront or on the wing, and Chelsea fans are counting the days until they get to see Werner and Ziyech play alongside Tammy Abraham and Christian Pulisic.
And still, there’s even more good news for Chelsea supporters. Having not been able to spend any money over the past two transfer windows as well as having received around $110 million from Real Madrid for Eden Hazard last year, Lampard and Abramovich are looking to spend even bigger. Chelsea has been linked to English left-back Ben Chilwell of Leicester City as well as German midfielder Kai Havertz of Bayer Leverkusen, who tallied 12 goals and 6 assists in the Bundesliga this season. With another signing or two, Chelsea will be a force to be reckoned with next year.
Liverpool is currently the dominant force in the Premier League. The Reds have already clinched the title this season, have broken a few records, and are on track to break quite a few more. Manchester City is also an incredibly strong side. With some of the best players and one of the best managers in the world, they will look to take back the trophy next season. Manchester United, like Chelsea, are in a rebuilding stage, with former treble winner Ole Gunnar Solskj¾r’s formula just starting to pay off. However, Chelsea still seems to have one of the strongest futures ahead of them and could very well challenge for the title as well as in Europe in the next few seasons.
Here are my predictions for where Chelsea will finish in the league and what stage they will make it to in various competitions over the next five years.
2020-21: 3rd Place Finish, FA Cup Winners, EFL Cup Semifinals, Champions League
2021-2022: 1st Place Finish, FA Cup Quarterfinals, EFL Cup Final, Champions League
2022-23: 2nd Place Finish, FA Cup Final, EFl Cup Winners, Champions League
2023-24: 3rd Place Finish, FA Cup Winners, EFL Cup Quarterfinals, Champions
2024-25: 1st Place Finish, FA Cup Semifinals, EFL Cup Winners, Champions League