What does the future hold for Ethan Ampadu at Chelsea?
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Four years ago, a relatively unknown 16-year-old defensive midfielder by the name of Ethan Ampadu arrived at Chelsea from Exeter City, his hometown team.

Previously sporting his recognisable dreadlocks, the now 20-year-old has changed considerably from his debut against Nottingham Forest in the EFL Cup under Antonio Conte, and not just in his appearance.

He has since made his debut for his country, playing in a major tournament for Wales this summer too, as well as spending time on loan abroad.

It therefore begs the question: with such experience under his belt and at such a young age still, what does the future hold for Ethan Ampadu at Chelsea?

Returning To The Beginning

In order to fully dissect the possible options for Ampadu, it's important to first look at his journey thus far, both at the club and away from it too.

As mentioned, during the 2017/18 season he made his first appearance for the Blues, becoming the first ever player born in the 2000s to represent the club

He would go on to feature primarily in cup competitions, particularly the earlier rounds, including one particularly impressive performance against Bournemouth in December 2017 where, despite an early yellow card, he marshalled the Cherries' attacker with remarkable ability.

However, his opportunities in the league were much more limited, only making one appearance from the bench all season, in a game where Chelsea were already 3-0 up with ten minutes to go.

An ankle fracture in March 2018 only compounded these issues, as the youngster was consigned to the bench for the remainder of the season, not making a return to competitive action until August, by which point a new manager was at the helm in Maurizio Sarri.

Under the Italian, Ampadu's chances were even more limited than the previous season, with the Europa League group stage making up most of his senior minutes, and a feeling began to develop among fans of his career stagnating, despite him being very young still.

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There were, admittedly, some factors at play with regards to this lack of game time - another injury, again in March, saw him ruled out for the last half of the campaign, and it was during the pre-season of the next that things finally changed.

Loan Move Abroad

Despite Frank Lampard commenting on his admiration for the player when he arrived in July 2019, it wasn't enough to convince the manager to keep Ampadu around for the season, and so he was sent out to RB Leipzig for a season on loan.

Unfortunately for the Welshman, his luck didn't improve too much with regards to minutes on the pitch, particularly in the domestic league setting.

He played just 78 minutes in the Bundesliga across 2019/20, all of which came from the bench, with a very brief cameo in the DFB-Pokal also included.

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The one positive from his time in Germany came through the European experience he gained by playing in the most coveted club competition in the world - the UEFA Champions League.

Under the leadership of Julian Nagelsmann, Ampadu played twice in the group stages and also featured in the first leg of the Round of 16 tie against familiar foe Tottenham Hotspur.

Helping his side to a 1-0 win in London, he was singled out for praise by many at the time after amassing a 95% pass accuracy and not being dispossessed once across the 90 minutes.

Ironically enough, it was future Chelsea player Timo Werner who got the goal in that win, and while he didn't feature, Die Roten Bullen went out to ease past the Lilywhites 3-0 in the second leg.

When the major highlight of your season is playing just one 90 minute game, however, it is hard to see it as too much of a success, so while the experience abroad was worthwhile, the benefit to his playing career was likely limited.

Premier League Experience

For the following campaign, after once again being dismissed by Lampard, Ampadu found himself on loan again, this time at fellow Premier League club Sheffield United.

It was a tough season for the Blades, with them eventually being relegated and propping up the table by May, but for the midfielder, it was the most productive season of his career thus far.

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He played 29 times in the league, far more than he had ever done previously, and while he couldn't prevent the eventual relegation, having such a vast amount of top flight experience will have been far more useful than remaining on the bench in West London.

Perhaps his best performance was back in January of this year, when he was awarded Man of the Match after Sheffield United beat Newcastle United 1-0 at Bramall Lane in a rare win for the home side.

Regardless, he returned to Chelsea after his loan ended, and thus we return to the present and the question we had at the very beginning: what next for Ethan Ampadu?

Future Options

First, there's the option of another loan move, perhaps to a Premier League club again where the 20-year-old can gain more experience in a top-flight environment.

Various clubs have been mooted as potential destinations, but no concrete links have emerged as of yet, though a temporary move could be a good option, if the right club is found.

That said, for a player who now has international level credentials, featuring for Wales at the delayed Euro 2020 tournament, another season at a mid-table team could be seen as setting the bar too low for someone who, just a few years ago, was tipped to be a potential N'Golo Kante replacement.

Then there's the idea of Ampadu moving away permanently, to somewhere where he's part of a longer term project, involving up and coming young players - think 'Chelsea 2019/20 but with a less ruthless owner'. 

There'll be no shortage of potential suitors for the midfielder, but the problem will be the level that such buyers may be at, as well as the probable low fee acquired on a previously highly-admired prospect.

Finally, there's the suggestion that Ampadu could instead choose to remain at Chelsea and fight for his place, something that goal.com have reported as being the most likely outcome by the end of the window.

They have suggested that the player has a chance of making Thomas Tuchel's squad for this season, although with the competition in his position, as well as the possibility of Saul Niguez arriving, it's tough to see how he can truly make a meaningful impact, barring any major injury crises.

Whatever option ends up coming to fruition, one thing is important to remember: Ampadu is still very young. At 20 years old, he has plenty of years left to find the right path for himself and can afford to play the 'trial and error' game for a couple more years yet.

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For his sake though, it feels beneficial for all parties to find a permanent solution sooner rather than later - else another promising young talent may, as has been seen time and time again at Chelsea, fade away into the background and become an 'almost made it' player, rather than a 'went and played it' one.