Football Features

From the German Messi to KDB: Highly-rated youngsters Chelsea just didn’t know what to do with

By Squawka News

Published: 17:30, 7 April 2022

Chelsea are currently one of the better clubs in the Premier League for handing meaningful minutes to younger players, both signed from abroad and coming through the academy.

Eleven of Chelsea’s 25 players to make a Premier League appearance this season were aged 25 or under at the start of the campaign, with five of those playing at least 1000 minutes. That number would be higher too, but the likes of Ben Chilwell, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic have had to deal with injury problems keeping them out for long periods.

Mason Mount is, unsurprisingly, at the top of that group when it comes to minutes played and only a handful of players have been used more in the Premier League this season at Chelsea. And it isn’t just this season, the likes of Reece James, Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham have all had significant minutes at Chelsea in recent years, with the former one of their best players this season.

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But that wasn’t always the case. In the past, Chelsea academy products have struggled to break through of course, including Tino Livramento who is thriving at Southampton, but the Blues have also let a handful of promising younger players brought from abroad leave without making too much of an impact.

Some have come back to bite them as big mistakes, while others have unfortunately continued their London struggles elsewhere.

We’ve taken a look at a few of those highly-rated younger players that Chelsea signed and just didn’t know what to do.

Kevin De Bruyne

Signed from: RC Genk (2012)

Fee: £6.8m

Chelsea apps: 9

Current club: Manchester City

Of all the players Chelsea have let go in recent years, Kevin De Bruyne must rank as their biggest regret given the considerable success he has enjoyed away from Stamford Bridge. Or at least in the top two.

After falling out with Jose Mourinho, the Belgian playmaker was allowed to leave permanently to join VFL Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga in January 2014.

A Bundesliga Player of the Year award followed the next season, culminating in a £55m move to Manchester City in 2015.

Since his move back to England, De Bruyne has established himself as one of the best midfielders in world football, winning a host of awards both personal and collective with his team including three Premier Leagues, five League Cups and one FA Cup. He has also scored five goals in the Premier League against Chelsea, the Blues’ worst record against a former player. Ouch

Mohamed Salah

Signed from: FC Basel (2014)

Fee: £14m

Chelsea apps: 19

Current club: Liverpool

The other big regret for Chelsea. Mohamed Salah’s electrifying displays for FC Basel in European competition saw him linked with a host of big clubs but despite the close attentions of Liverpool, it was Chelsea who sealed his signature in January 2014.

The Egyptian featured occasionally in the second half of that season but with the Blues squad already packed full of attacking talent, he found game time increasingly hard to come by.

Loans to Fiorentina and Roma worked out well for Salah and he joined the latter permanently in 2016. His incredible form in Italy caught the imagination of Liverpool, who made him theirs in the summer of 2017.

153 goals, a Champions League, Premier League and countless individual awards have followed at Liverpool and Salah is currently one of the best players in the world. But Chelsea fans will always have that goal against Arsenal.

Oriol Romeu

Signed from: Barcelona (2011)

Fee: £3.91m

Chelsea apps: 33

Current club: Southampton

An under the radar acquisition from Barcelona’s B team, Oriol Romeu was initially regularly deployed by Chelsea during Andre Villas-Boas short tenure in charge, but following the Portuguese manager’s departure, he barely featured.

The Spaniard was loaned out to Valencia and then VFB Stuttgart before being sold to Southampton in 2015 where he made a name for himself as a good Premier League midfielder.


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Marko Marin

Signed from: Werder Bremen (2012)

Fee: £6.8m

Chelsea apps: 16

Current club: Ferencvarosi

Chelsea were extremely active in the 2012 summer, adding a number of talented young prospects to their squad including Eden Hazard, Oscar and the highly-rated German attacker, Marko Marin aka the German Messi.

While Hazard went on to become a legend at the club, Marin spent three years on loan at Sevilla, Fiorentina, Anderlecht and Trabzonspor before his Chelsea time was up. He joined Olympiacos on a permanent deal in 2016 and spent two years in Greece and another two years with Red Star Belgrade in his native Serbia. Marin is now in Hungary with Ferencvaros, via a year in Saudi Arabia.

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Christian Atsu

Signed from: Porto (2013)

Fee: £2.55m

Chelsea apps: 0

Current club: Al-Raed

A strange one this considering Christian Atsu had yet to fully establish himself in the Porto first-team. Nevertheless, Chelsea’s acquisition of the exciting Ghanaian winger was seen as a good piece of business, given the promise he had shown in Portugal.

However, in four years at the club Atsu did not make a single competitive appearance for the Blues, taking in loan spells at Vitesse, Everton, Bournemouth, Malaga and Newcastle before joining the latter on a permanent basis. Like Romeu, Atsu became a Premier League regular before leaving Newcastle for Saudi Arabia last summer.

Jeffrey Bruma

Signed from: Feyenoord (2007)

Fee: £102k

Chelsea apps: 6

Current club: Kasimpasa

Jeffrey Bruma x John Terry was the dream. The towering Bruma seemed set for a long and fruitful career at Stamford Bridge after being integrated into the first-team squad by Carlo Ancelotti, however, following the Italian’s departure in 2011, he didn’t stick around too long.

Loans at Leicester City and Hamburg failed to help Bruma re-establish himself at Chelsea leading to his exit to join PSV in 2013 where he remained until joining Wolfsburg in 2016. Five years at Wolfsburg followed, with two loan spells at Schalke and Mainz, before Bruma joined current club Kasimpasa.


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Tomas Kalas

Signed from: Sigma Olomouc (2010)

Fee: £5.10m

Chelsea apps: 4

Current club: Bristol City

Chelsea spent a considerable fee to land the promising Czech Republic defender Tomas Kalas in 2010, beating a number of top European clubs to his signature.

An impressive outing against Liverpool in the 2013/14 season aside, though, Kalas was hardly given a chance at Chelsea, spending time with Vitesse, FC Koln, Middlesbrough, Fulham and Bristol City. After a temporary stay in 2018/19, Kalas made Bristol City his permanent home and has since become a regular starter for the Robins.

Romelu Lukaku

Signed from: Anderlecht (2011)

Fee: £18.7m

Chelsea apps: 51

Current club: Chelsea

Another Belgian who was discarded prematurely by Mourinho and Chelsea was Romelu Lukaku, who after missing a penalty in the European Super Cup defeat to Bayern Munich in 2013, left for Everton.

An impressive loan spell at Goodison Park in 2013/14 persuaded the Toffees to part with a club-record £28m to sign him permanently and following his continued development since to become a nominee for the 2016/17 Player of the Year award. A £75m move to Manchester United and the Red Devils’ No.9 shirt soon followed.

After a fast start things slowed down and Lukaku had to move to Inter Milan to re-find his form and happiness playing football, guiding the Nerazzuri to the Serie A title last season and scoring 64 goals in 95 games across all competitions. His performances saw Chelsea look to call Lukaku home and the Belgian returned. Scoring just 12 goals this season, Lukaku hasn’t had the best of campaigns and endured the wrath of Chelsea fans for commenting on a return to Inter Milan and his unhappiness at Stamford Bridge at the end of 2021.

It might be that Chelsea just don’t really know what to do with Lukaku.

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