COMMENT: Right place. Right time. Right people... Kevin de Bruyne nailed it. In this game, it really is about being in the right place at the right time - especially if that place is Chelsea FC.
This week, De Bruyne opened up on why he left Chelsea for VfL Wolfsburg. It's almost five years to the day that the now Manchester City star chose to walk out on the Blues. A decision he's never regretted, though one he admits could've been avoided if different people had been in place in certain positions.
"I just wanted a new challenge and not be loaned out because that system is really tough for people," recalled the Belgian. "They don't always understand – when you do a few loan spells and come back to the team you know people are still doubting, saying 'he's a young player, is he going to make it'."
Thing is, as De Bruyne spelt out, even back then he was no rookie. He adds: "In my mind I had played four years in Belgium, a year in Germany, had 160-180 games under my belt plus national team experience, so you're not thinking like a young boy at 18 anymore who is just happy to get a game.
So would De Bruyne have quit today's Chelsea? With Frank Lampard in place. With Jody Morris by his side. Would De Bruyne have felt differently returning to Cobham for preseason? You bet he would...
Nothing's certain in this game, but it's a decent bet that we wouldn't be seeing this season's Blue Babes if another face was in the Stamford Bridge dugout. And we're not even talking about Lampard.
The return of Morris this season. The trust Lampard has for his assistant manager. This has been the key factor for the club's cultural shift. Those young players now established as first-choices: Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori, Reece James... a year ago they were away. All of 'em. Not on their first loan, some not even on their second. They had been seasons away from Chelsea. Developing. Progressing. Improving. But for whom?
Before Lampard's return, the beneficiary was likely to have been a rival. We know Roman Abramovich doesn't fancy local managers. Lampard apart, if forced to seek an alternative, a big-name foreigner from Italy, Spain or Germany would've arrived. With his own staff. His own system. And his own ideas on how to improve the squad. Abraham and co again would've been facing a brick wall. Just as they'd experienced in past years with Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho, etc. The chopping and changing of managers is one thing. But when those managers are arriving from outside England, with all their own staff, what chance have any of these young players when the new coach has never heard of them, let alone seen them play?
It simply all fell in place for these kids. The transfer ban was one thing. But it still took some bottle from Lampard to clear out a raft of senior players as he did. David Luiz, Davide Zappacosta, Gary Cahill, Timoue Bakayoko... that's a huge chunk of experience to remove. But with Morris' assurance. His five years within the Chelsea academy system. Lampard could make these decisions with confidence. Morris knew those returning youngsters were ready to move in and step up.
Away from Cobham, Tomori has racked up almost 80 appearances. Abraham? Well he was getting into the De Bruyne class with over 100. Were either of them, now fully-fledged England internationals, going to be hanging around if not given their chance this season? It's unlikely.
Over the past year, Tribalfootball has spoken to ex-Chelsea players about the club's controversial loan system. And to a man, they've been positive about it. Jeremie Boga has insisted it was good for his development. The same opinion shared by Kenneth Omeruo and Michael Mancienne. But was it good for Chelsea?
Well, before this season you could argue it wasn't. De Bruyne learned his craft away from the club and went onto become one of the game's current day best. The likes of Boga and Omeruo have used the system to their advantage. Improving their football. Gaining status. And finding themselves on good contracts with good clubs - who are (and will surely in the future) benefiting from the work Chelsea put into these players.
But this season, that culture ended. Whether by a quirk of fate. Luck. Whatever. Fortune shone on this generation of young Chelsea players. And it should be something they appreciate. As De Bruyne has shown, better players have come through the Cobham system, but never had the same chance.
As Lampard says: “If we're not patient and if we don't stick with the players, we might end up in a situation like we were before where absolute top, world–class players in this moment were at Chelsea when they were 20, 21 and managers didn't stick with them so much then.
“I'm in a position where I'm going to stick with them."
For Abraham and co, this season they really did land in the right place, at the right time - and significantly with the right people.