Chelsea Will Overlook Ethan Ampadu at Their Own Peril in Defensive Shake-Up

Aug 10, 2020, 8:00 PM GMT+1
Ethan Ampadu
Tottenham Hotspur v RB Leipzig - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg | Ashley Western/MB Media/Getty Images

When Ethan Ampadu departed Chelsea on loan to RB Leipzig last summer it seemed a transfer match made in heaven.

Wales' next big thing, a footballing centre-back-cum-defensive-midfielder, heading to the Bundesliga to play under a young and charismatic coach in Julian Nagelsmann, in a young, dynamic, possession-based side in Leipzig. Surely he would swiftly become a key cog in 'Baby Mourinho's' well-oiled machine?

Alas, as is so often the case for Chelsea loanees, it wasn't to be.

The 19-year-old managed just 78 minutes in the league, with his manager preferring Dayot Upamecano, Marcel Halstenberg and Lukas Klostermann as his back three.

A back issue put paid to the Welshman's season in March, although not before his most impressive display for Die Roten Bullen - standing in for the suspended Dayot Upamecano and securing a clean sheet in the crucial 1-0 Champions League last 16 first leg victory over Tottenham in north London.

Steven Bergwijn, Ethan Ampadu
Tottenham Hotspur v RB Leipzig - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

It was a performance that prompted Nagelsmann to state that Ampadu had 'proven' himself, but just days later he was back on the bench against Schalke before injury struck.

Having made just seven appearances in all competitions, the Welshman admitted in April that his loan hadn't been as good as he hoped in an interview with The Athletic, although he tempered that disappointment by adding: "It was the best decision for me and I stick by that. I don’t regret coming out here and having these experiences.

"I’ve not played as many games as I’d have liked to but in the games I’ve played in, I think I’ve done reasonably well. That’ll give me confidence, but I’ve things to learn from."

However, four months on, any hopes Ampadu had that those experiences might earn him a place in Frank Lampard's youth revolution at Stamford Bridge appear slim. If the latest rumours are to be believed, the teenager is set to follow in the footsteps of countless failed Chelsea youngsters by heading on a dreaded second loan, with Championship Norwich and newly-promoted Fulham mooted as potential destinations.

The Blues' now infamous defensive statistics for the 2019/20 campaign do beg the question: why was Ampadu the man to be sent on loan in the first place? Although young, the Wales international had been flirting with a first-team breakthrough and was very highly regarded even before his failed German foray, while the likes of Fikayo Tomori and Kurt Zouma were hardly cemented members of the first-team squad having spent time away from the club on loan themselves last season.

In Ampadu's absence, three centre-backs brought into the club from elsewhere in recent years in Toni Rüdiger, Andreas Christensen and Zouma all featured heavily as Chelsea conceded an eye-watering (quite literally for supporters) 79 goals - their highest tally in 30 years.

Those figures beg a second question: why are Chelsea willing to let Ampadu leave on loan again? When given the opportunity in a blue shirt, Ampadu has repeatedly shown that he was born for the highest level, demonstrating maturity beyond his years and the versatility to play both in central defence and defensive midfield, reflected in his becoming a crucial part of Ryan Giggs' Wales squad before the age of 20.

Ethan Ampadu
Ampadu in action for Wales | Harry Trump/Getty Images

It is hard to make sense of a lot of Chelsea's transfer business at the best of times, but having already splurged a decent amount on attacking players (with more to come), it is bizarre that the hierarchy seem prepared to haemorrhage money on West Ham's Declan Rice when - for all intents and purposes - Ethan Ampadu can do the same job.

Can you say that Rice is unquestionably a better prospect than Ampadu and worth parting with northwards of £65m for? I'd say no, probably not. While options such as Kalidou Koulibaly and Milan Škriniar would bring obvious quality and experience, they would demand a similar fee, while its hardly worth my time arguing the case for taking Ampadu over the likes of John Stones or James Tarkowski.

As the season drew to a protracted end, Lampard often spoke about how much he had learned since joining the club last summer. A lot, undoubtedly, but one lesson stands out above all: it is worth backing the kids. Each youngster he has called upon this season - bar perhaps Callum Hudson-Odoi - has done enough to repay his faith, and there is no reason to believe Ethan Ampadu would be any different given the experience he already has under his belt at just 19.

Frank Lampard, Ethan Ampadu
Frank Lampard speaks to Ethan Ampadu in pre-season | Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Granted, there is money to spend and no transfer ban to contend with, but this is an instance where the urge to splurge should be resisted; Chelsea need look no further than their academy products to find a perfectly capable solution.

Ampadu should be given the opportunity to prove his worth, just as so many others were this season, rather than risk drifting into obscurity with yet another loan.

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