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Chelsea youth deal pays off

Premier League
LONDON – Started from the bottom and now we’re here.

It’s not just a line rappers are obsessed with when “dropping bars”, but it is literally the way of life, even in football. On Monday, thanks to a partnership between English champions Chelsea and Shield South Africa, there was a taste of success in the air at Cobham, the club’s training base.

On the back of winning the league last Friday and seeing the Under-18s clinch their version of the championship, as well as the reserve side lifting the FA Youth Cup for a fourth successive year, it as clear why Roman Abramovich’s empire is such a well-oiled machine.

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Independent Media soccer writer Mazola Molefe taking it all in at his favourite club Chelsea!

One lucky South African will get to lap all of this up later this year and train with the champions – naturally, they will wonder about how is it that Chelsea are such a powerhouse in global football.

“I think the focus here has really been about investing in the training facilities, not only from the top end of the club but also into the grassroots, giving those children the maximum opportunity to pour through their development,” said Ian Woodroffe, who is the international development manager at Chelsea FC Foundation.

“But the investment in resources for the training facilities is massively important to try and get the players in the right levels. They have to benefit from the experiences they are getting.”

And first team youngsters like Nathan Ake, Reuben Loftus-Cheek, Ola Aina and Nathaniel Chalobah are testament to that.

They were not available to speak here yesterday as the Blues were preparing to take on Watford at Stamford Bridge in their first home game since being confirmed champions last week in a nervy 1-0 victory over West Brom at The Hawthorns, a couple of hours after the Under-18 side were also crowned champions. And they were expected to get a proper run, more minutes that they are used to because the job’s done.

Woodroffe said it’s satisfying to see a plan come together – manager Antonio Conte breathing life into a Chelsea team that finished 10th last season and guiding them to the top of the league in his first year. But it’s the opportunities to young players that is probably more fulfilling, given that he’s worked behind the scenes to push young talent.

“The focus here is about grassroots,” Woodroffe said. “The club has an obligation. Our academy also focuses on home-grown players. We want to maximize that. I think in the Youth Cup final there were six or eight players that have been with the club since they were eight or nine years old.”

@superjourno

The Star

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