CHELSEA’S success in finally giving their academy prospects a first-team chance is a long time coming after years of ignoring rising stars, according to SEVEN-TIME loanee Kenneth Omeruo.
The Nigerian defender, 26, never made an appearance in a Blues shirtduring a seven-year stay on the club’s booksand feels their policy of farming out youngsters unfairly deprived them of a chance to shine.
Frank Lampard has earned many plaudits forsuccessfully introducing Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and more into the first-teamamid their recently-ended Fifa transfer ban.
But Omeruo doesn’t believe the current crop of youth players, while “fantastic”, are significantly better than the troop of loanees he was a part of before leaving for good in the summer.
He told SunSport: “They are there at the right time.
“For them it was a matter of chance and they came at the right time because any one of us who played, played very well.
“Kurt Zouma is doing well and he was from the same set [of loanees]. All the players Chelsea have had, have been quality players.”
The Blues signed Omeruo off the back of his performances with Nigeria in the 2011 Under-20 World Cup.
Admitting that he “didn’t quite believe” the Premier League giants had come in for him, the centre-back was sent out on loan to ADO Den Haag while awaiting a work permit.
Middlesbrough, Kasimpasa, Alanyaspor andcurrent permanent employers Leganeswould later take on Omeruo who describes his career like a series of near misses.
I hoped I would at least get one match to play or one pre-season tournament. But I never got a pre-season.
A shoulder injury ended his chances of a Chelsea bow after the Den Haag spell and a Premier League loan move to QPR was passed up as Jose Mourinho egged on a second stay with Championship Boro.
Aitor Karanka pushed hard to sign him following the 2014 World Cup but the switch didn’t go to plan and is now put down as a “mistake” by the player.
A later move to Besiktas was also on the cards before the Istanbul side pulled out at the last minute, a “crazy” situation that gave Omeruo just three days to find a loan team – eventually settling on newly-promoted Alanyaspor.
All the while, he was desperate for that one chance to impress in a first-team Chelsea game.
Omeruo continued: “I knew what the situation was. For me, I was just hoping I would have that opportunity to play even if it was just one game but it never happened.
“With my profile I hoped I would at least get one match to play or one pre-season tournament. But I never got a pre-season.
“I really don’t think I failed as a Chelsea player, that I failed to break into the team, because there was never the opportunity to.”
The closest Omeruo got was the 2017 pre-season tour of China, a plan scuppered by a visa issue owing to his Nigerian passport.
He added: “I’m sure if I was in the plan from the start to go to China, they would have had time to do the visa and everything.
“It’s one of those things, I don’t think about it now. I’m happy playing in one of the top leagues in the world.”
There was still plenty of camaraderie in Chelsea’s infamous loan group, including a WhatsApp chat where Omeruo teased fellow defender Tomori to switch his international allegiance to Nigeria.
The centre-back recalled: “Tomori was a bit younger but he has really improved a lot. Unfortunately for him he chose England. I wanted him to play for Nigeria!
“[The WhatsApp messages] were good, the boys could catch up and share videos whenever a player made it into team of the week or was man of the match. That was a good connection.”
However Omeruo admits to not feeling too much allegiance to his former employers as he was never the type “who wanted to play for Chelsea no matter what” –he just sought to play football and appear for his national team.
And the continuing lack of first-team opportunities took their toll, saying: “The truth is that everyone in that group was a fantastic player and that is really showing now at Chelsea.
“Like for me, I had a fantastic season last season but when you check on the players on loan they are still good players who deserve to be at Chelsea and to play.
“Everyone just gets to that stage when you want to leave. I’ve not been that sort of player who wants to play for Chelsea no matter what – I wanted to just play. I go to wherever I’m wanted, where I’m guaranteed playing opportunity.
“Some of the players I saw were mostly the same level, you could use them to learn from them, when all the centre-backs get together we are good friends but we knew every one was a quality player.
“Every one deserves their chance. You will not find a player and think ‘Why did Chelsea sign them?’ You will see the quality in him.”
There is a worry thatthe end of Chelsea’s transfer banwill call time on the youth revolution that has brought fans and owner Roman Abramovich closer to the team than they have been for years.
Omeruo feels former colleague Lampard has had it easy in some respects, with less-senior players not as likely to complain about his methods – especially given his club legend status.
But that could all change if the money tap is turned on again and all habits prove to die hard.
The Nigerian claimed: “The problem with Chelsea is they have so much money to spend on players.
“So they hardly looked at the academy. I hope that changes because a lot of players came through the academy and didn’t get a chance to play.
“The senior players [a few years ago] would have maybe had a problem with the manager.
“I trained several times with [Lampard] under Jose Mourinho and most players might feel that he’s not ready to coach them.
“But the kind of players he has now are young, who respect him as a player and as a legend of the club. So it’s easy for him to get his information across.”
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