Chelsea have a rather chequered history when it comes to developing young talent, from facilitating the growth of homegrown stars to signing youngsters on the cheap and never giving them a chance to shine in the first team.
Whilst current first-teamers Reece James, Levi Colwill and Conor Gallagher represent how affluent the Cobham Academy is at producing incredible talent, reckless decision-making and ill-fated errors by the board have unfortunately prevented supporters from witnessing more academy graduates thrive at this prestigious football club.
From letting Declan Rice go at the age of 14 to having a 16-year-old Jamal Musiala snatched from their grasp by Bayern Munich, the Blues have let go of two world-beating talents who could have helped the Blues embark on a trophy-laden journey, with the latter finishing 26th in the Ballon d’Or list and second in the Kopa Trophy award.
The departures of Rice and Musiala, knowing what they’ve gone on to achieve, are two bitter pills to swallow, but it isn’t the only time that the board have slipped up, with their mismanagement of youngsters playing a major role in their downfall.
Chelsea’s mismanagement of young players
Chelsea are accustomed to snapping up some of the planet’s best young talent, but they are equally guilty of curtailing their development, never giving them a chance to shine in the first team, ultimately offloading them years later to watch them blossom into their potential elsewhere.
The most pressing example of this and the one that leaves supporters pulling their hair out was the decision to sell Kevin De Bruyne to Wolfsburg in 2014 after snapping him up from Genk for £6.7m two years earlier.
Everyone knows what the Belgian superstar has gone on to achieve since leaving the club, however, it isn’t the only time the Blues have been left cursing their judgement.
In 2014, Jose Mourinho captured attacking midfielder Mario Pasalic from Croatian side Hajduk Split but during his six-year spell in west London, he fell victim to the club’s ruthless policy of loaning out youngsters and never made an appearance for the club.
Much like De Bruyne, Pasalic has made Chelsea regret not utilising his talents at Stamford Bridge.
How much did Chelsea sign Mario Pasalic for
In the summer of 2014, Mario Pasalic was acquired from Hadjuk Split for a fee in the region of £3m.
Arriving on the back of a stellar campaign in Croatia, scoring 11 and supplying five assists in 36 appearances, the 19-year-old wanted to carry that impact across to his new club.
Upon his arrival, he spoke of his delight about moving to one of England’s most successful clubs.
He said: “I am very happy because I am now a Chelsea player.
“I am very impressed by the training ground and I must thank everybody at Hajduk. This is now a new start in my career.”
Unfortunately, like many youngsters, Pasalic would have his world turned upside down when he knew first-team opportunities were going to be at a premium due to the abundance of established players in the Blues squad.
In search of chances to impress elsewhere, he was loaned out to various clubs, including Elche, Monaco, AC Milan and Spartak Moscow, but it wasn’t till he arrived at Atalanta in 2018, initially on loan, that the Croatian international was truly able to thrive.
Mario Pasalic’s career at Atalanta
During his time on loan at the Italian giants, the attacking midfielder grew into Gian Pierro Gasperini’s system, perfecting his ability to time his runs into the penalty area and place himself in goalscoring positions.
While several loan spells saw him get passed around from pillar to post, he truly found a home in Bergamo, finding a coach and team that could bring the best out of his abilities.
In his debut campaign at the club, Pasalic became a vital cog in Gasperini’s machine as he made 33 appearances in Serie A and although he’d only record eight goal contributions, his strike against Sassuolo on the final day of the season was the most crucial as he helped Atalanta secure a third place finish and Champions League football.
If his first season in Italy supplied the foundations, he would build the walls of his dynasty in the following. Atalanta secured another third-place finish and embarked on a sensational journey to the Champions League quarter-finals, losing to Paris Saint Germain, while Pasalic would post 12 goals and seven assists in all competitions.
Following two successful loan spells at the Italian giants, plundering 20 goals and supplying 14 assists, Atalanta decided to make his move a permanent one in the summer of 2020, shelling out £13m on the attacking midfielder.
After almost sending Atalanta to the Champions League semi-finals with a brilliant goal against PSG, Rio Ferdinand was one of many who labelled the Blues as “crazy” for facilitating the move.
The former Manchester United star would turn out to be correct as since making the move permanent, the 6 foot 2 phenom has remarkably outscored every current Chelsea player with 26 goals since 2020, showcasing the goal threat from midfield that Mauricio Pochettino currently desires.
How Mario Pasalic compares to Conor Gallagher
In the absence of big-money signing Christopher Nkunku, the Blues have suffered from a lack of creativity and goal-scoring prowess from their midfield.
Chelsea are ninth in the Premier League for expected goals (xG) and if Pasalic was still at the club, perhaps they would benefit from the sharp and incisive runs he makes from midfield as well as his presence of mind to finish his chances.
According to FBref, the 28-year-old ranks in the top 9% for non-penalty xG against players positionally similar across Europe’s top five leagues in the past year, top 8% goals per shot, underlying his efficiency and the top 2% for aerials won, showcasing his dominance in both boxes.
When comparing those attacking metrics to Chelsea’s current midfielder, Conor Gallagher, for instance, it is clear that the 23-year-old can’t produce the same level of quality in attacking areas to Pasalic, garnering less non-penalty xG than the Croatian per 90 (0.35/0.15), fewer non-penalty goals (0.32/0.09) and less shots on goal (1.78/1.41).
Although the Englishman makes up for his lack of threat in and around the penalty box with his combative and energetic displays, there is no question that Pasalic would have brought an added dimension to Blues midfield currently, especially given his goal-scoring exploits since leaving west London.