When you are a youngster coming through in football, it is often said patience is a necessary virtue. It is a long process and while you strive to get into the first team you have to balance that insatiable ambition with that almost opposite attitude of calm patience. It is not an easy trick to pull off.
The thing that sometimes can lead to longer-term success is the sudden breakthrough, but it has to happen at the right time and with the right support. Then a speedy change can be an advantage. Quite simply there is no time to think about it or worry about it too much. Saying to yourself ‘Hang the consequences and go for it’ sounds easy enough but not everyone copes that well.
That is why most youngsters are brought into a team then taken out soon afterwards in case the inevitable downturn crushes the brittle confidence.
Looking at the youngsters at Chelsea, the upward curve is so steep that in normal circumstances you would expect a problem or two. Even they probably cannot believe how quickly it has happened and you wonder if they really have had time to cope and whether or not that is going to be a good thing.
Having each other to lean on must be incredibly helpful however. We are only in November of the first real year as men’s first team players at Chelsea for Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Fikayo Tomori and now Reece James. It is definitely helping them that others beside them are on the same trajectory. If their mates do not look like falling then they can more easily believe they can just strap themselves in and enjoy the ride too.
Playing in the Premier League, succeeding and even surviving near the very top of the toughest league there is, and then getting plenty of plaudits for the style, is impressive. You then have to add the fast track into the international set-up as well, in an England team that is swatting away all before them.
Tammy scored his first goal for his country, Mason did so too and is now playing regularly for Gareth Southgate and Callum is already on his third cap. Is anybody out there betting against Fikayo becoming a fixture after his debut or Reece getting his first cap in the very near future too? Every time there is a new, huge challenge and they overcome it, you worry a little less.
Back at Chelsea, another week and another extraordinary outing is now to be faced. Manchester City are like no other club in England, not only because they have some of the best players in the world, at their best they play some of the best football on the planet too. In fact their football against us last season at the Etihad was out of this world.
Even so, I really feel this weekend is a good time to be facing the reigning champions, not because they are weak but because the belief within our own squad is so strong. Yet again Frank Lampard and the lads will know they are underdogs and upstarts against such an established outfit. Last season’s 6-0 hammering is still in the back of every supporter’s mind, but that is the case for every team that comes up against Pep’s side. They can do that if you are not careful, not organised and not at your very best defensively.
When Maurizio Sarri took us up there last season I was very concerned. I knew he would want us to stand toe-to-toe with them. I felt it might be a naïve and dangerous tactic. I can recall driving the four hours down to the game and telling my wife and son repeatedly, this could get very bad and if it is then we should all stick by the team, because that is what the travelling Chelsea fans do. They thought I was exaggerating or being negative but it was just realism.
The question is, do I feel the same this week? Should we be wary or even scared of another thumping that might negatively affect our youngsters in particular? We have a younger side than last October and a young manager who is likely to put those lads out there with an even more open, attacking outlook than we did last season. That in itself suggests that naïveté could once again be a concern. City are currently like a wounded animal, desperate to make amends for their mauling at Anfield two weeks ago. On top of this, the game is away from home where City only lost three games in the two previous Premier League campaigns.
'Even so, I must admit to looking forward to this game and I am not in the least apprehensive.'
— Pat Nevin
Every challenge these kids have been set, and there have been many huge ones already this season as detailed above, they have faced up to with bravery and the same ‘can-do’ attitude every time.
We are so far ahead of the expectation curve that this is almost a free hit with little or nothing to lose for us. City on the other hand have everything to lose. If they do not pick up all three points then Liverpool might already be almost out of sight by the end of our game, if Jurgen Klopp’s men beat Palace at Selhurst Park earlier in the day.
For us, this in many respects is just another test of how far we have come in such a short time. Even if we lost heavily, it would not be a disaster, it would simply show us how high the next step is.
The other great thing is that there is total confidence that whatever happens, the Chelsea fans will not be grumping and groaning afterwards. We are all on the same page, this is a project that needs time even if it seems to be needing very little at the moment. So consider seriously what some of these young players are going through just now. Almost effortlessly the likes of the 22-year-old Tammy will play for his country, score, play against the Premier League champions and then get ready for a crucial and defining away group game in the Champions League against Valencia, all in 13 days!
A few months ago none of these lads would have been considered first team starters for the Blues and four of them weren’t even at the club, still being out on loan. It is completely incredible. Historically, for most footballers, games of this weight could be career-defining moments. For these kids it feels like nothing more than the very start of something extremely special.