Dominic Solanke has enjoyed a wonderful season for our development sides, playing a pivotal role as they lifted both the UEFA Youth League and FA Youth Cup, and the young striker was rewarded for his goalscoring and consistency by being named the club’s Academy Player of the Year last week.
It’s certainly been a campaign the 17-year-old will look back on fondly when he takes stock over the summer, because as well as tasting junior success domestically and in Europe, he made his Chelsea first-team debut when he was introduced as a second-half substitute in our Champions League win over Maribor last October.
‘It’s been brilliant,’ Solanke tells the official Chelsea website.
‘Last season was good for me with winning the Youth Cup and the European Championships with England Under-17s, but this season has been even better.
‘The Youth League was a competition we all wanted to win, it’s only been running two years so to win it in its second year was very good for us.
‘It’s amazing to have been crowned the best Under-19 team in Europe. We got to sample a lot of different places and cultures in the tournament, and to come out on top shows the level we’re at.
‘I’ll never forget making my first-team debut. It was an amazing opportunity for me to go out and play in front of all of those supporters. I can only learn from that type of experience. I was the youngest ever player to do it for the club as well so I was really pleased.’
Solanke, like all the best strikers, thrives on hitting the back of the net, and this season he has done that frequently, scoring 41 goals across all competitions, including in the FA Youth Cup final.
Tammy Abraham, another of our Academy strikers, has also been extremely prolific in front of goal and Solanke says their healthy rivalry brings the best out of both players.
‘I got around 20 goals last season and everybody was telling me I’d have to do the same, but I managed get double it so it’s been a really good season for me,’ he explains. ‘Everyone in football is competitive and the fact myself and Tammy are both scoring helps push us both on.’
Solanke was one of a number of youngsters chosen by Jose Mourinho to take part in our post-season trip to Thailand and Australia, and he could hardly have made a quicker – or more significant – impression.
Just a few minutes had been played in our opening game in Bangkok when the ball was worked intelligently from left to right. Ola Aina supplied the cross and, as it arrived at Solanke’s feet, he dispatched a first-time strike into the bottom corner.
‘When the season finished I was told I’d be going on the trip and it was a chance for me to impress,’ he states.
‘I managed to score against the Thailand All-Stars and it was the winning goal, so that was good for me.
‘It was the best time to impress because there weren’t so many of the first-team players there and we all managed to get some game time. When those opportunities come along you have to take them.’
The trip itself was an invaluable experience for all the younger players, with the manager providing them with minutes in both matches.
Solanke was afforded the opportunity to work alongside attacking talents such as Diego Costa, Loic Remy and Eden Hazard, learning from all three, and he praised the senior players for their welcoming manner.
‘Having people you know here helps you because you feel more comfortable and you can speak to them whenever you need to, but all the first-team players have been really helpful,’ he confirms.
‘They’ve done brilliantly this year and the experience was an enjoyable one for all of us.’