Mark Robinson on a season of discovery, progression and focus
Robinson shares his insights on his first season in charge of the development squad and highlights the significance of setting a strong identity and culture within the squad.
Throughout the campaign, Robinson faced the dual challenge of nurturing young talent while pursuing positive results on the field. Striking a delicate balance between player development and performance outcomes, he emphasised the importance of finding equilibrium.
‘You spend a significant amount of time on player development while aiming to deliver results, so finding that balance is crucial,’ Robinson acknowledged. ‘It has been such an enjoyable process this season, working with so many talented players, all striving for the top level. Having the opportunity to nurture these talents and get them to perform and play well together was great to witness.’
This approach ensured the squad not only grew individually but also experienced success as a collective unit.
A prevailing theme in Robinson’s team talks this season has been the notion of unity and togetherness among the players. Recognising each player harbours personal ambitions and goals, the Under-21s head coach underlined the need to channel their energies towards the shared targets and embrace the Academy process.
‘This season, myself and the coaching staff were set on instilling a collective mindset, where our players would not only further their own growth but also contribute positively to the team’s progression. We felt it was important for these players to buy into that first as that would ultimately allow them to express themselves on the pitch and perform to the best of their abilities.’
The 2021/22 PL2 campaign saw our young Blues escape relegation with a final day of the season win against Tottenham Hotspur at Cobham. A number of players from that squad played a big part of this season’s title push and Robinson noticed the players grew in character following that experience.
‘A lot of the boys showed great leadership and character throughout the season and that was highlighted even more during our player-led game against Monaco’s equivalent side. There is so much experience within this squad at Academy level and at international youth level that it did not surprise me to come into a squad filled with strong and intelligent players.’
Nevertheless, the closing stages of the season presented a challenging moment for the squad, as results took an unexpected dip. When the title seemed out of reach, maintaining motivation and focus became increasingly demanding. Robinson viewed this period as a valuable learning experience for both the players and coaching staff.
‘Losing games does not require a significant drop-off – even a slight loss in focus can tip the balance in favour of the opposition,’ he explained.
Having been unbeaten in the league from September to the end of January, one point in our final five games saw the title slip away. And the former Wimbledon boss spoke on how his team can improve for next year.
‘I think the last stretch of the season, in terms of how it unravelled, came as a surprise to us. Things stopped going our way and a slight loss in focus saw us lose games which we would not have lost earlier in the season. Despite that, we have to take responsibility collectively and ensure we carry it over into the new season.‘
The season also witnessed several Academy players making their debuts for the first team. Omari Hutchinson and Bashir Humphreys both featured in January while Lewis Hall emerged as a regular presence in the senior side, making 11 appearances in all competitions.
These accomplishments exemplify Chelsea’s commitment to nurturing talent and providing deserving individuals with opportunities to shine at the highest level.
‘We are proud of all the boys who have made the step-up and impressed,’ said Robinson. ‘This is what it is all about and throughout the season, a number of boys have trained with the first-team and gained experience in the levels and the quality on show at the highest level. It is great that some of the boys have continued to show their capabilities in competitive action too and we want to continue that.’
The development squad head coach added: ‘It is so important we keep all our players ready, as they could be called upon at any moment. Getting them ready for the realities of professional football at the highest level both on and off the pitch is one our biggest responsibilities.’
Humphreys is an example of that preparation and the young centre-back, who spent the second half of the season on loan at SC Paderborn, made a significant impact during his time in Germany. With 12 league appearances to his name, the 20-year-old showcased not only his leadership qualities but also garnered praise for his assertiveness at such a young age.
‘Bashir, who was our captain before he left, impressed as he did not shy away from showing his leadership and communication skills while over in Germany. This again highlights our program, how we want our boys to be able to be flexible and confident enough to assert themselves in whatever environment they find themselves in.’
The Under-21s coach expressed further his gratitude for the unwavering support and guidance provided by the Academy leadership team throughout the season. He acknowledges their commitment to fostering a nurturing environment where young talents can flourish and develop.
Looking ahead to the next term, Robinson is optimistic and eager to continue the journey of growth and success with his talented squad.
‘I am grateful for the tremendous support from the Academy leadership team, and I am excited about the future,’ he said. ‘We have laid a solid foundation this season, and I am confident that together, we will achieve even greater heights in the upcoming campaign.’
With a strong sense of purpose and collective determination, Chelsea’s development squad is poised to make their mark in the seasons to come.