From getting scouted as a seven-year-old to winning the Champions League with his boyhood club, it’s been quite a ride for Reece James at Chelsea. Here he tells his story…
In 20 short minutes at the Emirates on Sunday, Reece James showcased the attributes that have already made him one of the world’s best in his position. He has a natural crossing ability, an awareness of space that belies his tender years, and strikes a football as cleanly as anyone in the Premier League. Both his assist and goal at Arsenal were flawlessly executed.
Defensively, his muscular build, toughness in the tackle and turn of pace make him a tricky opponent for even Europe’s elite wingers. It was his rock-solid rearguard action that set the tone for our thrilling triumph in the Champions League final.
To reach this level, still aged just 21, James has worked hard at his game at Cobham for the best part of a decade-and-a-half. He is Chelsea through and through, and this is his story, in his own words…
‘From when I was growing up, football has been all I’ve known. My older brother and my younger sister and me would just go up to the park whenever.
‘My Dad [himself a football coach] influenced all of us and helped us get where are today. He played a massive part in us starting to play when we were so young.
‘We would always play in the house and break vases and mess around all the time. Obviously my Mum wasn’t happy with us kicking the ball in the house, but it’s paid off!
‘My first football memory was when I was getting scouted for Chelsea. I was in a tournament when I was seven and we won it.
‘When I first arrived at Chelsea, I used to come in once a week on a Friday night to the dome at Cobham. I was a striker but then moved to midfield for a couple of seasons. Then, when I was about 15, I found myself playing right-back because there were better players in midfield.
‘I hated it for maybe two or three years and never wanted to play there! But one day it just clicked and I started loving it. I think the penny just dropped that I wouldn’t be playing midfield anymore and this was my new position.
‘Playing several positions has exposed me to different areas in football. For example, when I moved to right-back crossing was one of the areas I focused on as part of my individual program.
‘Now full-back is a very key position in every team. Before right-backs and left-backs were just seen as that, right-backs and left-backs, and they didn’t really move, but now they are on the ball more, and much more attacking. You have to be very fit and able to attack and defend.
‘I signed my first professional contract when I was 17. It was a dream come true. I wanted to be a professional ever since I was a young boy here. I was over the moon and my family were very happy as well.
‘When I went on loan to Wigan in 2018 I was nervous, uncomfortable. I didn’t know anyone and I was far from home. I lived in Bolton which is very different to Cobham, and it took a lot to get used to. But the set of lads there helped me a lot, and week by week I grew.
‘The step-up from Academy football to senior football is huge. It’s so different when you are playing with people who are older. I was only 18 at the time and playing against older players who have families and wives.
‘When I came back from Wigan, truthfully I thought I might have to do one more season at a Premier League team before I got my chance at Chelsea. But it came sooner than I expected and I’m thankful to Frank Lampard for giving me that chance.
‘It was a dream come true to make my debut at Stamford Bridge and to score as well. It was a bit surreal walking out to Stamford Bridge and scoring and getting a couple of assists. I was speechless.
‘Every time I went to Stamford Bridge as a kid I always wondered what it was like to walk out with the crowd cheering and that was the day I did it. My family were there, and I don’t think they could have been happier, either.
‘But the greatest day of my life so far was the day we won the Champions League. We couldn’t have faced a better team at the time. Manchester City had just come off the back of winning the Premier League.
‘It was one of the best games I’ve played because it was against such a good team with such quality players as well. We all know how good Riyad Mahrez, Kevin De Bruyne and the other Manchester City players are.
‘There were four or five of us coming through from the Academy at the same time looking to achieve things, so winning the Champions League so young is great. It’s a big bonus.
‘The celebrations afterwards were good, we had friends and family there and we had an event after. It was great for my sister to be there. She has been with me on my journey ever since I was a little boy, and now it’s special having her at the same club. My family are so proud that we are both back here playing for the teams we both dreamt of playing for.
‘I always said one day I would win the Champions League, and when I did I would get the tattoo of the trophy on my leg.
‘It was always my dream to win it and you have to believe. That’s why I got the motto at the top. I’m very happy with it!’