Is Chelsea’s academy a success? Not many have broken through to the first team but the talent is there, says former academy coach Adi Viveash. Adam Bate caught up with him to discuss the standout stars and the issue of pathways…
Adi Viveash’s nine-year stay at Chelsea came to an end last month. As a result, he is at home in the Cotswolds spending time with family and friends before embarking on his next challenge.
In the meantime, Viveash will find that he does not have to look too far for reasons to be proud of his former Chelsea charges.
In last month’s Championship play-off final, Izzy Brown and Kasey Palmer tasted victory with Huddersfield, while John Swift suffered disappointment with Reading. Fikayo Tomori, Jake Clarke-Salter and Dominic Solanke starred in England’s U20 World Cup win. Lewis Baker, Tammy Abraham and Nathaniel Chalobah are in Poland with the U21 side.
None of it comes as a surprise to Viveash. He has watched these players develop up close. Firstly, he was in charge of the youth team between 2011 and 2014, a period in which Chelsea reached the FA Youth Cup final three times in a row, winning twice. After that, he coached the U19s to back-to-back UEFA Youth League victories in 2015 and 2016.
“It was an outstanding achievement,” Viveash tells Sky Sports. “To win back-to-back European titles is very rare and they were different teams too. In the first year, the team was not only the best because they won but they were also the best technically, tactically, physically and mentally. It was an exceptional team from which Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Andreas Christensen, Dominic Solanke, Isaiah Brown and Ola Aina made first-team debuts.
“The second year’s team was made up of all English-based players who had mostly been with Chelsea from a very young age and grown up together. They were fantastic defensively with England youth internationals Jay Dasilva, Fikayo Tomori, Jake Clarke-Salter and Dujon Sterling forming a formidable back line. Charlie Colkett added class in midfield. Kasey Palmer and Tammy Abraham gave us the firepower to achieve our goal.”
It is why Viveash cannot agree when critics dismiss the qualities of English players. “They have been developed in a different way in the last decade and are proving to be on an equal level to the majority of other top countries,” he says. “In the 2016 final, Paris Saint-Germain were physically much stronger and older than us but we were better technically and tactically as well as still showing that English fighting spirit and mentality.”
All of which raises the obvious question. If Chelsea’s youngsters are so good then why are they not able to break into the first team? Still supporters wait for the next John Terry. It’s an issue Viveash is well used to having to address and the pathway problem will only come under greater scrutiny in the wake of England’s latest successes at age-group level.
“Pathways for players is a debate that will be going on long after we are gone,” he explains. “The problem is not going away. But you can see what Chelsea have done in the Premier League in winning the title. It is very difficult to get a place in that side on a regular basis given the amount of world-class players at their disposal.
“Everyone can be critical and have their own opinion on it. It has been discussed many times. But the manager picks the team at Chelsea and that is it. It does not mean players are not ready. It is my belief that over the past five years there have been players who were ready to play in the Chelsea team given the opportunity.”
He adds: “The fact is that the pathway is different. If you look at Tom Davies at Everton, we played against him at U23 level and although not standing out, you could see why is now playing in their first team. He has taken his opportunity and is showing the quality he possesses. It is about being given the chances and what you do with them.
“I feel that the majority of players I have worked with at the top end would have gained more first-team chances if they played for a lesser club. They are highly-rated young players, sought after by other clubs. By choosing Chelsea they are aware that the pathway is harder, a different challenge, but will possibly mean more if they do reach the first team.
“You are trying to prepare the players. I was always looking to get the players ready for first-team football. Now whether that was first-team football at Chelsea or somewhere else, that job was to make sure that when it comes for them to take that next step, as many of them are doing now, they have the skill-sets to cope.”
The hope is that Chelsea’s players have an edge on the rest. “Winning promotion as Izzy and Kasey have done or being one of the top scorers in the Championship as Tammy has done are great achievements. They are adding to their knowledge. Gaining that experience of winning at youth, senior and international level can only be a positive.”
It is, of course, a positive experience for a coach too and Viveash is already looking to add to his knowledge. There was a recent trip to Lisbon to observe the work of Benfica coach Joao Tralhao, a friend from when Viveash presented to FAW Pro Licence candidates this year. He feels that continuing in development coaching or going into senior football is his next step.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed developing players at an elite level for the last decade and I also have the knowledge of 20 years as a professional so I know exactly what senior dressing rooms are like,” adds the former Swindon, Walsall and Reading defender.
“I have also coached many Chelsea first-team players during international weeks and some have played in my development teams so I have lots of confidence in my work that I possess the skills required to be a success, given the opportunity. That opportunity never came my way at Chelsea but hopefully people will have recognised the level of my work during my time there and that I could add something to their organisation.”
The evidence of his impressive work might not have been quite as evident within the Chelsea first team as supporters would have liked just yet. But there is a growing awareness within the game that, one way or another, the club’s youngsters are beginning to make the breakthrough. “I will watch with interest from afar what the future holds for them,” he says.
He will not be alone.