WORDS WITH: RYAN BERTRAND
Ashley Cole completed his 50th successive Premier League appearance at Queens Park Rangers on Sunday, but suspension means his understudy is likely to be given a chance at Everton in the Carling Cup tonight.
Ryan Bertrand is already a veteran of more than 150 professional appearances, but his Chelsea tally currently stands at just two. A string of loan moves have characterised the Southwark-born left-back's time at Stamford Bridge since signing as a trainee from Gillingham in 2005.
A first-team debut in last season's 3-0 league win over Birmingham City was followed up by 120 minutes in the previous round of the Carling Cup against Fulham, and Bertrand is now hoping for more at Goodison Park tonight as he continues his progress.
'It will be good if I can get a game under my belt, every chance you get to play for Chelsea is a really big thing,' he says following Tuesday's training session at Cobham. He has not yet been informed of whether he will be playing, but admits: 'I'm hoping to get a run out. Everton are a good side and I'm sure it will be a good cup game so it would be good to be involved.
'It's obviously quite hard sometimes having been so used to playing week in week out since I was 17, but it's a big club, Chelsea. At the same time you like to think that if you train hard you can get on the bench and get a few minutes here or there.'
Of course Bertrand is not the only one who has had to play the waiting game early in his career. Assistant first team coach Steve Holland considers it to be the norm for youngsters wanting to break through at top clubs.
'In the Premier League there aren't too many teenagers who go straight into a team and stay there for the rest of their career,' pointed out Andre Villas-Boas's number two. 'Add to that that Chelsea is a top four, Champions League club, it makes it more of a challenge and the route Ryan has been down has been a well-trodden one.
'He's had progressive loan experiences and gone from League One into the Championship. Add to that his international experience, he was an integral member of England Under 21s in the summer's European Championship, and his CV has been improving all the time.
'Ryan did well when he played against Fulham in the previous round of the Carling Cup, and he can be pleased with that performance. He's heading in the right direction and is developing well. He really wants to be challenging every week and getting regular games in the Premiership. In my opinion he can do that and that is the next challenge for him.
'Breaking into Chelsea's team is a bit more difficult considering we have probably the best left-back in the world in our team, who doesn't miss many games. But, he has been retained in the squad this season because the manager wanted cover for Ashley, and he has repaid that trust. I am quite sure whether it's in Chelsea's team or in another Premiership team this is a level he is capable of playing at.'
Cole's consistency is what makes the 30-year-old stand head and shoulders above most other full-backs, even at the top of the game, but he too recognises a bright future for Bertrand.
'I see Ryan day in day out at Cobham and he always looks completely at home in the first team,' says the former Arsenal man. 'He hasn't had that many chances to show himself at Chelsea, but the loan experience he has picked up is priceless.
'I only had a few games at Crystal Palace as a loan player when I was 18, 19, and he has nearly 200 so that will prepare him well for when he becomes a regular here, and he definitely has the quality to do it.'
Kind words, and when you consider that Michael Mancienne, Jack Cork and Scott Sinclair also led similarly nomadic loan lives while Chelsea players, it is a compliment to the quiet and committed Bertrand that he is still on the books, and was offered a four-year deal, duly signed, in the summer. He also recognises the benefit to young players of picking up regular football away from their parent clubs.
'I think it's definitely good for the club and the players to get out on loan and learn how to play the game,' he reasons. 'Most players that come in here will have the ability and the potential to go on and do great things, but to learn how to deal with scenarios and games makes you a better player.
'When you go out you do realise how lucky you are being a Chelsea player, but I came from Gillingham and I know what that holds, and that you have to make the most of everything Chelsea has to offer. If I stayed at Gillingham life could have been very different, you don't know, but I'm just grateful that I'm at Chelsea and have had this massive learning experience.
'When you're younger you take for granted that you'll have a good career and win medals, you win tournaments in youth football as we did and see the cups and medals that the club has won in the past few years, but silverware is hard to come by.
'For a young player like me it would be fantastic to be involved in something like the Carling Cup to get a medal.'
It is a suitable show of ambition from a player whose mentor was winning trophies regularly at his age. There are also international desires, and he could see firsthand what is required for such honours when he sees Cole's backup Leighton Baines on the opposing side tonight.
The Everton man has established himself as Fabio Capello's second choice in the England setup, and is a player Bertrand admires.
'Ash is one of the people I look up to the most and he is fantastic to me on and off the pitch, but Baines is right up there as well.
'He's been around for years now and he's had a rise through the leagues and managed to establish himself at the top with Everton for a while, and be involved with England as well, so he's a fantastic player with great technique.'
A good performance tonight will have plenty of pundits saying the same of Bertrand. That, with a victory, will surely unlock further opportunities further down the road.