Being a young player at Chelsea is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, budding professional footballers can take heart from the fact that they are part of what is arguably the country’s premier academy. Liverpool may have won the tournament last season, but each of the five previous FA Youth Cups ended up in the Blues’ trophy cabinet. Go back to 2010 and they have triumphed in the competition seven times out of 10.
Yet the flip side concerns the slim chances of any Chelsea academy product actually making it in the first team. Not since John Terry, who emerged from the underage ranks as long ago as 1998, has a youth team graduate become a regular in the senior side over a number of years. Ryan Bertrand perhaps came closest in recent times, making 15 appearances in 2011/12 and 38 the following campaign, but the thirst for success in the Roman Abramovich era has necessitated a focus on the here and now – and that has duly led to a preference for more seasoned, experienced professionals.
There are signs, though, that change is afoot. A two-window transfer ban for breaking FIFA rules on the signing of foreign under-18-year-olds has forced Chelsea to take a longer-term outlook. The appointment of Frank Lampard also fits that approach. It is hard to see supporters ever turning on the club’s all-time record goalscorer, so the former England international should be afforded plenty of time at Stamford Bridge.
In terms of academy graduates, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi should both become prominent members of the first team once they have returned from injury. There is also hope for Tammy Abraham, who will compete with Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi for the centre-forward spot, and talented defenders Reece James and Fikayo Tomori.
But the youngster generating the most excitement at present is Mason Mount. Like Tomori, the 20-year-old impressed while playing under Lampard at Derby County last term, scoring 11 goals in 44 games as the Rams reached the Championship play-off final, the fifth round of the FA Cup and the fourth round of the League Cup.
He spent the previous season at Vitesse Arnhem, for whom he played 39 times and found the net 14 times. At international level he has represented England from under-16 through to under-21, with his best moment coming at the UEFA European Under-19 Championship in 2017: Mount helped the Young Lions to victory with a defeat of Portugal in the final, after which he was named Player of the Tournament.
“He’s done a lot,” Lampard said of Mount in pre-season. “I’m really happy with how he’s training, how he’s playing and his status in the group, coming back here. The players recognise quality instantly, but they also recognise work-rate and character — and Mason has all of those.
“I knew him from the Chelsea youth team, an energetic midfielder player with good quality on the ball, who will get into the box and score goals. And I know that Mason has the right mentality, which is another one of his massive strengths.”
In comparison with some other positions, Chelsea look reasonably well-stocked in central midfield. Jorginho and Ross Barkley have enjoyed impressive pre-seasons under Lampard, while N’Golo Kante should be used in a more familiar role this time around and Loftus-Cheek will expect to get minutes once he is back to full fitness following an Achilles injury. Even Tiemoue Bakayoko could be involved, barring a move to Europe before the end of the month.
Nevertheless, Mount is bound to make his Premier League bow sooner rather than later – and if he can make an impression early on, he could even nail down a regular role in Lampard’s line-up.