After two seasons out on loan, Conor Gallagher is back at Cobham and eager to use the opportunity to impress boss Thomas Tuchel at close quarters…
The latest graduate of our Academy to make the step up to the Premier League, Gallagher spent 2020/21 at the Hawthorns with West Brom, making 30 appearances in the top flight as the Baggies battled for survival.
Despite an impressive individual campaign, including goals in back-to-back games in early winter and winning the club's Young Player of the Year award, the team eventually lost their fight against the drop. However, Gallagher’s reputation was undiminished and he has returned for pre-season at Chelsea with renewed enthusiasm to make a positive impression.
‘It’s great to be back,’ he says as we catch up with the young midfielder in between a double-header of training sessions.
‘I’m enjoying seeing some old friends who I’ve grown up with through the Academy and to train under the manager has obviously been great as well. The sessions have been tough but really good so I’ve enjoyed the first few days.'
Gallagher’s progress over the past two years has been sure but steady, from struggling against the drop with Charlton Athletic in the Championship to pushing for the play-offs with Swansea City, and then gaining his first experience of the Premier League in the Midlands.
At each stage, there has been a step up in expectation and quality, no more so than now as he gets to work alongside the likes of Hakim Ziyech, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Tammy Abraham and Christian Pulisic in training at Cobham.
‘You always want to work with the best and obviously there’s some great players here in training,’ he explains.
‘That only helps me improve, to train with such good players. Even though it’s only been a few days so far, I feel like it’s helped me a lot so that’s been good.’
The 21-year-old is the type of player who always catches the eye, as much for his all-action style in the middle of the pitch as his long blond hair. He has represented England up to the Under-21 age group and won the World Cup four years ago with the Under-17s.
His manager at that tournament, Steve Cooper, was the man who brought him to Swansea midway through the 2019/20 campaign, and is one of four very different coaches he has worked under during two years out on loan.
From the no-nonsense Lee Bowyer and the familiar face of Cooper to Slaven Bilic and Sam Allardyce at the Hawthorns, Gallagher has certainly been exposed to varying methods of coaching and man-management during his time on the road.
‘I’ve loved every loan I’ve been on and every game I’ve played,’ he notes. ‘It’s been great meeting new people, playing with a load of different players and under different managers. It’s all about getting different experiences.
‘With Sam at West Brom, it was more about the dirty side and doing that well, whereas at Swansea it was about runs in behind and creating chances. Each manager has helped improve different areas of my game, which has been so valuable for my development.
‘I’ve definitely improved as a player in the past two years and a lot of that is down to the four managers I’ve played under and their different styles of play. I’ve just loved every minute of it and I want to push on even more now.’
Pushing on requires self-reflection and an appreciation that every 21-year-old midfielder has the capacity to get even better. At the same age, N’Golo Kante and Jorginho had not a single top-flight appearance between them, an indication of Gallagher’s current standing, though he acknowledges the fact that the hard work has only just begun.
If he is to break into the squad under Tuchel and feature for the club he’s been training with since the age of six, he must add nous to his dynamic game, though his identification and acknowledgment of areas to develop bodes well for further progress.
‘I think of myself as an all-round midfielder,’ he states. ‘I like to play box to box and just be busy on the pitch, try to create chances and do my defensive work as well.
‘I feel like I can play anywhere in midfield, whether it’s deeper or further forward. I’m happy to do whatever and I’m good enough to do that. I know defensive intelligence is something that I can improve on so I’ve been working on that last season and now during pre-season. I’ve been told I need to get better at that so I’m focusing on it.
‘I’m only 21 so I feel like I’ve gained a lot of experience already and developed a lot as a player. It’s still just the start because I’m nowhere near where I want to be. I know I can go even further.’
With 77 senior appearances already under his belt, there is nothing stopping the boyhood Blue from continuing that impressive ascendancy.