The official Chelsea website interviews Carney Chukwuemeka to reflect on his start to life at Stamford Bridge, the work he is doing on and off the pitch, what he is learning, and what he wants more of…
There’s a quiet self-confidence about Carney Chukwuemeka. He may have only turned 19 in October, but the young man who grew up a Chelsea supporter speaks with a clarity and intelligence that belies his age.
Chukwuemeka’s story as a Chelsea player is not yet six months old, yet there is plenty to discuss, not least a breakthrough January in which Chukwuemeka featured in every game and made his full debut for his boyhood club.
That came in the 1-0 win over Crystal Palace, with the England Under-20 international deployed on the left-hand side of the three behind Kai Havertz. He operated in a similar position as an early sub when we hosted Manchester City in the Premier League, and it is the subject of those two games our chat begins with.
‘Coming on at that point in the game against City was a vote of confidence,’ acknowledges Chukwuemeka.
‘It was good to get minutes against them. I was able to compare myself right now to them as well, to learn off them, and to challenge myself playing against them. I will only improve from it.
‘Coming on against any team in the Premier League that early can be quite demanding, but my performance definitely gave me confidence, and gave me something to build on for my start as well.
‘That was a good experience,’ continues Chukwuemeka, turning his attention to the Palace game.
‘I loved it. From the moment I knew I was starting I was buzzing. It is definitely something to build on. It was even better that my first start ended in a win. I have just got to push on, now.’
Each of Chukwuemeka’s nine appearances in a Chelsea shirt have come since Graham Potter’s arrival, dating back to his debut against Wolves in October.
It is clear the youngster is thankful to our head coach for playing a key role in his acclimatisation to life at Stamford Bridge.
‘The recent game time I have been getting and the trust the gaffer has shown me has helped me believe I belong here,’ says Chukwuemeka.
‘It was quite difficult at the beginning. Villa was all I knew; I made my debut there. I have a lot to thank them for. I just had to get my head around that I would be playing for the club I support. The transition was tough, but good at the same time.
‘I felt I had to be patient at the start of the season. I trusted God’s plan for me and now I’ve almost surpassed the league minutes I got for the whole of last season. It’s a step forward in my career.
‘Now I can continue to play with confidence and freedom on the pitch, and to continue to grow as a player and a person as well.’
Part of that growth is learning from those around him, the wiser, older heads at Cobham. Asked to identify one thing above all he has gleaned from the more experienced members of the Chelsea squad, Chukwuemeka chooses discipline.
Chukwuemeka has been showing discipline of his own off the pitch, spending extra hours in the gym at Cobham before and after training.
‘It has improved me a lot physically and powerfully as well,’ he explains.
‘I’ve been noticing a difference from earlier in the season. I feel sharper as well, running with the ball.’
At this point Denis Zakaria overhears, laughs, and nods his head in agreement. Chukwuemeka has clearly bulked up in the time they’ve known one another.
In fact, it was Zakaria and Chukwuemeka’s combinations that was one of the bright spots in the narrow loss to Man City earlier this month.
On that occasion, Chukwuemeka was more advanced wide on the left, a position from which he thudded a shot against the post with the game goalless.
We have also seen Chukwuemeka in a central midfield role, and as a number 10 operating off a central striker. Where does he prefer playing?
‘I’m probably most comfortable as a left 8 in a three,’ replies Carney.
‘But further forward I can drift off the line, or stay out wide. It gives me that freedom to drive with the ball and receive it in pockets.
‘Growing up in the academy at Villa I did play in multiple positions in the midfield and the forward line. I was used to it, and used to learning different roles playing for England as well at youth level.
‘I have had to adapt throughout my career so far. It is always good to be versatile. You never know when you’ll be needed in different positions.’
That has certainly been the case during Chukwuemeka’s Chelsea career so far, and has helped him accrue a healthy number of Premier League minutes with the halfway point of the campaign only just reached.
Looking ahead to the remaining months of his maiden season in SW6, Chukwuemeka is only too happy to outline the targets he has set himself. His assurance and dedication off the pitch, allied with his obvious quality on it, make you think he has a very good chance of attaining them.
‘I’m definitely after some goals! I have been working hard on that in training.
‘And I just want to keep racking up some more appearances and getting more experience. Hopefully we can end the season with a trophy, and keep building together as a team and winning some more games.’