Most of the new arrivals at Stamford Bridge this summer have cited Frank Lampard’s influence as key in selling them the Chelsea project, though for Ben Chilwell there was another former Blues legend similarly influential in the pitch.
The England international, who has been named in Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad today, was the latest of our new boys to face the media in an introductory press conference at Cobham on Thursday afternoon.
During the briefing, he discussed his eagerness to play in the Champions League, detailed the work going on to improve the team’s defensive record and provided an update on his fitness following the heel injury that has delayed his start to life in west London.
However, before all that, the 23-year-old started by talking about Ashley Cole and his recent meeting with the former Chelsea number three, who is now coaching in the Academy with our Under-16s.
‘Coming to Chelsea, as well as talking to the manager, a big factor for me was speaking to Ashley Cole,’ revealed Chilwell. ‘Seeing the career he had here, I wanted to emulate that and still do.
'Having someone like that who has played for Chelsea and England, it was important for me and I was quite keen on getting to meet him so I could get to know him and pick his brains on what he thought of Chelsea as a club and how he reached the success he had here.
'I was quite keen to have that chat to find out stuff like that and I’m going to work as hard as I can over the next however many years to try to emulate what he did here.’
Expanding on Cole’s advice, Chilwell claimed the over-riding message from the man who won eight major honours as a Blue was to give everything and play with passion.
‘He just said work hard - I know it sounds pretty cliché but the fans here love players who want to work hard and die for the badge and win for the football club,’ he continued. ‘He said when he first came here, he wanted to win for the club because he loved playing for Chelsea and if I could take that on board, really loving the club and wanting to win for it then I should have a great career here.’
Speaking just two days after his full debut, the defender detailed the nature of the foot injury that has kept him out of Premier League action since the start of July. He sustained it in Leicester’s 3-0 win over Crystal Palace following the post-lockdown restart and will be hoping to make his first Chelsea league appearance against the Eagles this weekend.
‘It was a plantar fascia injury and with that you can’t come back too quickly because it just aggravates it,' he said. 'It’s been frustrating because when you join a new club, you want to train and play straight away and help the team but it was one of those things that if I rushed it, I would have made it a lot worse.
‘Credit to the staff here because they’ve helped me a lot in terms of managing the load and making sure when I do come back that I’m fully fit and touch wood not going to have another episode where it might flare up again. That’s the reason for building me back into the match minutes slowly because it’s important I get it right.
‘I feel fit now. I played 65 minutes against Tottenham a few days ago and felt very fit. I knew going into that game it would only be a 60 or 65-minute job for myself because it’s an injury where I can’t miss steps out and just jump to playing 90 minutes straight away.
'I felt fine after the game which was positive and I trained today ready for the weekend so fitness-wise I feel very good.’
Chilwell is not the only defensive reinforcement to bolster Lampard’s ranks this summer, joining Thiago Silva and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy in through the door in recent weeks. It is an area of the team that Lampard knows must improve and work is ongoing at Cobham, with Chilwell sure that team chemistry will aid communication and resilience in the coming weeks.
‘With the players we have and the players that have been brought in, as well as the coaching staff, it’s a good recipe for things that can happen this season,’ he said. ‘We’re working a lot on the training pitch defensively in terms of conceding less goals from set-pieces and open play.
‘We’re working hard on that and hopefully when we build that team chemistry a bit more over the next few weeks and everyone starts training more and getting back to match fitness, it should start to gel nicely.’
Swapping Leicester for London was not an easy decision for a young man who joined the Foxes aged 12 but the lure of Champions League football was a particularly strong one for Chilwell, who had a taste of the big European stage in 2016/17 when Leicester were narrowly beaten in the quarter-finals by Atletico Madrid.
‘The Champions League is a massive reason I wanted to come here,’ Chilwell explained. ‘Everyone wants to play in the Champions League – when I go away to England and talk to the boys they just say how much they love it.
‘I had a taste of it a few years ago and really enjoyed playing, especially against Atletico in the quarter-finals. It’s the highest stage of club football to really challenge yourself and at Chelsea, with the great squad we’ve got, hopefully we can do really well this season.’
While emulating Cole’s incredible Chelsea career remains a bold ambition for Chilwell, it is a sign that he aims to set the bar as high as possible, a trait he also saw in conversations with Lampard before agreeing to the move.
‘I spoke to the manager and straight away got that feeling that you want to play for him and you want to win for him,’ he added. ‘He won a lot of silverware here and I think it’s important to play for a manager that loves the club I’m joining and knows what it takes to win trophies here.
‘That has been a big reason why a lot of the players have joined. His man-management seems top, even the boys who aren’t playing will say that as well, and tactically he’s very good. He just seems like a really good guy who you want to do well for and that was the main reason I wanted to come.’