Chelsea are accustomed to picking up young talent from overseas, having stocked their academy with some of the brightest talents for more than a decade.
However, they now find the boot on the other foot, with 16-year-old prospect Charlie Webster reportedly on the radar of Borussia Dortmund, who can point to Jadon Sancho’s development since moving over from Manchester City if they want to show the youngster what a Bundesliga switch could do for him.
The Telegraph reports that Chelsea remain keen to keep hold of the teenager, hoping to tie him down to a longer-term deal when he turns 17 in January and a professional contract is an option. And there are plenty of reasons why they’ll be keen to do so.
Webster was named player of the tournament as Chelsea won the 2019 Kevin de Bruyne Cup, an international under-15 competition, with the write-up describing him as a “graceful central midfielder”.
Other clubs to send squads to the tournament in Belgium included Manchester City, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, with Chelsea player development officer Frank O’Brien speaking of the “invaluable” experience the tournament provided to the young squad.
Since then, Webster has featured on multiple occasions for Chelsea’s under-18 squad, starting in the Premier League Cup semi-final in February as the Blues were beaten by Stoke after extra-time.
He also impressed against Southampton, with the match report calling him “full of energy”, while it was his interception in the Stoke game which helped Chelsea open the scoring.
Webster’s form in blue has also seen him earn recognition for England, and he has been among the goals at international level for the Under-16s.
He has played nine times for Justin Cochrane’s side, netting in games against Ireland in August and Japan in December, where he scored the fifth in a 5-0 victory.
Chelsea colleagues Jude Soonsup-Bell and Lewis Hall were also among the goals in the Japan game, while Webster was named captain for the meeting with Ireland, which ended 3-3.
There’s a significant Chelsea presence throughout the England youth ranks, with right-back Derrick Abu and midfielder Harvey Vale among the young Blues to feature for England’s Under-17 squad, so international options are clearly available to those who progress through the ranks at Stamford Bridge.
Webster was also one of the Chelsea schoolboys who took part in a work experience programme aimed at broadening the youngsters’ minds and showcasing other careers tied to the football world.
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“It’s not all about playing football all of the time because you can move into another career or use what you’ve done in the game to help you further down the line,” he said of the experience.
One thing which may encourage players like Webster to stay at Stamford Bridge is the opportunities awarded to other academy products not too many years his senior.
The likes of Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Reece James have all seen plenty of game time under Frank Lampard, having worked their way through the ranks, while Callum Hudson-Odoi made an earlier breakthrough and teenagers Billy Gilmour, Tino Anjorin and Armando Broja have all made their Premier League debuts in 2019 or 2020.
Mount, another midfielder, is perhaps the player whose path Webster will want to look at the most closely. He is another to have come through every England age group, beginning with the Under-16s and made his first-team debut in August after two impressive loan spells away from West London.
If Webster continues along his current path and commits his long-term future to Chelsea, he’ll be hopeful this is what awaits him. Perhaps he’ll even have the opportunity to make the step up even earlier.