Chelsea right-back Reece James has confessed he was nearly let go by the Blues as a teenager.
James, now 23, rose through the ranks at Chelsea and, after a sensational loan spell with Wigan during the 2018/19 Championship season, was promoted to the senior team by then manager Frank Lampard as the club attempted to cope with a transfer ban.
Since then, James has not looked back. He is widely recognised as one of the best in the world in his position and is a key part of Chelsea’s first-team, although it could have all been so different had he actually been released from the academy.
“I ended up staying at Chelsea the whole time once I joined but there was probably a stage where I was close to getting released around the age of 15 or 16,” he wrote for England Football. “I was probably one of the worst in the group and they were unsure of how I was going to develop.
“They took a gamble on me by giving me a contract and I had to work hard to prove to people that I can play and achieve what I want to achieve.
“When I was in school, I didn’t really understand the importance of things like diet. When I was with my friends, I would eat whatever they were eating and not take notice of what I am doing. I would just want to be one of them and not really take notice of what I want to achieve and where I wanted to go.
“Then one day it caught up with me and I was in a situation where I wasn’t fit enough to get around the pitch and couldn’t really move how I wanted to and it became evident that it had put me behind.
“My dad would try to put me in the right direction with things like that but I had joined secondary school and you are becoming more independent at that age and you just eat when you are hungry. It caught up with me.”
To make matters worse, James also confessed that he really struggled to get to grips with the right-back role having initially arrived at Chelsea as a striker.
“When I was growing up, I was a striker and I idolised Didier Drogba,” he said. “He played in my team, he played in my position and I always looked up to him. I just wanted to be like him, score like him and celebrate like him.
“I stopped playing striker around the age of 11 or 12 and moved my way back into midfield. I had three or four years there and then found myself at right-back around the age of 15. I hated it for two or three years. I didn’t like it and then one day it just clicked and I started to really enjoy it, around the age of 17. But it did take a lot of getting used to. It frustrated me a lot playing there when I didn’t want to play there.”
Finally, James also took the opportunity to thank former boss Lampard, who reopened the pathway between academy and first team at Chelsea.
“When Frank Lampard got the head coach’s job, it definitely helped bring the academy and first team together,” the right-back said.
“Even now he has gone, it is still where he has left it and you can see that with a few of the young lads breaking into the team last season. They have had their chance and been able to make their debuts and that is a credit to the players and the staff there as well.”
On this edition of Son of Chelsea, part of the 90min podcast network, Daniel Childs reviews the Blues’ huge win against Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League.
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