Football Features

Has Chelsea’s ‘feeder club’ relationship with Vitesse come to an end?

By Harry Edwards

Published: 18:11, 28 April 2020

Over the years Chelsea have been criticised for ‘gaming’ the loan system.

The Blues have made the most of the opportunity to send players away temporarily to develop at other clubs, usually resulting in one of two outcomes: they become A.) good enough for Chelsea’s first-team or B.) for some other club willing to pay millions in transfer fees. To say outcome B is more common than A would be an understatement.

Critics’ biggest problem is perhaps the fact that, during this period, Chelsea are perceived to have taken Vitesse Arnhem on as a ‘feeder club’. The partnership supposedly stemmed from a friendship between then-Vitesse owner Alexander Chigirinksy and Roman Abramovich, and has seen Chelsea send a large number of players on loan over the years, 28 in total. The first of these deals took place in…

2010/11 season

  • Matej Delac (0 Vitesse appearances)
  • Nemanja Matic (29 Vitesse appearances)
  • Slobodan Rajkovic (27 Vitesse appearances)

Almost immediately after Chigirinksy completed the takeover of Vitesse in August 2010, Chelsea sent three players on loan: Serbian duo Nemanja Matic and Slobodan Rajkovic, alongside Croatian goalkeeper Matej Delac.

Matic had endured a tough start to life at Chelsea upon his initial signing in 2009, making just three appearances before his loan to Vitesse. In his sole year in the Netherlands, Matic starred, piquing the interest of Benfica, who signed him the following summer. Matic then returned to Stamford Bridge in January 2014 to help win two Premier League titles, before joining Manchester United in 2017.

Success wasn’t as forthcoming for Delac or Rajkovic, both of whom spent their entire Chelsea careers on loan elsewhere as they were unable to get UK work permits. At the time of his departure in 2018, Delac was Chelsea’s longest-serving player despite not making a first-team appearance in eight years.

2011/12 season

  • Ulises Davila (3 Vitesse appearances)
  • Tomas Kalas (76 Vitesse appearances)
  • Patrick van Aanholt (84 Vitesse appearances)

Before becoming part of the Chelsea side that scarred Steven Gerrard in 2014, Tomas Kalas spent two seasons on loan at Vitesse between 2011 and 2013 and was a key member in their backline. During both of his seasons with Vitesse, Kalas helped the Dutch side fight for a place in the Europa League before eventually returning to Chelsea.

But Kalas would not be able to fight the loan cycle, spending another four temporary spells away from Chelsea before signing permanently with Bristol City in 2019.

Patrick van Aanholt also spent two seasons with Vitesse, but was a January arrival in 2012, almost immediately making the left-back spot his own. Unlike Kalas, Van Aanholt’s return to Chelsea was brief as he was sold to Sunderland in the summer of 2014, spending two-and-a-half years with the club before joining Crystal Palace.

2012/13 season

  • Gael Kakuta (40 Vitesse appearances)

One of Chelsea’s highest-profile younger players at the time (albeit for the wrong reasons) Gael Kakuta’s move to the Blues in 2007 created controversy. The youngster was even banned from “official matches” for four months by FIFA, who deemed his transfer from FC Lens ‘illegal’. Chelsea initially received a transfer ban themselves but a court later overturned this.

By the time of his loan move to Vitesse, Kakuta was 21 and already had three temporary moves under his belt. A season-and-a-half in Arnhem, during which he scored four goals and recorded six assists, preceded two more loans before Kakuta was allowed to leave for Sevilla in 2015. But the Congolese international lasted just six months in Spain before being sold to Chinese club Hebei China Fortune. Kakuta is now playing in Ligue 1 with strugglers SC Amiens.

2013/14 season

  • Cristian Cuevas (0 Vitesse appearances)
  • Lucas Piazon (31 Vitesse appearances)
  • Christian Atsu (30 Vitesse appearances)
  • Sam Hutchinson (3 Vitesse appearances)
  • Bertrand Traore (51 Vitesse appearances)

One of two seasons for which Chelsea sent five players to Vitesse, the 2013/14 loanees are a largely recognisable contingent, even among those who do not support either club.

Sam Hutchinson joined Chelsea at the age of nine and made his senior debut in May 2007. The Englishman enjoyed a handful of appearances under Carlo Ancelotti in 2009/10 and recorded an assist for Frank Lampard in Chelsea’s 7-0 win over Stoke City. But shortly after all this, at the age of just 21, Hutchinson retired due to a recurring knee injury.

He would come out of retirement at the end of 2011 but struggled to get back into the Chelsea team, so Nottingham Forest took him on loan before he wound up at Vitesse (although he made just three appearances). Another loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday turned into a permanent stay, and Hutchinson remains with the Owls to this day.

Lucas Piazon is another notable victim of the Chelsea loan system, with Vitesse becoming the second of seven moves away from Stamford Bridge – including to current temporary club Rio Ave.

Bertrand Traore is the biggest success story of this particular group, scoring 20 goals in 51 appearances for Vitesse and now strutting his stuff for Lyon.

2014/15 season

  • Wallace (23 Vitesse appearances)
  • Josh McEachran (21 Vitesse appearances)

Often known as one of the biggest failures of Chelsea’s academy in terms of trying to get their graduates into the first team, Josh McEachran was handed a number of high-profile games under Ancelotti in the 2010/11 season. But he couldn’t push on from there and was loaned to Swansea City in 2011/12, the beginning of the end of his Chelsea career.

Further loans at Middlesbrough, Watford and Wigan Athletic preceded his move to Vitesse for the 2014/15 season. McEachran would play 21 times for the Dutch club, also turning out for the U21 side, before returning to Chelsea in 2015. He was almost immediately allowed to leave his boyhood club, signing for Brentford. McEachran spent four years with the west London side before joining Birmingham City.

2015/16 season

  • Danilo Pantic (11 Vitesse appearances)
  • Nathan (51 Vitesse appearances)
  • Lewis Baker (73 Vitesse appearances)
  • Dominic Solanke (26 Vitesse appearances)
  • Isaiah Brown (24 Vitesse appearances)

When Jose Mourinho spoke about the young players on Chelsea’s books in July 2014, he said he would be to blame if Dominic Solanke, Lewis Baker and Izzy Brown do not play for England. How fitting, then, that the trio would all be loaned to Vitesse at the start of the next campaign.

For both Solanke and Brown, this was their first taste of loan football after having outgrown the youth system at Chelsea. But that’s where their paths start to diverge. Vitesse would be Solanke’s only loan move. The English striker spent a year back with the Chelsea developmental squad before leaving for Liverpool in 2017. Another unsuccessful spell at Anfield saw Solanke eventually sold to Bournemouth in January 2019. In fact, of this particular quintet, only Solanke is no longer on the books at Chelsea.

Brown, on the other hand, has been on five more loan spells, including with current club Luton Town, and is closing to Lewis Baker’s total of seven, which included his two years with Vitesse and most recent stint with Fortuna Dusseldorf.

2016/17 season

  • Matt Miazga (72 Vitesse appearances)
  • Mukhtar Ali (19 Vitesse appearances)

Matt Miazga’s move from MLS side New York Red Bulls to Chelsea in January 2016 resulted in confusion, although he did go on to make two Premier League appearances under Guus Hiddink. That summer, Miazga was sent on his first loan, a two-year spell with Vitesse, where he grew into a decent defender.

However, he was unsuccessful in breaking into Chelsea’s first-team as another loan spell, this time to Nantes, followed. Miazga has spent the past 18 months on loan with Championship club Reading.

Mukhtar Ali enjoyed his time with Vitesse, turning his year-long loan move into a permanent stay in 2017, although he has since left for Al-Nassr in his native Saudi Arabia still just 22.

2017/18 season

  • Mason Mount (39 Vitesse appearances)
  • Charlie Colkett (11 Vitesse appearances)
  • Fankaty Dabo (34 Vitesse appearances)

Although Fankaty Dabo was doing well for himself at Vitesse in the 2017/18 season, there was another Chelsea loanee that dominated headlines. Mason Mount was enjoying his first taste of senior football and, after having to work hard for his place in the team, eventually became indispensable in their fight for a Europa League spot.

Mount played 32 times in total in the league, scoring 13 goals (including one hat-trick) and recording nine assists. He was named Vitesse’s Player of the Year, aged just 19.

Another loan spell at Derby County, playing under Frank Lampard, allowed Mount to grow further, and he helped the Rams reach the play-off finals. Thanks to those performances at Derby, Mount is now a key fixture of Lampard’s Chelsea side and has missed just one match this season.

2018/19 season

  • Eduardo (34 Vitesse appearances)
  • Charly Musonda (4 Vitesse appearances)
  • Jake Clarke-Salter (37 Vitesse appearances)

When Charly Musonda broke through the Chelsea academy, having joined as a 16-year-old, there was much excitement. A loan spell with Real Betis gave him first-team experience but Musonda was unable to break into Chelsea’s main XI, save seven appearances in the 2017/18 campaign.

Another loan spell with Celtic followed but is was largely unsuccessful, as Musonda started to struggle with injuries. These injury problems have since followed him to Vitesse where, despite being on a two-year loan deal, Musonda has played just four times.

On the other hand, centre-back Jake Clarke-Salter had a fairly strong season in the Eredivisie, moving past previous struggles at Sunderland, and is now doing well on loan at Birmingham. But perhaps the strangest loan move in Chelsea’s entire relationship with Vitesse was that of Eduardo, a 36-year-old goalkeeper whose contract had run out in the summer of 2018. His deal with the Blues was extended for a year, only for him to be sent on loan again. Eduardo is now at Braga.

2019/20 season

  • Jamal Blackman (0 Vitesse appearances)

Just one Chelsea player was sent on loan to Vitesse for the current season, with the club seemingly cutting back on loanees in general. Jamal Blackman was supposed to spend the season with Vitesse as he recovered from a broken leg picked up on his previous loan at Leeds United, but the arrangement was cut short in January. All of which means the 2019/20 season could be the first in almost a decade where no Chelsea loanee has made an appearance for Vitesse.

The goalkeeper is now at Bristol Rovers, his seventh loan club, and has made 10 appearances in League One so far.