Newcastle's need for a short-term fix can favour both Chelsea and England

England's Under-20 World Cup-winning team relied heavily on Chelsea's academy, but Rafael Benitez, now of Newcastle United, might hold the key to their continued success.

Newcastle's need for a short-term fix can favour both Chelsea and England

It is easily forgotten now. When Chelsea established themselves as a top-four Premier League club in the early days of Roman Abramovich's reign, it was Newcastle United they nudged out of the reckoning.

Just under two months after Jesper Gronkjaer's winner dramatically snatched fourth place and Champions League football from Liverpool on the final day of the 2002-03 season, Abramovich took charge of the Blues. Newcastle had finished third, but, while their only transfer business that summer saw Lee Bowyer arrive on a free, Chelsea spent big on the likes of Claude Makelele, Damien Duff and Hernan Crespo.

Newcastle crashed out on penalties in their Champions League qualifier and dropped to fifth in the Premier League; Chelsea breezed through to reach a European semi-final and trailed only Arsenal's Invincibles domestically.

The two clubs' fortunes have been similarly contrasting ever since.

Sleeping with the enemy

In the 14 subsequent years, Newcastle have finished above Chelsea once - when the Blues won the Champions League - and have twice suffered relegation. The Magpies sit some way below Abramovich's outfit in the rejigged order of the English game, with the London club able to pick off Demba Ba and Loic Remy after fine seasons on Tyneside.

But an unpopular former Chelsea manager now looks to be conducting regular business between the sides that can benefit all parties.

Rafael Benitez, the Blues' nemesis during his time at Liverpool, won the Europa League with Chelsea in 2012-13. He may have been appointed only as an interim boss, and the fans never took to him, but the Spaniard made connections behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge.

And so, when Benitez returned to England with Newcastle in 2016, he leaned on these contacts for favours. Christian Atsu was granted a platform to finally fulfil his potential at St James' Park, the Magpies making his loan deal permanent at the end of an impressive season and allowing Chelsea to belatedly turn a profit on a struggling star.

A month before Atsu's initial signing, ahead of a tough Championship season, Benitez's side had entertained Vitesse Arnheim - a club partnered with Chelsea - on Tyneside. Loanees Lewis Baker and Nathan both featured for the visitors.

The best around

Newcastle, of course, do not want to become the next Vitesse. "We are not a stepping stone, we are Newcastle United," Benitez, who secured a quick return to the top flight, told the Chronicle last year.

But, as they take a first step back on the Premier League's lofty ladder, the Magpies can benefit from loaning Chelsea prospects. Like Manchester United under Alex Ferguson, and Tottenham Hotspur now, the Blues' English talents should form the backbone of the national team for years to come. Newcastle are looking at the cream of the crop.

In the England set-up, between the ages of 19 and 22, Chelsea have Fikayo Tomori, Jake Clarke-Salter, Tammy Abraham, Izzy Brown, Kasey Palmer, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Nathaniel Chalobah and Baker. Ola Aina recently switched allegiances to Nigeria, while Dominic Solanke is to join Liverpool this summer after suffering from a lack of opportunities under Antonio Conte.

These are not just the country's best either. England's Under-20 side won the World Cup on Sunday, where Solanke claimed the Golden Ball. The Under-21s have every chance of going all the way in the European Championships, too.

Both Chelsea and England need these players to play regularly. The former cannot afford more situations like Solanke's, while the Three Lions are dependent on steady development to populate future squads. Newcastle are perfectly placed to give minutes to some of the brightest young stars on the planet.

It is quite a fall from competing with Chelsea for Champions League places, but the Blues' Cobham Training Centre can be Benitez's perfect supermarket - or rental store - in the short term at least.

Atsu and Abraham, set to sign after the Euros, could be just the start.


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