Tribal Football

Why the anger Chelsea? You've pushed Rio Ngumoha into Liverpool's arms

Why the anger Chelsea? You've pushed Rio Ngumoha into Liverpool's arms
Why the anger Chelsea? You've pushed Rio Ngumoha into Liverpool's arms
Why the anger Chelsea? You've pushed Rio Ngumoha into Liverpool's armsAction Plus
COMMENT: Why the anger? Why the upset? Rio Ngumoha and his family's decision to quit for the north can't be any great surprise to those running things at Chelsea, surely...?

First, let's get it straight: Ngumoha choosing Liverpool for the next step in his career has nowt to do with money. being told he had far superior offers from elsewhere, including from two rival Premier League clubs north of the Midlands.


No, Ngumoha and family chose Liverpool for training, development and "opportunity". The 15 year-old will go on scholarship forms at Liverpool and be treated the same as every other youth teamer on the books at Kirkby.

Instead, as we say, this choice is about what Liverpool's pathway can offer. Jayden Danns. Conor Bradley. Lewis Koumas... it's a decision that really shouldn't surprise the top brass at Chelsea, no matter how upset they are.

Kendry Paez. Estevao Willian. Pape Daouda Diong. The Ngumoha family and their advisers could see the writing on the wall. The approach. The policy. Everything about the rich traditions of Chelsea's incredibly successful academy. It's all been turned on it's head. For what we've seen at the senior level, we can now apply to the youth teams: if it ain't broke, then just bury it...

It can't be a coincidence that the week Chelsea lose a local talent like Ngumoha, it was announced that Neil Bath - after 30 years involved in the academy - was leaving. It's said the decision has been made on good terms, with Bath alerting the board of his thinking towards the end of last season. 

But with no replacement ready to step in, it does appear the club was still taken by surprise. Indeed, Bath making formal his resignation 24 hours before Chelsea's traditional scholarship intake for the year. Adding further to the tumult is there's still no replacement for U21 coach Mark Robinson, after his decision to leave at the end of last season to take the manager's job at Burton Albion. Chelsea's U21 players reported back for preseason last week with no head coach yet in place. A situation that continues today.

But beyond the confusion and flux inside the academy, it's clear why Ngumoha (and perhaps Bath) saw it best to jump ship. As mentioned, Chelsea are now targeting young players across the planet. Huge investments are being made. And as such, these foreign arrivals are sure to be given every chance to repay the money spent - and at the expense of local talent. For Ngumoha, a young player full of pace and tricks, is it such a stretch to believe he'll be shunted to one side for the likes of Paez and Estevao to be given the opportunity to establish themselves? With so much hanging on their success - both in terms of finance, but also the reputation of those at Chelsea who chose to employ this recruitment strategy - what real chance has a local lad to get himself ahead of these big money additions? 

And for this column, it's a policy which is flawed. For all their success. For all their graduates. You can count on one hand the number of foreign players who went through Chelsea's academy system and made it at the top level. The numbers are even less if you consider those to do so in a Blue shirt.

The success of Chelsea's academy, under the guidance of Bath and Jim Fraser, who also left earlier this summer, was in their focus on local talent. Indeed, local London talent. That famous photo of Chelsea's young players with the 2021 Champions League trophy, with the likes of Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Reece James all featuring... the great success of the academy was that all of them had been with the club since Under-8 and Under-9 level. They had come right through the system at Chelsea to eventually win the biggest title in the game. 

But that approach has now been ripped up. Instead of playing the percentages, Chelsea are going down a route that has rarely paid dividends.

"I thought at the time when we took him, Gael Kakuta a French player who joined us when he was 16... he is the best young player I've ever seen," so said Paul Clement to earlier this year. Clement spent six years with Chelsea, working at first team and youth level.

"Left footed, quick, could play as a number 10 or he could play as a winger coming inside, incredible talent. He played in the first team, not very many games but I think he found that initial step quite hard of going from youth football to senior football and in the end it wasn't to be for him at that level."

Clement's comments were echoed by former Blues captain Eden Hazard just weeks later: Kakuta had everything and at 16 looked a world-beater. But you do wonder where he'd be if he had remained with Lens during those formative years.

But such a policy is now one steroids. And the after-effects are - and will be - all of their own making. Chelsea's academy have taken on a recruitment approach with no record of success. And in doing so, have just driven out one of the best young players for his age in the country. 

How can they be angry? Even surprised? The Ngumoha family have made the only sensible choice available.