For the second time this month, there was good reason for smiles among Chelsea Academy players and staff as our Under-21s were crowned Premier League champions for their age group on Wednesday night, to add to the Under-18s’ FA Youth Cup success.
Following the 2-1 play-off final victory over Manchester United U21s at Old Trafford, some of those involved shared their thoughts on the triumph…
Under-21s manager Dermot Drummy (pictured below centre with assistant Andy Myers left and conditioning coach Matt Birnie right) watched his team come from behind to level the scores by half-time through Charly Musonda, and then win it with a Lewis Baker strike with just over 10 minutes to go…
‘The players took hold of the game, I didn’t need to change it tactically apart from make sure Lewis was higher up so we could get Islam Feruz into the game,’ he said.
‘As soon as Lewis got higher we hurt them. We have a system where the players find the solutions themselves, they rotate themselves on the field and you can’t knock the way we play so full credit to the boys, and I am really pleased for Lewis. I think he has beaten John Swift in their personal goalscoring battle.
‘The players stay composed. I am on the side and I get more excited but they believe in themselves and believe in the philosophy but you have to also have a mentality to win.
‘This win is fantastic for the Academy at Chelsea FC and it’s emotional because you want to do well. We’re playing really good football, every game is entertaining, and it’s full credit to the philosophy that Neil Bath has been working on for 10 years. We’ve all come in and added our little bits but he’s a great guy and a great Academy manager and he deserves a lot of credit.
‘These boys work hard in the morning and afternoon and there are DVDs and analysis and reviews and individual programmes. You have to be very, very good to get into the first team at Chelsea.
‘It is good to keep developing technical players but the next step is at 19 to 21, we have to make them good enough that Jose can give them a chance.
‘If the boys work hard, the future’s theirs. Hard work gets you where you are in life and they are very dedicated and lots of good work goes on in our Academy, but you have to get in the first team and if they keep working hard, who knows?’
Charly Musonda’s fine equaliser even had the 17-year-old’s name trending on Twitter during the game…
‘It’s been a fantastic end to the season, to win the Under-21 League a week after winning the FA Youth Cup, and to come from behind at Old Trafford is a fantastic feeling. It’s a great stadium.
‘We started a bit nervously and Man United very well but by the end we were just enjoying the occasion and it was a fantastic result.
‘For my goal, Nathan Ake gave me the ball and I got on the half-turn and I had one thing on my mind, to have a shot on target and fortunately it went in. It was quite similar to the Youth Cup final goal against Fulham. I score a lot of goals like that and I was happy to get another one tonight.
‘I’m very happy to be trending on Twitter but most importantly we won the game.’
Lewis Baker (below), who scored 18 goals in all competitions, continued a week never to forget having been named Chelsea Young Player of the Year and collecting the Chelsea Goal of the Season award on Monday night…
‘It has been a great week for me to get a couple of awards at the Player of the Year awards and then to top it off tonight. All the boys worked really hard and it was a great win.
‘We definitely didn’t want go through what happened last year when we missed out in two finals and we really dug in and everybody fought for each other. We came here to play, we know how good we are and we didn’t come here to defend away from home.
‘I was gutted not to score that chance in the second half after Ruben [Loftus-Cheek] played such a great ball across the box, but it happens and when I got my next chance I knew I had score.’
On his goal away against Arsenal Under-21s that won the Goal of the Season award and played an important part in Chelsea topping the table, Baker said…
‘I have never tried something like that before, it was just pure instinct and I am glad it came off. I saw Islam Feruz approaching the goal and we were going on the attack so I thought I could try to get into the box and it was a good goal, especially as we were 1-0 down and it was an equaliser. The whole team performance that day was quality.’
John Swift is another with plenty to celebrate having made his first team debut on Sunday before returning to the Under-21 squad. He scored 15 goals for the Under-21s and Under-19s combined this season…
‘We were buzzing to come top of the league anyway but we took the play-offs as more games to win. To beat Man City on penalties in the semi-final and then come to Old Trafford and win the final and celebrate with the boys is great.
‘This week just tops the season off for me. I think I’ve had a good season, doing well in the Under-21 League. It was a disappointment to go out of the UEFA Youth League because we had a great run in the group stage, but to come here and end the season on a high like this is just amazing.
‘The youth team came from behind in the final and that spirit runs through all the ages. We did it in games when we won the Youth Cup two years ago and we all have that character, it runs from the first team right through.’
On his goalscoring bet with Baker…
‘I would say Lewis has won because of his penalties but even if he took them away I’d still be just behind him. Maybe we should count the pre-season goals!’
Nathan Ake (below) also played at Cardiff on Sunday and then Old Trafford on Wednesday…
‘We finished top of the league but then we knew we had to go and win the play-offs to finish first. Man City was a difficult game and tonight at Old Trafford against a good team, we played well and deserved to win.
‘They had a lot of the ball in the opening 10 minutes and had a few chances and obviously got ahead, but we got a goal back quickly and then after we controlled the game.
‘We never let our heads go down, even when they scored and we know we can play and tonight showed our team spirit.
‘We kept the ball in the second half and created chances and Lewis did brilliantly to score at the end. You know you can count on him for that. It is always the same, every match this guy scores and 18 goals from midfield is amazing.’
Islam Feruz was joint-third highest scorer of the Under-21 league campaign and was centre-forward against Man United…
‘It’s a great achievement. A lot of the boys won the Youth Cup last week and now to come and win this is really special. The pitch here is big, which suited us well, we played football and to come here and win is a big bonus for us. The game was brilliant; we upped our game in the second half and got the goals.’
Head of youth development Neil Bath summed up the night and the season…
‘It is a really exciting end to the season because we have won the Under-14s Premier League tournament, the Under-16s Premier League tournament and then two prestigious ones in the Under-21s Premier League and the FA Youth Cup, but what I am most pleased about is the way we have done it.
‘We talk about having a philosophy that is creative and attacking football with a winning mentality, and this performance plus the FA Youth Cup games displayed that. We came to Old Trafford and we controlled the game and played some exciting football and the spirit of the team displayed the winning mentality – through hard work, determination, grit – all the words you would associate with that.
‘There is a real desire and passion to not give in and that kind of character is what we expect from the boys. I am really proud to see them achieve that this evening.
‘We knew the rules of the competition beforehand and play-off games do bring this entertainment, but to finish top of the table and then do it again is fantastic.’
– A clip of Nathan Ake, Jamal Blackman and Lewis Baker talking to Chelsea TV after the game can be viewed above (subject to registration) with more reaction available now via the channel’s online access and on Blues News tonight at 6.30pm and 10pm.