Ruben Loftus-Cheek shows youth the way: Jose Mourinho
Chelsea's young players may be FA Youth Cup winners and European champions, but Jose Mourinho believes Ruben Loftus-Cheek's ascension to the first team is the academy's biggest prize this season.
Not since John Terry's emergence almost 17 years ago have Chelsea produced a homegrown player to feature prominently in the first XI, but Mourinho clearly has plans for midfielder Loftus-Cheek and the Blues' other youngsters, many of whom are English.
"This year, the most important title for the academy was Ruben, not the European or FA Youth Cup. It was Ruben," Mourinho said.
The challenge will be to balance integrating the youngsters into his first team with winning matches and trophies - a process that begins with the Premier League champions' clash at The Hawthorns tonight.
The 18-year-old Isaiah Brown is poised to make his debut against his former club West Brom and Loftus-Cheek will make his second successive Premier League start.
"Izzy Brown - he plays," Mourinho said. "I want him to be champion and I want him to have his debut for Chelsea in the Premier League at West Brom.
"It means double for him to play for Chelsea, to be champions and to play against his old club."
Loftus-Cheek, Nathan Ake and Andreas Christiansen have been training regularly with the first team this season, while there are high hopes, too, for Brown, Dominic Solanke, Lewis Baker, Jeremie Boga and Charly Musonda.
Loftus-Cheek, who is 19, made his debut in the Champions League defeat of Sporting Lisbon in December and his first start against Liverpool last week.
His potential is such that Mourinho intends to retain him in the first-team squad next term, while others of his generation will continue their development amongst Chelsea's vast ranks of players out on loan.
Mourinho was asked, hypothetically, if the arrival of someone like Juventus' Paul Pogba - a reported £70million target for a host of Europe's top clubs - would stifle the emergence of Loftus-Cheek.
Mourinho said no, believing instead that any incoming recruit could help push on the development of Chelsea's youngsters to be potentially better than any signing.
"Maybe he is better than the player I buy," Mourinho added.
"And if he is, he plays and the player I buy doesn't. But at the moment he's not better."
Mourinho is measured in his excitement and expectations for Chelsea's next generation, who he does not wish to get ahead of themselves.
"In modern football, because of the agents and the parents, when the players are in the process of being almost there, they think they are already there," Mourinho said. "They make the players think they have arrived when they haven't. They think about money before the career starts and everything gets very, very confused.
"That doesn't help the players. They need stability. To be in a big team and to reach the level to be playing regularly for the first-team, you need time and stability. We try to give that to our boys."