In the latest instalment of a feature highlighting the development of one of our players out on loan, we hear from Reece James, who is currently performing well for Wigan Athletic in the Championship.
The 18-year-old has quickly established himself as an important member of the defensive unit in Paul Cook's side on what is his first loan spell away from Stamford Bridge.
James, who won the Chelsea Young Player of the Year award last season and is part of the England Under-20 squad who face Germany next week, tells us about the lessons he has learnt since heading north and the key differences between Championship and academy football.
How have you found the quality of football in the Championship?
Obviously it’s a very tough league and there are no easy games. The bottom team can beat the top team and nothing is predictable, but overall I think it’s a really good standard.
When I first got to Wigan it all felt very different because I’m so used to London, so moving and living by myself was a bit of a change but after I settled I became more comfortable and started enjoying it a bit more.
When I first got there I didn’t really know anyone so getting to know my team-mates was the first step but they’re a sound bunch of lads.
How does the Championship compare to Academy football?
It’s a lot more physical and you have to be more focused because one small mistake could mean the three points are gone. A three-game week is very tough, not just physically. You have to be switched on for 90 minutes for three games in a week and in academy football you don’t often play three times a week, and if you do you’re expected to win anyway.
You’ve been playing at right-back, a position you know well. What lessons have you learnt so far?
Week in, week out you come up against players who test you in different ways. I’ve played against some who are very skilful, and others who are really powerful and will just try to kick it and get past you, so it’s about quickly recognising what strengths your opponent has and what you can do in order to stop them getting past you. Ezgjan Alioski at Leeds was very good and Martin Braithwaite at Middlesbrough last weekend was also very good.
You’ve been named Wigan Player of the Month for the last two months in a row, which must give you a huge sense of satisfaction…
Yes, I just try my best to help the team in every game and we’ll see where we end up. Ever since I got here the manager has made me feel welcome and whenever I’m doing well he’ll tell me, and if I’m doing something which isn’t a problem just yet, but might be a problem in the future, he’ll show me a clip or try to explain it to me so it doesn’t become a problem. I think he’s a very good manager.
You scored your first senior goal a few weeks ago against Leeds, becoming the youngest player to score in the Championship this season. How special was that?
Obviously it’s a great experience scoring in such a big league and against such a good team. Being able to take the responsibility to be on set-pieces is also a bonus as well.
Paulo Ferreira (Chelsea loan player technical coach) is some who has encouraged you to take free-kicks…
Yes, he mentioned to me that just because other players are older it doesn’t mean you have to let them take it, he said to show them what I've got, and it had an impact. I’d taken maybe two or three that went close before that, one hit the bar and one went just wide, so I could feel it coming and luckily it went in. Hopefully I’ll stay on them.
You’ve earned praise for your deliveries from the full-back position – is that something you’ve worked on?
I knew I needed something that would make me stand out from other players in my position and if you’re not playing against a top player it’s hard to get judged, so you have to work at something else which you can be judged on. Jody Morris and Joe Edwards [his coaches in the Chelsea Academy] helped me with that, I’ve done a lot of extra work on it and I’ve kind of found my way.
Have you had any good battles with other Chelsea loanees in the Championship now?
No, not yet. I haven’t played against Trevoh Chalobah at Ipswich and we haven’t played Derby yet either. We play them on 8 December and I think the Ipswich game is a bit before that. Then we play Villa early in the New Year so they will be interesting games.
The fact you’re playing for England Under-20s during the international breaks means you have even less time to recover from a busy schedule...
I’m playing week in, week out, at a high level against good players so when you have a chance to rest you have to take it and get as much recovery in as you can because the games come thick and fast.
What are your hopes and aims for the rest of the season?
Obviously I want to keep my place in the team and continue to play well. I just want to get games under my belt and try to help the team climb back up the table, that’s what I want and then we will see where we end up after that. We play Reading at home after the break, we lost our last home game but hopefully we can win that game and start a good spell.