Football Features

Famous drop-outs & rejects of the Chelsea academy

By William Eldridge

Published: 11:54, 7 September 2019

Chelsea’s youth academy has produced some fine talent over the years, some of whom you might not have realised made their start there.

Most will recognise big academy graduates like Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ryan Bertrand and John Terry, but there are players – some fledgling and some established – who began their respective careers at Chelsea that you may not be fully aware of.

Here we take a look at 11 players who made their start in the Blues’ academy as youngsters.

1. Chris Mepham

A centre-back who can also cover as a right full-back, Hammersmith-born Mepham joined the Blues’ youth academy at the age of 10.

He was released at 14 and turned down by both QPR and Watford before Brentford offered him a place at their academy in 2012. The 21-year-old defender broke through with the Bees during the 2016-17 season.

His impressive performances registered on the radar of Bournemouth, who snapped him up in January for £12m. The Welshman has only made 13 Premier League appearances for the Cherries during the remainder of the season, mostly due to Steve Cook’s absence.

He was handed the opportunity to face his former club when he came on as a substitute for Junior Stanislas in Bournemouth’s 4-0 victory over Chelsea in the Premier League.

Considering Chelsea’s defensive frailties, officials at the club might live to regret ever letting the talented youngster go.

2. Declan Rice

Rice started playing for Chelsea as an infant. At the tender age of six, Rice was selected for Chelsea’s academy and, like Mepham, was released by the club when he was 14.

Rice headed over to east London to join West Ham’s academy where the midfielder worked through the ranks until he made his senior debut for the club in 2015 as an 18-year-old.

Rice made a name for himself in the 2018/19 season while earning many plaudits with his confidence in possession and his fine ability to break up play.

Last December the youngster made his 50th appearance for West Ham, the first player to do so while still a teenager since Michael Carrick. In late March, he debuted for England – having controversially switched allegiance from the Republic of Ireland – and to date has three caps.

3. Neil Etheridge

When Etheridge entered the Blues’ prestigious academy at the age of 14, he was playing as a centre forward but retreated to the goal line at the advice of his coach.

After spending three years with the Blues, the Philippines international switched to local rivals Fulham, where he made only one appearance in six years.

Etheridge would bounce around the lower leagues for a few years before impressing at League One side Walsall. He was then recruited by his current club, Cardiff City, whom he helped gain promotion to the Premier League. They were subsequently relegated, but Etheridge saved three penalties and stopped 67% of the shots he faced.

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4. Rhian Brewster

Rhian Brewster, now 19, also played in the Blues’ academy up till around five years ago. From there he headed up north to join Liverpool’s academy. Brewster has yet to make a senior appearance for the Reds but signed a five-year contract with the club last summer.

Brewster might have progressed into the senior ranks sooner if it wasn’t for a serious ankle injury he sustained a little over a year ago and subsequent set-backs. He’s certainly one to look out for and Jurgen Klopp seems to expect to work with him properly very soon.

“He grew as a person in that time and physically as well; he is a different stature when you look at him,” Klopp once told Liverpool’s official website when asked about Brewster’s progress.

“Now he is a proper man. When he got injured, he was a boy. All will be good. With a little bit of luck – which you always need – we will have a lot of fun with him.”

5. Johann Berg Gudmundsson

The 28-year-old winger trained with the Chelsea academy but moved back to Iceland in 2008 after struggling to adjust to life in the English capital.

After a five-year spell with AZ Alkmaar in the Eredivisie, Gudmundsson returned to England to play with Charlton Athletic, where he made 86 appearances.

In 2016, the Iceland international joined newly promoted Burnley where he’s made over 100 appearances, scored seven Premier League goals and assisted another 16 – by far the most at the club.

6. Patrick van Aanholt

The Crystal Palace left-back was accepted into the Chelsea Academy in 2007, aged 17.

He only made two senior appearances for the Blues in the Premier League before touring around Europe and England’s lower tiers on loan. He eventually ended up with Sunderland, who he made 95 appearances for.

The 29-year-old Netherlands international moved to the Eagles in the 2016-17 season’s January transfer window.

Since joining Palace, Van Aanholt has scored more Premier League goals from open play (13) than any defender in the division.

7. Eddie Nketiah

Nketiah was raised in Lewisham, south east London and joined Chelsea as a youngster but was released by the club at under 14s level.

Nketiah then joined Arsenal’s academy where he impressed with 15 goals in 16 appearances for the under-18s and went on to notch 12 goals in 26 appearances for the under-23 side.

With a goal on the final day of the previous season against Burnley, Nketiah became the first player to score for Arsenal in the Premier League having been born after Arsene Wenger’s 1996 appointment.

The 20-year-old striker is now on loan with Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United, for whom he was one goal in three games.

8. Nathan Ake

Ake joined the Blues’ academy in 2011, aged 16. He made his senior debut for the club when he was 17 and would appear for the Londoners 17 time across all competitions before making a series of loan moves.

He finally signed for Bournemouth at the beginning of the 2017-18 season, where he appeared in all of the Cherries’ Premier League games.

Ake has been a mainstay ever since and the 24-year-old was linked with a return to Chelsea on multiple occasions; however, a return has never materialised.

9. Andy King

Most people will recognise King in another Blue shirt – Leicester City’s, to be precise – but the English midfielder started his footballing career with Chelsea at the age of nine.

King, now a Leicester hero, was released by Chelsea’s academy six years later in 2004. He joined Leicester’s youth set-up aged 15 and worked his way up the ranks, earning his debut at age 18 in a 0-0 draw against Wolves in 2007.

King remained with Leicester to help them gain promotion from League One and the Championship. His loyalty paid off when the Foxes lifted the Premier league trophy for the first time at the end of their fairytale campaign in 2016.

King has since joined up with Steven Gerrard’s Rangers on loan after falling down the pecking order at the King Power.

10. Dominic Solanke

Solanke began his career with the Blues’ under-8 team. He went on to become a big hit in the under-18 team, scoring 20 goals in 25 games and was awarded the inaugural Chelsea Academy Player of the Year award for the 2014–15 season.

Solanke couldn’t break into Chelsea’s senior squad and headed to Liverpool at the beginning of the 2017-18 season.

He made 21 appearances in the league last term but was sold to Bournemouth in January for £19m, much to the delight of Eddie Howe who expressed great excitement over the prospect of getting to develop the 21-year-old.

“He has shown a good attitude,” Howe told the Bournemouth Echo.

“Technically, he is a good player. He will get goals if we get the ball into him in the right areas. I’m excited to really get into him and to develop that potential.”

Solanke has since made 10 Premier League appearances for the Cherries but is yet to double his one-goal career total in the division.

11. Domingos Quina

The 19-year-old attacking midfielder trained with Benfica and Chelsea’s academy during his developmental years. He was offered a contract by Arsenal, but decided to join West Ham in 2016.

Quina left the Hammers in the summer, signing for Watford on a four-year deal. The Portugal under-20 international did not appear for West Ham in the Premier League, but he made his league debut for the Hornets in a 2-1 away loss to Manchester City.

Last December, he became the youngest Watford player to score in the Premier League in the club’s 3-2 victory against Cardiff City.