Armando Broja has been discussing his first experience of senior football on loan last season and explaining how it helped him develop as a player and a person.
After progressing through the ranks in our Academy, the young striker spent 2020/21 in the Netherlands playing for Vitesse Arnhem, putting in some impressive performances during his debut campaign in the adult game.
In addition to reaching double figures for goals in the Eredivisie, one of only five teenagers across Europe’s leading leagues to do so, he helped the club secure a place in continental competition and reach the final of the KNVB Beker – the Dutch equivalent of the FA Cup.
Now back at Chelsea training with Thomas Tuchel’s first-team squad in pre-season, Broja feels he has benefited massively from the experience he gained in Arnhem.
‘I thought it was a good season personally and as a team we had a very good season as well. Not many people expected us to do so well,’ he said.
‘I really enjoyed it. It was my first time out on loan, it was a great experience for me to develop as a player, understand senior football and go out there and play with actual men in a good, competitive league. It was very good for me to develop player-wise and develop as a man, living on my own away from family and everything. It was a really good stepping stone for me to start my senior career.
‘When you’re in the Academy like me, you don’t actually know what it feels like until you’re out there. I could definitely tell the difference in the speed of the way they train, the way they play, the way they move the ball, the way the other team press.
‘You can definitely tell straight away you’re not playing academy football anymore, you’re playing senior football against men who have families they’re making a living for. I came from the Academy and went straight to learn in a different country, so I had to adapt quickly, but I think it was successful.’
That step up from youth level to senior football is one of the big challenges that every player must overcome in their career, but for Broja it represented an even bigger hurdle as he left his family to move to a new country in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the Netherlands in lockdown.
‘It’s crazy when you think about it, how you’ve been away in a different country, away from your family and things. It was a little bit difficult at first, and took me about a month to get used to. I had to become a man., but that’s the whole point of going on loan and getting experience. You’ve got to develop quite quickly and mature.
‘Last season was difficult for everyone, at Chelsea and everywhere else. Everyone had a bad time with Covid, everything was closed and the fans weren’t allowed to come to games, it was quite stressful and got a bit difficult.
‘If there was no Covid my parents would have come out a lot more often, but I spoke to my family on the phone a lot so it still felt like they were close, even though they were far away. Then my mum came and stayed with me towards the end of the season, when things opened up a bit in Holland. That was really nice to have her around again.’
That close relationship with his family, which Broja had to do without, in person at least, for most of last season isn’t just about home comforts for the Albanian international, though, as he explains they have had a big part to play in his young career so far, something he feels a huge sense of gratitude for.
‘They probably had the biggest role in me coming to Chelsea and becoming a footballer and earning my new contract here,’ said the 19-year-old. ‘We work 50-50, me and my family. They’ve supported me from the start of my career and will continue to support me.
‘It’s just a really nice thing to have because I know a lot of young players might not have that support, so I’m thankful and grateful that I have them behind me, supporting me and pushing me forward and helping me out.’