Conor Gallagher has been an ever-present in Charlton Athletic’s midfield this season in the Championship so we caught up with the teenager to discuss his first senior loan, the addition of goals to his midfield game and how his excellent start has been rewarded with a first England Under-21 cap.
Gallagher joined Chelsea at the age of eight and played his part in FA Youth Cup and Under-18 league title successes during his time in our Academy. On the international stage, he won the Under-17 World Cup with England in 2017 and was handed our Academy Player of the Year award following an impressive season last term with our development squad and Under-19s.
In the summer, it was announced he would be embarking on his first loan spell, with the Valley selected as his home for the 2019/20 campaign. The 19-year-old has featured in all 11 Championship games as Lee Bowyer’s newly-promoted side settled quickly into life in the second tier, with Gallagher netting four times to date. The Addicks won four of their opening seven league games and currently sit 10th in the table.
Last night, Gallagher made his England Under-21 debut, coming on midway through the second-half of a 2-2 draw away in Slovenia.
Firstly Conor, how have you found life in the Championship so far?
It’s obviously a big step up but having a good season last year really helped me be ready to join a team in the Championship, both physically and with my confidence. I felt I was ready for the season and have got off to a good start so hopefully I can carry that on.
What are the big differences you’ve noticed already between Under-23s football and the second tier of the senior English game?
At Chelsea, we’re used to having the ball most of the game but at Charlton it’s not like that as much. There is a lot more work off the ball so it’s tougher during games. In the majority of matches, the opposition has more of the ball than us so a lot of my work is off the ball. When I get on it I have to make sure I look after it and do something with it. The Charlton team have players that are really good at that which is why we’ve done so well in the first 11 games.
The big thing that’s a lot different to last season is the games come so thick and fast and every game is a tough game in the Championship. You have to fight your way through every single match. We had three games in a week recently which were Leeds, Swansea and Fulham, which is really difficult, but that’s what it’s all about. I just want to play as many games as possible for my development.
Lee Bowyer is the man in charge at the Valley, a former Premier League midfielder who played at the top of the game for many years. How have you found life learning under him?
It definitely helps with him being an ex-midfielder who played at the top level. He gives me good advice daily, which has helped me a lot already this season.
He tells me to make the box every time the ball goes wide, which is where a few of my goals have come from so some credit goes to him as well for that. He just says to work hard and always make the box, as well as giving me individual advice in more detail that helps me in games. I’m looking forward to working with him for the rest of the season.
And what about the senior pros in the dressing room?
There are experienced players in the dressing room that I can learn from, which is nice. The team has a good mixture of experience and young players who are hungry, which is another reason why we’re doing so well at the moment. There’s a good balance and the lads are all really nice people so I fit in really well.
You’ve scored four goals already in the Championship this season, which matches your Premier League 2 tally from the whole of last season. How important is it for you to score goals?
Goals are something I wanted to add to my game this season. Before I joined Charlton, I knew they mainly played a diamond and I feel my best position is box-to-box so the side of the diamond really suits me.
It gives me licence to make the box and try to create chances and score goals. Thankfully, I’ve scored a few already this season and hopefully I can score a few more.
Such a good start to the season has been rewarded with a call-up to the England Under-21s squad this month, which must be really exciting for you?
It means a lot to me and my family as well. Through the age groups with England, all the way from the Under-18s up, they always say there’s a pathway to the Under-21s and the senior team. My aim for this season was to get into the Under-21s squad so I’ve been lucky to achieve that already and hopefully I can keep my place there.
As you embark on a first loan spell away from Chelsea, there are a number of your fellow Academy graduates who have returned to Stamford Bridge to feature prominently under Frank Lampard this season. What are your thoughts watching them flourish on the big stage?
When you look at Tammy [Abraham], Mason [Mount], Fikayo [Tomori] and Reece [James], all four of them were on loan in the Championship last season. They all did really well, all managed to come back to Chelsea this summer and are now playing in the first team.
That’s the dream for all of us and it has been my dream for years. Seeing their progress gives everyone hope that Frank is giving youngsters a chance so it’s a great thing to see.
This time last year, things were going a little differently for you after it was discovered that you had a heart condition that required minor surgery. It delayed your involvement at the start of the season for a number of months, which makes your progress since then even more remarkable…
At the time, I was obviously a bit scared and nervous but even when I was out for a few months, I was just excited to get back fit after the surgery, get back into training and kick on. It was important to take things step by step but I’ve kicked on from it really well and hopefully I can just continue to achieve more goals.
After almost a quarter of the campaign then, what are those goals for the remainder of the season?
I normally make short-term goals rather than long-term ones because I just find it more simple. At the start of the season, I wanted to be the best I could possibly be and try to keep Charlton in the Championship because we were one of the favourites to get relegated.
Since then, I’ve realised that the team are better than what people were expecting and I’ve also scored a few goals myself, which is an incredible feeling. My target now is 10 goals and to maybe even push for the play-offs with Charlton - I know that’s a big statement but I believe the team is good enough to do it.