Trevoh Chalobah, the latest Academy graduate to make his mark in the first team, is the first player to sit down and answer our 10 questions this season…
Even at this early stage of 2021/22, his maiden campaign with our senior squad, the young defender has already provided one of the moments of the season, with his emotional reaction to scoring on his Premier League debut in front of the Chelsea supporters at Stamford Bridge.
That goal came just a few days after he had lifted a trophy at the end of his first-ever senior appearance with the Blues, in the UEFA Super Cup win over Villarreal in Belfast, making for a truly remarkable opening to the campaign for Chalobah.
Going into the current international break, the 22-year-old reflects on an incredible few weeks, his journey through the Academy and loan spells to the Chelsea first team and the huge part his big brother Nathaniel Chalobah has played in his career…
We have to start with the way you began this season. Were you expecting things to start so well in the Super Cup?
It’s been a great start and it was a complete surprise. I’d played in the pre-season games, got good minutes and did well, but it was a final and you expect the manager to play the senior players. I only found out when I saw the team sheet a few hours before the game and my name was in the starting line-up, I was over the moon. To play in a final, especially a European final, to go and win it as well, was just unbelievable.
Going into penalties you never know how it’s going to go and it was a nervous moment, but the boys were confident when they went up to take them. I was next to take a penalty after Rudiger, but then Kepa saved theirs so all the pressure got taken off.
To then follow that by scoring on your Premier League debut against Crystal Palace, did you have to pinch yourself?
I just couldn’t believe it. It’s every kid’s dream to play in the Premier League, that was my dream for years, being a ball boy, going to watch games, seeing Champions League nights at Stamford Bridge. Starting my first-ever game for the club at the Bridge is a moment I can never forget and then I topped it off with a goal, which was obviously a very nice feeling.
I wouldn’t have shot from there very often. Most of my goals have been in the box, a header or a tap in, but as it came to me I could hear the fans saying ‘shoot’ and that’s the only reason I did it. I didn’t know it had gone in until I heard them cheering. That’s when I dropped to my knees, I just couldn’t believe it.
It looked like that celebration was very emotional. What was going through your mind in those seconds after you scored?
It was everything from when I came here when I was eight, all those memories just flashed through my mind, the loans and all the hard work I’ve done and the sacrifices I’ve made. Everything came together and it was just like ‘wow, I’ve scored at Stamford Bridge’. It was amazing. It took at least a week to sink in.
There were a lot of messages from my friends and family afterwards, some nice messages from fans as well, my phone froze at one point! My family know all the hard work I’ve put in and they were telling me it’s paying off and saying they were relieved because they knew I was good enough but had to wait for my chance.
Your brother Nathaniel, now at Fulham, also came through the Chelsea Academy and played for the senior side. What did he say to you?
I spoke to my brother straight after the Palace game and he was so happy for me because he’s been here as well, he’s played at Stamford Bridge, he’s won the Premier League, so he knows how it feels. Even to this day he’s always giving me advice and we keep close to each other, we speak every day.
When I went on loan to Lorient, it was my first time living abroad, and it was the same for him when he went on loan to Napoli, so he helped me and told me what was needed, how to adapt with a different language and everything.
When we were both here and I would go across to take part in training with the first team, it would be nice to train with him. Now one day we could play on the same pitch in the Premier League, that would be another dream. If I can’t play with him, then against him would be good, so hopefully that dream can come true too.
Although you didn’t get on the pitch, you were previously part of the Chelsea team that won the FA Cup in 2018. How important were those early experiences with the senior squad?
I have got a medal from the FA Cup, after I trained with the senior team for the last six months of the season. A lot of people don’t realise that I was on the bench for that final, that was another proud moment.
A lot of the same players are still here. It just shows the journey the club’s had, I’ve had and those players have had. My first training session with the senior team was when I was an Under-15. I was so nervous that day. Meeting all the players you watch on TV and at the stadium, and then training with them, was unbelievable.
Now, I think the important thing for a young player is watching a senior player who’s played loads of games for this club. I’m still learning from those players every day in training and off the pitch they’re always giving me advice, but it’s not only about playing. Observing is a way of learning off the senior players as well, seeing what they do, how you can copy the same things and be better as well.
When did you find out you would become a permanent member of Thomas Tuchel’s first-team squad?
I spoke to the manager between the Palace and Arsenal games and he told me he wanted me to stay, so I moved over to the first-team building that week. Before that I was changing over at the Academy, but now I’ve fully moved over. It was a nice feeling when the manager told me. He spoke to me after training and told me how well I’d done, that I’d taken my chance in pre-season and in the games. He said he thinks I can be a good asset to the team and learn from the other players and support them.
Even until the day he told me I didn’t really believe it would happen. Even after the Super Cup I thought he’d probably want me to go on loan. After the Palace game it was a bit half-and-half, but until he pulled me into the office and gave me the news I couldn’t really believe it.
How have you found working with Tuchel so far?
He said he already knew what I was like from my time on loan at Lorient. We played at PSG away in the first half of last season when he was there. I came on for the second half and did really well so that’s when he first saw me.
At the start of pre-season my main thought was just to get myself fit, to be ready to go if a loan club came in for me, but at the same time to give it my all to try and impress the manager. Then the manager liked me and gave me minutes in the friendly games and I did well. It was just about taking my chances.
He’s been very helpful. He’s always told me what I need to do, especially on the pitch, when you do something wrong you need to correct. As a player that’s what you want, you need that to improve. That guidance is really important.
You played in midfield a lot during your loan spells, but we’ve seen you in defence here. What would you consider your natural position?
When I first went on loan to Ipswich I was a centre-back, after playing there in the Academy, but going on loan is about adapting to different managers and they wanted me to play in midfield. It was the same at Huddersfield and Lorient, but I had in the back of my head that I want to be a centre-back and I showed that this pre-season in the games I played.
I can fill out a role in the midfield as well if needed, it’s good to have that versatility and for a manager to have options. To play in midfield you need to be good on the ball and that’s one of my main things, but obviously you need that at the back as well here, being comfortable on the ball, aiming to play out through the likes of Jorginho and Kante.
It’s helped as well that I played in a back three at Lorient last season. I knew I had to do well because I knew the formation Chelsea were playing with was the same. I played in all three of the positions at the back and then coming here it felt the same. When you play this formation a lot you know how it works and what’s required of you.
You won silverware at youth level with Chelsea and England alongside the likes of Mason Mount and Reece James. Did seeing them make the breakthrough in the senior team give you the belief you could do the same?
Yes, because of watching them and Lampard giving them chances. I have to say thanks for that, because that gave me the motivation to then say that I want to do it as well. I played with them from the youth days, winning a lot of trophies together, so it gave me the motivation to get here and now it doesn’t stop, I’ll keep going and aim for more. It’s good to get that motivation from each other, that’s what gave me the hunger.
You were born in Sierra Leone. Did you start playing football there or was it only after moving to England?
I was about three or four when I moved over and at that time, when I was growing up, I didn’t like football at all! My brother’s always played football, even when we were in Sierra Leone he would always be kicking a ball around. When we moved over to England he started playing in the park and got scouted from community training. From then, I liked what I saw and started to play at school and the same thing happened, and I ended up coming to Chelsea. So, it was because of my brother that I started playing football.