Written by Will Parchman

miazga

The excoriation of Chelsea regarding its wanton use of loans is not without its merits. At least on the surface, the club appears to at least partially bankroll its lavish transfer spends by buying players on the cheap, and then selling them on for far more than their original value without ever really considering them for the first team.

In the meantime, it loans them out to puff up their transfer value while all but ignoring them for its own first team. It is as though the club tends two farms: one for its own consumption made up of only the choicest grain, and another only for the consumption of everyone else. It is a rare thing indeed that the public farm tills up a product the club deems worthy of its own soil.

Chelsea’s done well for itself in this. Just last year, it made in the neighborhood of $50 million off transfers from players it shuffled around on loan for years: Nathan Ake (Bournemouth), Christian Atsu (Newcastle), Bertrand Traore (Lyon), and Nathaniel Chalobah (Watford). It’s hard not to see a method in this, that Chelsea is purposefully culling its herd to flip players for cash to throw back into the pot to fuel ever more, pricier transfer fees. Chelsea’s business is as bald-faced as it is uncomfortable.

It is uncomfortable, most of us reason, because it presumes these players never had a chance at Chelsea in the first place. I think that is a somewhat simplistic reading, but it is not without its merits. Just in the previously mentioned group, Ake got seven games for Chelsea’s first team, Traore and Chalobah 10 each, Atsu a grand total of zero. The club’s impatience is legendary, but it also feeds the notion that its mind was made up before any had a chance to truly cement themselves within the first team construct. Too much money at hand, too much at stake, too much predetermined. They never really had a chance, and the talent ceiling on each of their careers no doubt lowered as a result.

This is why Matt Miazga’s sale to Chelsea in the winter of 2016 was a chilly wind whipping across the plains of American soccer sentiment. Here was one of the most promising American prospects period – not just defenders, mind – seemingly being dumped into that other crop-growing field, the one with the business interests in mind for public sale. It wasn’t that Miazga couldn’t be picked for the club’s own harvest, but no one would take those odds. Not with this club.

In this prism it is impossible not to understand some of the angst surrounding news of Miazga’s impending second loan stint to Vitesse, in the Dutch Eredivisie, after starting 20 games there last season. Miazga installed himself as a regular center back at the club, helping them to a fifth-place finish in the top tier and a place in the Europa League group phase thanks to its KNVB Cup, the first major trophy in the club’s 124-year history. Miazga was on the field for it. By returning at 21, Miazga will very likely play in Europe this year, and more than once. The list of Americans who’ve done that at all, at any level, is not long.

The bigger worry, to me, is not Vitesse itself or the level of the Dutch league. Vitesse is a fine place to develop, even for defenders, and Miazga will see plenty of the field this season in a top European flight. That’s all to the good. The bigger worry is to what end. Where is this all leading us?

USMNT fans sighed a collective breath of relief when Miazga played, and played relatively well on balance, in a 3-0 win over Nicaragua in the Gold Cup in July. He scored a goal, even. It would have been hard to sway a coach like Arena, who prefers to lean heavily on veteran experience at center back, that Miazga deserved more starts in bigger games in the tournament. But it peeled back the curtain and gave us assurance that this version of Miazga is better than the 2016 Olympic qualifying version that was in turn better than the 2015 U20 World Cup version and so on back we go.

In so many words, he is progressing.

But there is still a guillotine hanging over the careers of Chelsea’s collective loan army, and it lowers by fractions with each successive loan. Players tend to need loftier experiences each year to improve, and continual loans to the same place in lesser leagues don’t usually move the needle. Miazga thankfully has the promise of Europe this year, which defrays that worry to a degree, but the fact that his career is filled with so much uncertainty is what worries so many.

This is not an unfounded worry, as I said, but I think it’s overblown on balance. The lack of a stable club home – Miazga will not go to Vitesse full time, I can assure you – is a problem so long as Miazga begins stagnating. We have no indication he’s in that swamp yet. And the Eredivisie presents a unique challenge for defenders, who are usually forced to face attacks many times more powerful than what their coaches are able to muster defensively. There is development value to being overwhelmed and tasked with quelling the fear.

But there is a caveat. Miazga can’t dwell in this place long. Substantive development tends to calcify somewhere in your early 20’s – it’s different for every player – and it happens sooner for players who either aren’t playing in challenging enough environments or simply aren’t playing first team soccer at all. Miazga runs the risk of the former at Vitesse and the latter at Chelsea. Which means finding a middle distance for next season.

In the interim, this is all fine. Miazga is in a stable club environment he knows, where he’ll have the opportunity to play against good attacking competition and compete for a spot on a team competing for a Europa League run. The real crucible isn’t now; it’s next summer.

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Written by Will Parchman

scott

According to journalist Peter O’Rourke, U.S. U20 midfielder Kyle Scott is just about done at Chelsea after nearly two years. O’Rourke’s sources say Scott is asking to leave the club.

One would assume that based solely on outward appearances, life was good in these halcyon championship days for Kyle Scott at Chelsea. The young American international, who’s represented England, Ireland and the U.S. at the YNT level, just polished off his best ever youth campaign at the club level. Chelsea won its second consecutive UEFA Youth League title earlier this month, and Scott played an integral role. He scored the only goal to beat Ajax in the quarterfinals. That came just two months after he signed a new contract in February.

Chelsea dropped PSG 2-1 in the final, and you can see Scott (third from the left) celebrating here.

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Written by Will Parchman

miazga

In January, young American center back Matt Miazga moved from his developmental home to Chelsea. The longtime Red Bulls defender, who’d been reared in that system since his pre-teen years, went from everyday starter in MLS to Premier League ingenue overnight.

On Saturday, his career lurched forward another step. Miazga became the first American in history to play in a Premier League game for Chelsea.

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Written by Will Parchman

yo

Cup Magic! It’s time yet again for the stodgy-and-old and hyperbolic-and-young to bombard your senses with the sheer, unfiltered glory of English cup soccer! It is crafted first at Hogwarts before being crammed into your brain with a potato masher! Whether you want this crap or not! Magic! Cups!

Alright, so the Capital One Cup isn’t quite the FA Cup, in that nobody in the EPL really cares about it, and even the lower tier clubs view it as an occasional opportunity to take pot shots at the richers before getting back to the serious business of getting promoted.

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Written by Will Parchman

pedro

You may remember (YOU SHOULD ANYWAY) the petition Seattle-area club Crossfire brought forth to FIFA in an effort to generate compensation for DeAndre Yedlin’s sale to Spurs. It’s a seminal moment in youth soccer development in America. The trickle-down effect these sales have on lower clubs can ultimately help break the shackles of pay-to-play. At the very least, they’ll lower costs while the money begins is slow filter downward.

As it is, MLS doesn’t reward clubs with compensation. But what does that look like practically in places that do? We got a tangible taste of that this week when Pedro was sold from Barcelona to Chelsea for £23m. And it was glorious.

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Written by Will Parchman

thubs

Earlier this week, the Professional Footballers Association released its list of six nominees for its prestigious Footballer of the Year award. Notably, there were two Chelsea players on the list in Eden Hazard and Diego Costa. Manchester United’s David De Gea was the only keeper to make the cut.

Puzzling. When Chelsea and United meet on Saturday, De Gea won’t even be the best keeper on the field.

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Written by Will Parchman

bolkiah

UPDATE (3/15/16): After impressing in Chelsea’s youth system for a couple years, Faiq Bolkiah just signed a three-year pro deal with Premier League-leaders Leicester City. According to ESPN sources, Leicester City thinks highly enough of Bolkiah that they’re signing him with the intention of integrating him into the first team. Go on, young sultan.

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On the face of it, Faiq Bolkiah looks like any other up-and-coming English Premier League youth prospect. His profile on Chelsea’s website shows a taut-faced U18 player, his bio clocking in at an innocuous 39 words.

Faiq Bolkiah is originally from Brunei and was at Southampton and Reading before moving to Chelsea in January 2014. He’s an attacking player who predominantly plays wide-right or wide-left and likes to cut inside to create and score goals.

A source told TopDrawerSoccer.com this week that U.S. U17 coach Richie Williams took a recent trip to London to scout an unidentified “Chelsea winger.” Bolkiah is of Bruneian heritage but was born in Los Angeles, is a Chelsea winger and was born in 1998, making him age eligible for the new U17 cycle starting later this year. Williams may well be looking at someone else on his trip, but there’s a good chance it’s Bolkiah.

If the story ended there, we could toss Bolkiah’s name onto the heap with the rest of the promising string of dual-nationals and move on. But it doesn’t, primarily because of Bolkiah’s family. His uncle is the Sultan of Brunei, one of the richest men on the planet (in 2008 Forbes reported his net worth at $20 billion). And according to Vanity Fair, his father, Prince Jefri of Brunei, has “probably gone through more cash than any other human being on Earth.” Prince Jefri might be the most notoriously lavish playboy in modern history. And his son could soon be in an American national team jersey.

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Written by Will Parchman

The UEFA Youth League is not an old competition. In fact, the 2014-15 season is just its second in existence. It came under immediate scrutiny for denying school-aged players valuable classroom time, and you can read an interesting Reddit conversation centering around a German protest here.

But the tournament marches on astride these great concerns. Barcelona won the first title in 2014 behind Munir El Haddadi’s 11 goals, making him the event’s first great breakout star. This season marked Chelsea’s turn. The Blues lost one match the entire tournament, a 2-0 group stage loss to Schalke, which Makes Real Soccer. They won their other nine, including a 3-2 win over surprise package Shakhtar in Monday’s finale. These are those highlights. Write my P.O. Box if you need a drool-catch, especially in the tricky build-up on Chelsea’s first.

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Written by Will Parchman

Despite being up a man, Chelsea managed to draw PSG 2-2 in extra time this week. It knocked Chelsea out of the Champions League and forced Jose Mourinho into full-on crazy philosopher mode. Which is, if we’re honest, his only mode.

During the match, Zlatan Ibrahimovic got tagged with a red card for coming in hot on a challenge. It probably wasn’t a red card. This was the scene while Zlatan sat awaiting his beheading. The only players not swarming the referee: Oscar, who is feigning death, and the keeper. Nine angry smurfs, with Diego Costa predictably stepping in to challenge Zlatan to a punch-off.

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Written by Will Parchman

Chelsea Manager Jose Mourinho

During Tuesday’s 2015 Champions League knockout debut, Chelsea somehow managed to pick a draw out of the mud kicked up by a Paris Saint Germain monsoon in Paris. PSG owned 54 percent of possession, out-shot Chelsea 14-2 and earned seven corners to Chelsea’s one. Additionally, PSG was playing at home, with the holy triumvirate of Ibrahimovic-Lavezzi-Cavani all healthy. And Chelsea still managed to score an early, vital away goal to leave Paris with a 1-1 draw.

This goal was so emblematic of Chelsea’s European experience over the past few seasons. Simply grunt and get it done. Against the run of play, this was a cross from John Terry (defender), flicked on by Gary Cahill (defender) and scored by Branislav Ivanovic (defender). And every leg of it was exemplary, worthy of any attacker in the world.

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