Who are Hiddink’s youths?

February 21, 2009

kakuta_nana_lEarlier this week Guus Hiddink warned his senior players that he was more than happy to give their places to talent coming up through the Chelsea ranks. Which, in reality, means giving Michael Mancienne and Franco Di Santo a chance to start the odd game in Chelsea‘s remaining Premiership fixtures. But after four years of heavy investment in the club’s youth set-up spearheaded by Danish head talent scout Frank Arnesen, are Mancienne and Di Santo really all Chelsea have to show for their money?

The youth team have just been knocked out of the FA Youth Cup by Liverpool, so the early signs aren’t great. However, there are some real gems in among the mediocrity. The captain, Liam Bridcutt, is a midfielder with a look of grit and determination that will get fans of Dennis Wise drooling. Currently on loan at Watford, the 19-year-old has been brought in by former Chelsea coach Brendan Rodgers for the struggling Championship team’s relegation battle, a sign in and of itself of Rodgers belief in the youngster’s force of personality.

Then there’s Gaël Kakuta, a Frenchman who was voted Academy’s Scholar of the Year last year in his debut season with the club after joining from Lens. With a sharp left foot and eye for goal, he could well be the long term successor to Thierry Henry‘s Premiership legacy – if he stays fit, that is. Which currently isn’t looking all that likely after Kakuta broke a leg and ankle in training earlier this month. At 17, the striker is well ahead of the curve in terms of development and has all the time in the world to make a full recovery. However Hiddink doesn’t have that luxury.

It’s worth pointing out that other, more widely recognised names are still hanging in and around the periphery of the first team. Ben Sahar – currently on loan at Dutch Eredivisie side De Graafschap – seems much older than his 19-years with a handful of Chelsea run-outs and 13 caps for Israel already under his belt. Ryan Bertrand has just broken into Stuart Pearce‘s England Under-21s after amassing more than 40 games for Norwich City over two separate loan spells. With Wayne Bridge now out of the equation, the attacking left back may just find himself in the first team mix next season.

But I suspect he won’t, that Sahar will be sold to one of many suitors and that it will be two or three years before we begin to see the first glimmers of Kakuta’s promise in the Premiership. Why? Because yes, these are players are good, but they probably aren’t as good as – say – Everton‘s teenage stars Dan Gosling and Jack Rodwell. And perhaps more importantly, they aren’t as needed. Yes, Hiddink could probably pick Bridcutt in the heart of his midfield against Aston Villa this afternoon. Or he could  pick Germany captain and footballing superstar Michael Ballack. And as the old saying goes, nobody ever got sacked for picking Ballack.

Watch Kakuta in action: