Swansea 1 Chelsea 0: It was, of course, Alan Hansen who famously suggested “you can’t win anything with kids” 21 years ago before a youthful Manchester United won the Premier League title.
The former Match of the Day pundit might have been proved wrong but Swansea midfielder Jack Cork believes that way of thinking will count against up-and-coming Chelsea players currently trying to make it at Stamford Bridge.
And Cork should know because he came through the Chelsea ranks after joining the club at the age of nine before having to leave to make his fortune elsewhere after being deemed surplus to requirements.
He had captained the youth and reserve teams but left Chelsea for Southampton five years ago without making a single first-team appearance as big-money signings came and went in the quest for instant gratification.
While the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Bertrand Traore have already got further than Cork did, it is worth listening to what he has to say about their prospects of making it long-term at Chelsea.
They may have been given a chance to impress incoming manager Antonio Conte by interim manager Guus Hiddink but Cork is not of the opinion that they should be getting their hopes up too much judging by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s willingness to splash out on proven talent.
“With a new manager coming in the pressure will be on him to win games,” Cork said, “and it might take a while to bring through some of the youngsters but it will be interesting to see when he comes in and how he does things.
“I do see them spending big in the summer because they have got a history of spending big, haven’t they? I wouldn’t be able to say for sure. It’s nothing to do with me but they will probably have a go in the summer and try and go again.
“They have invested heavily in the academy and I know they’ve got a lot of good talent in there. They’ve won a lot of FA Youth Cups so the quality is there but there is a lot of pressure on them to win titles and win trophies.”
Chelsea have been linked with a move for Everton striker Romelu Lukaku this summer, which is bound to have been noted by Loftus-Cheek, a player who impressed Cork at the Liberty Stadium.
“Maybe it isn’t a good time for the club results-wise but it’s good that they are giving young players a chance and it hasn’t been like that recently,” Cork told reporters after helping Swansea to their first ever Premier League win over Chelsea.
“It’s nice to see them getting an opportunity to prove themselves, like Loftus-Cheek who was one of the better players today. Hiddink’s put quite a lot of trust in the young players. It’s nice to see that even on the bench they’ve got young lads (teenagers Ola Aina, Kasey Palmer and Charlie Colkett) and a few are starting and doing well.”
Cork, whose club is now effectively safe from relegation, looks back fondly on his Chelsea days. “I wouldn’t have changed it,” he said. “I had great experiences on loan. I loved it. I moved away and had no hard feelings and it’s gone well since.
Cork bit the proverbial hand that used to feed with an industrious performance in the midfield trenches as Gylfi Sigurdsson’s 25th-minute volley ultimately ended Chelsea’s 15-game unbeaten Premier League run.
Hiddink, without the likes of John Terry, Gary Cahill and Eden Hazard due to injury and Diego Costa due to suspension, replaced Loftus-Cheek with Radamel Falcao late on. The decision was greeted with derision by visiting supporters but Hiddink defended his move, stating: “When there are tighter games, we have the right to make substitution whenever it is.”
Despite the setback, Hiddink — who insisted “everyone has to fight for his position” once Conte arrives brandishing a clean slate — is refusing to give up hope Chelsea can qualify for European football, convinced that will foster youth development.
“If Chelsea can get in the spots in Europe, and it won’t be the Champions League, it will bring with it a busy schedule,” he said. “Then you have more stage for the younger players and players and knocking on the door.”
Fabianski 7, Rangel 6, Fernandez 7, Williams 8, Taylor 6; Cork 7, Fer 7, Ayew 6 (Routledge 67, 6) Sigurdsson 8, Montero 9 (Naughton 84, 6); Paloschi 6 (Gomis 75, 4).
Subs not used:
Nordfeldt, Amat, Sung-Yeung, Barrow.
Begovic 7, Azpilicueta 5, Miazga 4 (Kenedy h-t, 6), Ivanovic 6, Baba 6, Mikel 6, Fabregas 5, Pedro 6, Loftus-Cheek 7 (Falcao 76, 5), Oscar 6, Pato 4 (Traore 65, 6).
Subs not used:
Courtois, Aina, Palmer, Colkett.
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