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Chelsea FC: the success of the footballing pyramid

21 October 2020

The success of English football throughout all levels is there for all to see. The strength of the collective footballing pyramid combines to create the drama and excitement season upon season that football fans can sometimes take for granted.

A year of change has brought about a season of uncertainty, but the unequivocal importance of protecting that very pyramid English football has been built upon has been highlighted more so than ever before.

You don’t have to look far to see the important contribution made at all levels that supports the overall success of the game. The EFL has provided the platform for some of this country’s biggest stars to flourish, both in the Premier League and on the International stage.

In reference to the international stage, England’s starting XI from last Thursday’s friendly against Wales at Wembley Stadium had made more career appearances in the Football League (1010) than the Premier League (928) – a remarkable statistic in all truth, but one that emphasises the point of the collective strength quite aptly.

One Club, at the very highest level of the English game, has arguably seen the collective strength of the pyramid not only help in the development of their own home-grown players, but also their first-team manager – we are, of course, talking about Chelsea Football Club.

Within the current first-team set-up at Chelsea, six players have excelled within the EFL, whether that be on loan at various Clubs across the Sky Bet Championship, or in EFL competitions such as the Carabao Cup and EFL Trophy.

In total, there are over 250 appearances and many personal accolades in EFL competitions amongst those six players – some would say the Club have found an ideal proving ground for young talent to prosper.

The 2018/19 season, in particular, was a highlight, with loan moves for Tammy Abraham at Aston Villa, Reece James at Wigan Athletic and Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori joining Derby County, who of course were managed at the time by the current Chelsea manager, Frank Lampard.

Looking back now, in what were particularly fortuitous circumstances, the trio of Lampard, Mount and Tomori would actually come up against their teammate at their parent club in Tammy Abraham in the Championship Play-Off Final, dubbed the richest game in world football and played in front of a Wembley crowd of more than 85,000 supporters.

On this occasion, it was Aston Villa who prevailed, but the experiences gained on one of the biggest stages of football was invaluable. Frank Lampard, later that summer, would be named the new Chelsea Manager, while those Chelsea loan players who featured in the Championship Play-Off Final would go on to combine for more than 130 appearances for the Club in the 2019/20 campaign.

Without forgetting Reece James, the defender was named in the Sky Bet Championship Team of the Season for his performances at the Latics in 2018/19 and was recently called up to the England senior squad for the first time, making his debut in the process.

Speaking ahead of the Play-Off Final back in 2019, Mason Mount himself explained the importance of the footballing pyramid and the experience he had gained: “It has been a massive learning season for me, with the experience I’ve gained throughout the campaign and the number of minutes I’ve played.

“One of my main aims this season was to come here and play regularly. I wanted to keep that momentum going for myself and I have had that, so for me, it’s been brilliant. I’ve learnt so much but there’s so much still to learn.”

However, it is not only loan spells that can equate to vital first-team experience, with Callum Hudson-Odoi being the prime example of the benefits of the EFL Trophy.

The wide player made his professional debut in the competition back in 2017, with some wonderful performances earning him rave reviews, as he scored four times in his first three appearances, including a brace against Plymouth Argyle.

That exposure in the competition led to appearances in the FA Cup and the Premier League later that season, with Hudson-Odoi now a key part of Lampard’s first-team squad at the Club.

Within the current Chelsea squad, both Ben Chilwell – a loan at Huddersfield Town in 2015/16, and Marcos Alonso - a season in the Sky Bet Championship with Bolton Wanderers in 2012/13, have tasted the competitiveness of the EFL, while Ethan Ampadu, currently on loan at Sheffield United, came through the ranks at Exeter City before signing for the Club as a 17-year old in 2017.

The examples are vast, and while Chelsea in particular may have benefited from a system that thrives on competition throughout the leagues, the likes of Dele Alli, Jude Bellingham and James Maddison – the list goes on and on – can also point to their success in the professional game coming as a result of their time in the EFL.

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