Chelsea have been one of the strongest club in the Premier League era, winning four Premier League titles, and three European crowns. Backed by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, several top managers have managed the Blues who have employed some of the best players in world football during this time. However, the club is also notorious for letting go of more than its fair share of players in their youth who went on to achieve great success.
Major trophies in the past 20 seasons:
Man City: 13
Man United: 13
Liverpool: 9 pic.twitter.com/NsV0VklOeY
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 29, 2021
Whether due to age or not fitting in their system or lack of talent required at that stage, a number of players were deemed not good enough. Now with promising young defender Fikayo Tomori joining AC Milan on a permanent basis while Marc Guehi, another of the same mould on the verge of going to Crystal Palace, FootTheBall takes a look at the top XI who left Stamford Bridge and have become top-performers since then.
It is easy to forget that the journey man keeper was a big name at the Chelsea academy. He joined in 2003 as a 17-year-old before leaving three years later without making any appearances for the senior team, signing his first professional contract with Fulham. He went on to play for Bristol Rovers, Crewe Alexandra, Charlton Athletic, and Walsall before linking up with Cardiff City in 2017.
First player from the Philippines to play in the Premier League
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Neil Etheridge 🙌 pic.twitter.com/OSmPvNnFdS
— bet365 (@bet365) August 18, 2018
Etheridge became a key member of the Bluebirds, earning promotion to the Premier League at the end of 2018. He managed to keep 10 clean sheets in his maiden top-flight season as Cardiff were relegated. Etheridge finished the least season with Birmingham City, whom he joined in September and kept 13 clean sheets. Still only 30-years-old, Etheridge has become a reliable name in goal for the lower leagues.
The young right-back left Chelsea in January 2020 to join Brighton and Hove Albion where he impressed around the country. Having spent time at the Blues’ academy since he was eight years old, Lamptey appeared three times for his boyhood club. With Chelsea already possessing the ever reliable Cesar Azpilicueta and Reece James developing into a very reliable deputy, it was evident that Lamptey would rarely find a place in the squad.
Tariq Lamptey’s two goal involvements in the Premier League this season have come against ‘big six’ sides:
• Assist vs. Chelsea
• Goal vs. Spurs
Such an impressive talent. 🏴 pic.twitter.com/yloB8fqjg0
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) November 1, 2020
Since joining the Seagulls, Lamptey has firmly established himself as a starter with his pace, intensity and ability to run at the opposition. He had one assist and one goal in 11 appearances before being sidelined with a hamstring injury at the end of December. At just 20-years-old, Lamptey has one of the brightest futures at the top level in football.
One of the players on this list to have already spent time abroad before leaving Chelsea. Tomori won the UEFA Youth League and FA Youth Cup during his time with the Chelsea academy. However, since making his debut in the final game of the 2015-16 season, he had a troika of loan spells at Brighton, Hull City and Derby County.
— Fikayo Tomori (@fikayotomori_) September 14, 2019
It was with the Rams under Frank Lampard in 2018-19 that Tomori had a breakthrough season, making 44 appearances and being named the club’s ‘Player of the Year.’ Taking that form to Stamford Bridge, Tomori would have been hopeful of more game time with the senior team. He made 15 starts in the league but the last season went way off track.
Fikayo Tomori vs Juventus
88% pass accuracy
2 tackles won
3 blocked shots
23 years of age. Ronaldo in Fikayo's pocket. Giant. 🔴⚫️ pic.twitter.com/UY9qiacC9J
— Football Talent Scout – Jacek Kulig (@FTalentScout) May 9, 2021
The signing of Thiago Silva pushed him further down the pecking order, with Tomori having just one appearance before leaving for AC Milan on loan in January. He had career rejuvenation with the Rossoneri, keeping more than 10 clean sheets in 17 appearances in some truly towering performances. That was enough to convince the club to sign him on a permanent basis for 25 million.
The latest member on the list to be leaving Stamford Bridge. Guehi is said to have even more promise than Tomori which makes it a certainty that bigger things await for him. The 21-year-old is another long standing member of the Chelsea youth teams appearing for all age levels. He made his debut in the 2019-20 season before leaving for Swansea City in January 2020.
Marc Guehi for Swansea in the Championship 2020/21:
✅16 clean sheets
✅1.6 tackles won per 90
✅1.6 interceptions per 90
✅2.6 clearances per 90
✅3.3 aerials won per 90
✅74% ground duels won
— Football Talent Scout – Jacek Kulig (@FTalentScout) July 15, 2021
Having impressed with the Swans, he spent the entirety of last season at Liberty Stadium helping the team making the Championship Play-Off final. With a passing accuracy of 78%, 103 clearances and 65 interceptions, he has honed his game well. Furthermore, his dribbling accuracy rate of 90% means that he is also extremely efficient with the ball at his feet. Joining the Eagles seems like the best move as he will see more action in a mid-table side with a new manager in Patrick Vierra.
The Dutch defender joined the Blues as a 15-year-old in 2010 from Feyenoord and made his debut just two years later against Norwich City in the FA Cup. However, that proved to be false dawn in the youngster’s Chelsea career as he became part of the club’s loan carousel. With spells at Reading, Watford, and Bournemouth, the latter of which came in the Premier League over the 2016-17 season.
Ake did return to Chelsea briefly but it was only to make permanent his move to the Vitality Stadium for 20 million. He established himself as a top-notch defender, able to play in the centre and the left side of defence during his three years with the club. That led to another big move for the defender, as Manchester City came calling.
We’re excited to announce the signing of @NathanAke from Bournemouth on a five-year deal ✍️
— Manchester City (@ManCity) August 5, 2020
He made 10 appearances in the Premier League with the Cityzens winning the league title. Still only 26-years-old, Ake can be a reliable starting option for any top club if he does leave Manchester. It does look likely given that Pep Guardiola is set to continue with the current partnership of John Stones and Ruben Dias for the upcoming season as well.
One of the heroes of England’s spectacular and heroic run to the final of Euro 2020. Rice has developed into a brilliant defensive midfielder, able to protect the ball supremely well as well as starting attacks from midfield. His positioning sense and willingness to tackle has been on display over the past few seasons with West Ham United, but it could have been very different had Chelsea kept him.
Declan Rice at Euro 2020:
✅54 passes per 90
✅91% pass accuracy
✅2.4 tackles won per 90
✅2 interceptions per 90
✅1.3 clearances per 90
✅68% defensive duels won
✅12.3 forward passes per 90/83% accuracy
Controller & dominator. 🏴 pic.twitter.com/r2Pb1Squ8c
— Football Talent Scout – Jacek Kulig (@FTalentScout) July 12, 2021
Rice joined the Blues’ academy as a seven-year-old before being released when he was 14, which led to signing with the Hammers. He made his senior team debut in their final game of the 2016-17 season against Burnley and has gone on to make over 100 appearances for the London club. Under David Moyes, his game has also gone on to another level.
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) February 15, 2021
Rice is currently the vice-captain of the side which finished 6th and qualified for the UEFA Europa League for the first time. Given that Rice is just 21-years-old and already being linked with a big money move to a top club, this has to be one of the costliest blunders for Chelsea. Furthermore, after his illustrious performances at the Euros, he is also set to become a mainstay of the national squad for years.
KEVIN DE BRUYNE
Arguably the biggest mistake made by the club in terms of selling a player early. De Bruyne was a already a league winner with Genk in his homeland before joining Chelsea in 2012. He spent the 2012-13 season on loan with Werder Bremen where he scored 10 goals in the Bundesliga before returning to Stamford Bridge.
🇧🇪 Kevin De Bruyne had an explosive season at Wolfsburg in 2014/15.
De Bruyne's Bundesliga Stats 2014/15;
— SportyBet (@SportyBet) January 16, 2021
However, he only appeared nine times across all competitions before leaving on a permanent basis to Wolfsburg in January 2014. His first full season back in Germany saw him rack up 10 goals and 20 assists (highest in the league) as the club won the DFB-Pokal. That was enough to convince Manchester City to take a punt on the then 24-year-old and it has proved to be one of the most brilliant pieces of transfer in Premier League history.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) June 6, 2021
De Bruyne has turned into one of the most creative and fearsome attacking midfielders of his time, with the club winning three Premier League titles, five League Cups and one FA Cup so far. De Bruyne has also matched Thierry Henry’s record of 20 assists in a season in 2019-20 which led to him winning the PFA Player of the Year. He won the honour once again last season with six goals and 12 assists. That 54 million of transfer fee paid by City has already proved to be a bargain.
The younger brother of Eden Hazard joined Chelsea in the same transfer window of 2012. Unlike his older brother, the Blues immediately loaned him out to Zulte Waregem in the Belgian top-flight for two years. Hazard enjoyed good success there, winning the Belgian Footballer of the Year in 2013-14.
Thorgan Hazard for Borussia Monchengladbach in 2018-19:
Borussia Dortmund have signed him on a five-year deal. pic.twitter.com/9muZAD1BPz
— bet365 (@bet365) May 22, 2019
After returning, he was again shipped out to Borussia Monchengladbach in the Bundesliga whom he joined on a permanent basis in 2015. Having made more than 100 appearances for the Foals and scoring almost 50 goals, he moved to Borussia Dortmund in 2019. Hazard had developed into a solid wing player, able to play on either side and also as a wing-back.
Congratulations to Thorgan Hazard on reaching his 50th appearance 👏 pic.twitter.com/ySkzDSx03d
— Borussia Dortmund (@BlackYellow) November 8, 2020
He scored seven goals and provided 13 assists in his first season with his new club before helping them win the DFB-Pokal last season. Thought not as successful as Eden, Chelsea will still feel they let a tenacious, hardworking midfielder escape their grasp once again far too easily.
Another title winner to end up being frustrated with Chelsea. Salah joined the Blues in 2014, ironically the same year De Bruyne left, for 11 million. He made 10 appearances in the Premier League in his debut season, scoring two goals. With just three appearances in the following year, Salah joined Fiorentina on loan in January 2015.
— AS Roma English (@ASRomaEN) June 15, 2017
After impressing with the Viola, he was allowed to join their rivals AS Roma for the 2015-16 campaign. Salah managed 14 goals and six assists in Serie A which was enough for Roma to sign him permanently. That move propelled the Giallorossi to a second-placed finish and their best points tally as Salah scored 15 goals and provided 11 assists. Liverpool brought Salah to Anfield for a then club-record 36 million and the rewards were instantaneous.
Mo Salah’s 19/20 Premier League season in numbers:
• 19 goals (1st at Liverpool)
• 10 assists (3rd)
• 61 chances created (2nd)
• 50 dribbles completed (3rd) pic.twitter.com/jv1oNuRM2J
— LFC Stats (@LFCData) August 4, 2020
He finished as the Premier League’s top scorer with 32 goals in his first season with the Reds. The three subsequent seasons produced 22, 19, and 22 goals respectively as Liverpool won the Champions League and their first Premier League title during this time. Having become one of the most feared forwards in the game, Chelsea will surely be regretting not giving him enough time.
The start of the 2010s was really awful for Chelsea in terms of transfer activity. Before Lukaku’s three spells with three clubs in England, the Blues had first rights on the striker in 2011. Indeed, they signed yet ANOTHER league winner from Belgium who had also been the top goal-scorer there. However, he only made eight appearances in his debut season scoring zero goals. That led the club to loan him out to West Bromwich Albion for 2012-13 where he scored 17 goals, including a hat-trick against Manchester United in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game in charge of the Red Devils.
This is where other parent clubs would have looked to integrate the forward back in their senior team. Of course, that did not materialize with Lukaku having another season-long spell with Everton where he scored 15 goals. The Toffees signed him on a permanent basis in 2014 where he really broke out as a star. Lukaku had the inherent ability of pace, trickery and fearsome shots along with supreme heading skills.
20+10 – Romelu Lukaku is the first player able to score 20+ goals and deliver 10+ assists in a single Serie A season since Opta started to collect this data (since 2004/05). Polyhedric.#CrotoneInter pic.twitter.com/n7KceOGd0X
— OptaPaolo 🏆 (@OptaPaolo) May 1, 2021
Though his subsequent move to Manchester United did not work out, he has been simply unstoppable with Inter for the past two seasons. Leading the attack for the Nerrazzuri, he has improved his overall game tremendously to make Inter champions of Italy last season. Given Chelsea’s frequent struggles with finding a reliable striker, Lukaku could have been more than handy.
Five years, zero first team appearances, six loan spells. That was Bamford’s career trajectory till 2017. He joined the Blues as an 18-year-old in 2012 but immediately headed out on loan to MK Dons for two seasons. Bamford scored 18 goals in the Championship before another loan spells beckoned with Middlesbrough for the 2014-15 season.
His 17 goals saw him being named as the Championship Player of the Year, but apparently that does not count for much at Stamford Bridge. After a few loan spells more, he joined Boro in 2017 on a permanent transfer. His real breakthrough as a consistent and reliable striker came after signing for Leeds United in 2018 with whom he achieved promotion in 2020.
⚽️ 14 goals
🅰️ 6 assists
— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) March 19, 2021
In his first season in the top flight, Bamford scored 17 goals and came to within a whisker of making England’s squad for the Euros. If he can keep up his form, a call-up is very much a possibility in the near future. That will be sweet justice for a player who many think should already have been capped at the international level by now.