Former Chelsea director Michael Emenalo has revealed that Kevin De Bruyne’s departure in 2014 was actually one of the catalysts behind Chelsea’s recent focus on academy talents.
De Bruyne joined Chelsea from Genk in 2012, but after an underwhelming first six months, he was loaned out and sold to Wolfsburg in 2014, and he has since gone on to establish himself as one of the best footballers on the planet.
It’s a similar story with Chelsea’s use of Romelu Lukaku and Mohamed Salah, who left Stamford Bridge in 2014 and 2016 respectively after failing to make a breakthrough. However, the Blues have seemingly learned their lesson and are giving their best young prospects a chance to shine.
Speaking to The Guardian, Emenalo recalled just how little faith Chelsea actually had in De Bruyne, who fell into the trap of being seen as a profit, rather than a player.
“Everybody said: ‘Nobody’s come from the academy.’ But a kid who comes to the academy at seven won’t be ready to challenge Frank Lampard when he’s 19,” Emenalo began. “It became key to look at that space between 19 and 22 where we can prepare him to be a Chelsea player. We did that with De Bruyne.
“He was 18, a super talent, but the first time I mentioned that De Bruyne can eventually replace Lampard there was a guffaw of laughter. Lukaku was the same. He’s 18 and I say you have to put five years into him.
“My scouts had identified something was happening in Belgium. Hazard, De Bruyne, Lukaku, Chadli, Vertonghen, Courtois. The manager looked at me and said: ‘When did Belgium become Brazil? Who’s this Kevin De Bruyne?’ I told him: ‘I don’t look at passports. I just watch the player. And this player doesn’t miss a pass. I don’t know if he will be a superstar but there’s something here.’
“[Watching De Bruyne, Salah and Lukaku leave] was more painful for the owner. He suffered. But he saw that everything we had discussed was true.”
The final straw for Chelsea came in 2015 when José Mourinho was looking to build on his title triumph in the previous season. With nobody coming through the academy to bolster the squad, the Blues had to throw money at Barcelona to sign 28-year-old Pedro.
“We signed Pedro from Barcelona for £30m,” he recalled. It was a good opportunity for me to say: ‘That’s why we need the academy. Either you put £12m into the academy and develop Ruben Loftus-Cheek or you pay £30m to Barcelona for a 28-year-old.’
“It was the end of the discussion. The academy became even more important to Chelsea.”
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