In the latest instalment of our sit-down player interview series, we catch up with teenager Harvey Vale to reflect on a season in which he has made his debut in the League Cup and FA Cup, learnt from senior players and not looked out of place...
Vale joined our Academy at the age of 12 from neighbours Fulham and has caught the eye during his ascent through the age groups by virtue of a terrific left foot and an ability to consistently impact games in the final third.
He is still six months away from his 19th birthday and remains eligible to feature in this season's FA Youth Cup, a competition in which our youngsters have reached the semi-final stage once again.
After regular exposure to senior training at Cobham, Thomas Tuchel handed the Sussex-born youngster an early present with a debut in the Carabao Cup away at Brentford three days before Christmas. He has featured on five occasions in total, all as a substitute, and now takes his turn to answer our 10 questions.
Let’s begin by going back to the summer of 2020 when you had just started as a first-year full-time scholar with the Academy. You had some training sessions with the men’s first team pre-season straightaway…
It was when Frank Lampard was the manager. I was 16 and I spent a good few weeks with them in pre-season. It was crazy! I was only a schoolboy at the time and I was training with big stars and they were all really good to me.
I got on in one of the games in pre-season, against Brighton, and I feel that’s all helped me for when I’ve come over to train with the first team again. I've got a bit of experience and I take that back to help the boys in the Academy as well.
At the time, I just sort of took training with them at such an early age in my stride, but then a few months later when I had time to reflect and talk to my family about it, it's crazy when you think about it. I was so young.
Does it feel like you have made steady progress ever since then?
Yeah, I do feel it has been like that. Obviously there have been some highs and lows but I feel like it's been steady and good, and then recently towards the Christmas period this season it accelerated. I've become a bit more involved with the team now.
I train quite regularly with them and I feel like it's helping me a lot. I feel like I'm improving a lot. The senior players give me advice and I love it.
When it comes to senior players from which you can learn, we have a good number who play in similar attacking positions to you, and with a range of styles and qualities, and you are a versatile player yourself…
If you speak with each of them, you can take different bits from each of their games because they all play it so differently and at different speeds and tempos, so I feel like it's good for me. To learn from them I can try to add the best bits from each of their games into mine.
I have played a fair few positions in my time and that benefits me as a footballer. I’m happy if it helps the team for me to show I have that sort of the tactical understanding. That will help me in my career no matter where or who I play for.
Playing left-back at an early age helped my understanding of the game and different roles. Now I'm playing on the wing with a left-back behind me I understand what he's thinking and we have a good relationship. I can fill in if he goes forward. Also, if you've played there and you are taking on a left-back, you sort of know what they're thinking and what they see. You can do the counter of that whatever they are thinking so 100 per cent that helps.
That period before Christmas, when you made your debut in the Carabao Cup game at Brentford, did it help that a group of you from the Academy were involved?
Definitely. It's always nice coming over from the Academy as a group. It can be scary if you come by yourself. I was speaking to one of the other boys with me and he said if he came over by himself, he wouldn't know where to go, so as a group you can stick together and you feel a bit more at home.
There's a few times when I've come in by myself and everyone did make me feel welcome but it's nice to share those moments with your mates.
It is significant that in the fourth of your six first team appearances so far, in the FA Cup match at Luton, you were brought on when the team were behind and there was still half-an-hour to go…
I was really proud of that, because the team was losing in one of the biggest competitions in England and the manager and his staff showed trust in me to bring me on. That really meant a lot and coming on when the team was 2-1 down and then winning 3-2 shows I did some things right. That was probably one of the proudest moments I have had so far.
In his post-match interview after that game, Ruben Loftus-Cheek praised you for holding your own against strong and physical opponents and not looking out of place…
Luton were really physical but I just tried to focus on my game. They might be more physical but if you think quickly, you are maybe able to get the better of them. And Ruben has been a big help to me.
As you have come through the development process, you have often played against older players, so has that helped with challenges like the Luton game?
In my career I've always played above my age group and that has developed me physically. I feel physically comfortable playing against men.
It helps mentality if you've been doing it for years, you are not scared playing against older players, you just sort of do your own thing.
Alongside your first team involvement has been the Academy season. How do you view that?
It's been a tough season in PL2 but recently we have had a couple of good performances and we feel if we keep performing to that level, the results will come. There are a few second years who play in the Under-23s and we're still in the FA Youth Cup. Also the Under-18s are fighting for the league and they recently got through to the final of the Premier League Cup, so there's still a lot for the Academy to fight for.
The FA Youth Cup is getting to the final stages, it is exciting, we are into the semi-finals where we play Nottingham Forest and the Youth Cup is always a massive competition when you see the players who have played in it in the past, like Mase, Reece, Trev, who won it for us and we're looking to bring it back to Chelsea.
In the previous Youth Cup round, a win over Blackpool at Stamford Bridge, you scored a goal that was voted runner-up in the Chelsea Goal of the Month vote, and rather reminded everyone of a Hakim Ziyech goal…
When I scored it I did think I've seen that before! I’m sure everyone saw Hakim's goal against Tottenham and it was sort of like that. It is probably one of my best goals. It’s nice playing as a right winger and coming in on your left foot when you see it open up. Once you manage to catch it and you see it is going in it's always nice.
To finish, tell us about your brother Morgan and your father’s involvement in non-league football…
My brother plays for my local team, AFC Uckfield, and my dad's part of the staff there, so if I have a game on a Saturday and he's playing on a Sunday, me and my mum will always go, watch and support. And I love it. It's fun.
It's not quite the same standard but it is certainly enjoyable, and he's always supported me, and I think it's important to stay in touch with proper English grassroots football.