When Chelsea triumphed against all the odds on that historic night in Munich in 2012, everyone in blue was invited to party.
Young stars and veterans mixed in the limelight as Chelsea became the first, and to this day, the only London club to win European football’s most glorious and prestigious prize.
Among the travelling party was Jamal Blackman, a talented young 18-year-old who made one appearance on the bench during a topsy-turvy 5-3 defeat at the hands of Arsenal at Stamford Bridge in October.
Fast-forward eight years, and Blackman has made less than 100 senior appearances, and is mired within the much-debated Chelsea loan system with seven loan spells across three countries, to date.
How did this happen exactly?
A Precocious Talent
Jamal Blackman first shot to prominence at U16 level for England, being a part of a succession of English wins for the Victory Shield trophy.
Blackman had spent several years at Chelsea, joining them at U13 level and quickly established himself as a regular in the youth teams.
His reach and presence was outstanding for his age group, and he would continue to garner plaudits for this aspect of his game.
Blackman was ever-present as Chelsea took the FA Youth Cup back to Stamford Bridge in 2012, making crucial saves in penalty shoot-outs against Norwich and West Ham. Although Blackman only kept two clean sheets throughout the tournament, he was an integral member of an often changing starting XI.
Trapped in the Loan Cycle
The loan to Middlesbrough promised much, but delivered little. Blackman was called up for England’s U21 squad in August 2014, but his single Middlesbrough appearance came in the memorable 2-2 draw against Liverpool, with Blackman redeeming himself after a critical error in the match, saving Raheem Sterling’s shot in the penalty shoot-out, and then scoring against
Simon Mignolet himself in sudden death. Blackman was pulled back to Chelsea in January 2015, but got nowhere near the first team; this is unsurprising considering he was competing with Thibaut Courtois and Petr Cech for opportunities.
Over a year later and Blackman was packing his bags again to join Ostersunds FK on loan in March 2016. He managed a paltry twelve appearances in the Allsvenskan, as the Swedish minnows achieved a respectable 8th place finish. Already 22, Blackman did not seem to have a long-term future with the club. Although he excelled at youth level, he never had the chance to step up, and presumably never showed enough. To be fair to the club, Blackman was always solid if not spectacular, and benefitted from having some true quality in front of him at Chelsea U21 level – names like Andreas Christensen, Ola Aina and Nathan Ake spring to mind.
Blackman joined Wycombe Wanderers in League Two on loan in August 2016 and enjoyed his best season. With over 50 appearances for the Chairboys, Blackman kept 16 clean sheets in all competitions, and despite Wycombe just missing out on the play-offs by a solitary point, Blackman won the club’s Young Player of the Year award, and was often discussed as a candidate for Best Goalkeeper in League Two. Despite clamour from fans to try and sort a permanent deal out for the young Englishman, it was clear Blackman demanded to cut his cloth at a higher level. A new deal at Chelsea followed, keeping him contracted until 2021.
Good Luck, Horrible Luck, and Bad Judgement
In July 2017, Blackman joined Sheffield United under the stewardship of Blade’s cult-hero and lifelong fan, Chris Wilder. Blackman was seen as cover for undisputed No. 1 Simon Moore, but after he was injured in pre-season, Blackman seized his chance to take the first-choice goalkeeper spot. Even a short injury in October, which kept him out for several weeks, did not lose him the first team spot. Blackman became a fan-favourite at Bramall Lane after a stunning save from Pontus Jansson in a Yorkshire derby against Leeds, and earned Man of the Match for a superb performance against Nottingham Forest.
However, Blackman lost the #1 jersey in regrettable circumstances, after a silly red
card for violent conduct against Brentford. Although Sheffield United wanted to bring him back for another season, after his thirty-three appearances and eight clean sheets, Chelsea had other plans for Blackman.
A shock loan to Leeds in 2018 raised eyebrows. It was intended that Blackman would compete with Bailey Peacock-Farrell for the #1 jersey- like he managed so aptly at Bramall Lane and Adams Park- but fate had other plans. Chained to the bench in the Championship, Blackman made a big mistake in the EFL Cup against Preston on his second appearance for Leeds, and ended up stuck in U23 football once again. A broken tibia in 3-0 defeat against Birmingham City led to Blackman’s loan spell being slashed. Blackman wouldn’t make a senior appearance for over two years. A loan deal to Vitesse Arnhem never seemed like a good decision, and it would be fascinating to discuss with the Chelsea hierarchy who sanctioned this loan deal. Rumours of poor attitude abounded in Holland, and Blackman didn’t even once make the matchday squad for the Eredivisie outfit.
In January this year, Blackman finally played senior football again with Bristol Rovers in League One. No longer a young talent, regular minutes are now essential in the most competitive position in any squad. Since joining them in January, he’s managed 10 appearances playing the full 90, and kept three clean sheets. After so long on the side lines, one of the earliest flickers of Chelsea’s youth football dominance that pervaded the previous decade, is finally back in consistent action.
At 26, Blackman still has a long career ahead of himself as far as goalkeepers are concerned, but his career stands at a crossroads this summer. In the world of Chelsea’s loan system, there are winners and losers, and sadly due to a mix of injuries and bad choices, Blackman certainly falls in the latter’s camp. No one wanted, or would have predicted, this outcome as the ticker-tape flew and champagne sprayed in the Allianz Arena all those years ago. Yet, for the good of his career, Blackman needs to leave Chelsea and the loans behind. Only then does he have a chance of fulfilling the potential showed in his youth.
Written by: @StabilityFC