In the latest instalment of a feature where we speak to one of our players out on loan, we hear from Jake Clarke-Salter, the 22-year-old centre-back who is currently playing regularly in the Championship at Birmingham City.
The West Midlands club are having a solid season. They are mid-table and won in the FA Cup midweek against local rivals Coventry City who are currently tenants in the same stadium.
Clarke-Salter has featured in 13 games this season and he talks here about earning his place in the side, some familiar faces he met recently, his development and what he is aiming for ahead, but we start with the FA Cup…
That was a pretty dramatic fourth-round tie for Birmingham against Coventry. You played in the first match but not the replay.
‘We have a league game on Friday so the manager did not play some players because of that, it would have been a quick turnaround.
‘It is good for the club to get through and we have Leicester in the next round and I am really looking forward to it as it will be good to play against a Premier League side.’
The fact Birmingham had to play the first game against Coventry as the away side despite it being at St Andrew’s received plenty of coverage.
‘It was a bit different and something we will probably never experience again – being the away side at your own stadium, in the away dressing room and wearing the away kit. I think every stadium you go to there is a difference between the home and away dressing rooms.
‘But it was still a good atmosphere from the fans. Unfortunately we did not get the win in the first game but we won the replay on penalties. It was a weird one but I am happy we are through to the next round now.’
Did you catch up with Adi Viveash [Clarke-Salter’s former coach in the Chelsea Academy and now Coventry’s assistant manager]?
‘I spoke to him at both the games. He was massive in my development through the Academy and he pushed me a lot so I have a lot of respect and time for him. He is getting on well. Coventry are doing well in League One, they are looking to get promotion, and he is a great coach and a great guy.’
He was not the only Chelsea connection in the match, with Josh McEachran a current team-mate of yours at Birmingham and Fankaty Dabo in the Coventry side.
‘Unfortunately Josh did something to his knee during the game [it has since been announced as an ACL injury].
‘Before that, playing with him was good because he is such a technically gifted player. He came to Birmingham after I came so it was nice for him to come here as well. Fankaty played right-back for Coventry so it was good to see him as well before the game as I have not seen him for a few years.’
You played half-a-season in the Championship at Sunderland in 2018 before spending last season at Vitesse. Has the year in the Netherlands left you better prepared for Championship football this time round?
‘Probably. I went into a team at Sunderland that was not doing as well as it should have so I felt that I wanted a fresh start last season to go away and just play football again, and Vitesse gave me that. Now I am ready just to kick on again.
‘I am just older now and more mature, on and off the pitch, and that is a massive factor.
‘This season has been good. It is nice to play regular football now as the first few games of the season I did not start and then I got injured and now to be back and just playing regularly, I am loving it.’
It looks like you have played your way up to being a first-choice selection at Birmingham now, as demonstrated by you being rested ahead this week’s league game, but you have had to overcome several injuries in recent seasons.
‘I have had quite a few over the years and I have had about three big injuries which knocked me back a few steps. But I have always managed to overcome them and now I am looking to just keep pushing again and finish the season strong.
‘The most recent one a couple of weeks ago was a dislocated shoulder which I managed to come back from reasonably quickly, although I won’t be taking any long throws until next season! I am happy I am back playing now and I am looking forward to finishing the season strongly.’
You have a Spanish manager at Birmingham in Pep Clotet. How is the style of play?
‘The club philosophy is they want to try to play as much football as they can but mix it with the other side of the game and I think we have a good balance with that, and we just need to keep playing well. We have been on a good run recently and haven’t lost in seven games so it is just about pushing on and finishing the season strong.
Tore Andre Flo is your main Chelsea loan technical coach. What is it like working with him?
‘I have known him for a while now, since I was in the Academy, and he is always checking up and coming to the games so it is nice to keep in contact with him.
‘When you have played the game at that level he has you know how to play football and all the loan coaches at Chelsea will be talking, all giving me advice and all working together basically.’
How have you changed since you made your Chelsea debut back in 2016?
‘Physicality has been added with my age, and more maturity in the way I play. I don’t get into situations anymore where there are duels I shouldn’t be going into, or decisions I shouldn’t make. I think I read the game better now and have become an all-round better player than I was a few years ago.
‘I would like to add more goals. I feel like I am a threat at set-pieces. I’ve got one this season, a header from a corner against Millwall, but I think I can add a few more.’
Your time with England Under-21s ended in the summer at the European Championships.
‘It was a good experience and being able to captain the side was great. Obviously the team did not do as well as we should have with the players we had [England went out at the group stage]. We were all disappointed afterwards, with the quality we had in the room we should have done a lot better, but that is something we all learn from and everyone just wants to kick on.’
Speaking of which, what are your targets now?
‘Just to play as well as I can and in as many games as I can. That will put me in good stead for next season whatever happens with me.’