Following his FA Cup debut in the last round, we catch up with the teenage midfielder to talk about his love for the competition and how he's solved a long-standing injury issue...
As the champagne shot through the north London air and the posing for keepsake photographs on the Wembley turf began, watching on through the pyrotechnic smoke from high up in the stands was a football-mad 13-year-old boy taking in every detail.
The cause of the Chelsea celebrations was a League Cup final victory over Tottenham, the date was March 2015 and the teenage onlooker was a young lad from Dorset who was himself progressing well through the Academy ranks at Cobham.
Tino Anjorin grew up watching his idols win big games and lift even bigger trophies. He cherished glimpses of heroes such as Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard across the training ground complex in Surrey. He went to Stamford Bridge as much as his own training and games schedule would allow to watch them up close and in the flesh.
Even in these pandemic times and as the Blues wrestle to turn around some stuttering winter form, the story of childhood dreams being realised on the grandest of stages is something to savour. For Anjorin, who has made his Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup debuts in the past 10 months, he’s just desperate not to wake up.
‘I’m delighted to be making appearances for the first team at Chelsea,’ he says as we catch up with the 19-year-old ahead of tomorrow’s FA Cup fourth-round tie against Luton Town.
‘It’s been my dream since I was a young kid and to be living it now in the flesh is so surreal. I’m happy to be playing, whether it’s for one minute or 80 minutes like I did against Krasnodar. It’s just fun being out there and having a sense of pride wearing the Chelsea badge on my chest and my family name on the back.’
Anjorin’s name may be a fairly new one on the lips of Chelsea supporters but his overnight emergence into the spotlight has been many years in the making. He joined the Academy’s development centre programme at the age of seven and his technical potential was evident even then.
However, as he got older and developed into his body, there were issues as well as benefits with his impressive physical development. Upper body strength can be a great tool for a player to protect the ball and physicality is a key aspect of a young player’s toolkit but Anjorin’s growth was arguably too much, too soon and proved problematic.
He has suffered with cramp in games for many years, an issue the medical staff worked hard to resolve but one that limited his involvement in matches and even threatened his future in the game.
‘It really used to bug me,’ Anjorin admits. ‘There was even a time where I wondered whether I would be able to play football full-time because who is going to want a player that can’t play 90 minutes?
‘We looked into all the scientific issues like my magnesium, potassium and salt levels as well as what foods I might be intolerant to but none of it was making a difference so during the first lockdown I just took it down to the basics.
'I weighed myself one day and I just felt I was carrying too much muscle so throughout that lockdown I was running constantly and really cut down on what I was eating.
‘Eventually I lost 10kg and since I’ve been back training, I don’t want to say that’s cleared it because it can still come back at any time but it looks positive and I think that could be the deciding factor.
‘I’ve been back in the gym and put 5kg back on, which was important to maintain my muscle strength, but I’m now running round playing games with 5kg less on my back. I think a lot of players would be cramping if they were carrying that extra weight.’
‘There was a time where I wondered whether I would be able to play football full-time because who wants a player that can’t play 90 minutes?'
— Tino Anjorin
Lampard himself referenced those cramp issues after Anjorin’s full debut against Krasnodar but the recent signs have been positive for the young midfielder. He has flitted between training with the men's first team group and playing with the Under-23s this season, a blend that suits his need for games with the experience of working alongside top attacking team-mates, not to mention being coached by the man he idolised more than any other as a kid.
‘I know I’m in the space now where I’m not playing as many games so I need to keep focused and keep training hard every day to impress the coaches and show everyone what I can do,’ he continues.
‘Obviously I train for myself but I can also learn from people like Hakim [Ziyech], Christian [Pulisic] and even Callum [Hudson-Odoi] as well because they’re the players that are playing. If I can implement what they do into my game, as well as my own stuff, then hopefully I can get a chance.
‘When I was younger, I always looked up to the gaffer because he was a midfield player like me that loved scoring goals. It’s been ledge and I’ve loved working with him. He’s my role model and for him to even know who I am is amazing, let alone to train with him as my coach!’
The FA Cup still matters, according to Anjorin. He won the junior version, the FA Youth Cup, three years ago, scoring in the 7-1 rout against Arsenal in the final, and made his debut in the senior competition as a late substitute in our third-round victory against Morecambe.
‘I love the FA Cup,’ he says emphatically. ‘Everyone does. If you’re English and you love football, there’s no better cup than the FA Cup. It’s the fact that anything can happen and the history of the competition – it’s an English tradition.’
Morale at Cobham has been good this week, despite recent results and performances. The focus remains on improving, both individually and collectively, and turning the corner as a team.
‘Everyone is just working hard and getting their heads down,’ adds the youngster. ‘We’re all trying to become better players and get back to where we were not that long ago, playing well and enjoying that unbeaten streak. We’re trying to keep spirits high and keep striving.’
Not a lot can dampen Anjorin’s spirits right now. He really is the teenager living his childhood dreams.