Ben Chilwell has been reflecting on his long road to recovery from a serious knee injury and the mental strength he needed to get through the setbacks along the way…
It was Christmas Day last year when Chilwell realised the plan to nurse the partial rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee back to working order needed to be adjusted. He had been out for a month following a clash with Adrien Rabiot in our November Champions League game against Juventus but the decision had been made to wait for the tear to repair itself in what was described as a conservative rehab approach.
Yet an aggravation at Cobham quickly led the medical staff to reassess and it was decided that a surgical repair was necessary. Chilwell went under the knife a few days later and started the New Year on crutches.
‘The plan was for me to watch the boys on Boxing Day and train with the group that didn’t play on the 27th but Christmas Day I was doing a session on the pitch and just felt it go again,’ the defender revealed earlier this week.
‘I planted my foot in a rehab session on the grass and my knee buckled again. It wasn’t as painful but it was the same feeling I had against Juventus [when he sustained the initial damage] and I knew I couldn’t go through my career going through that every month.’
Chilwell’s resilience and mentality were key in getting him through those difficult and lonely months, working initially in the gym and then alone back out on the grass. He returned as a late substitute in our final-day Premier League victory over Watford and came back early for pre-season in order to hit the ground running.
‘I was 100 per cent ready to get back into it in January but I was always quite good with adversity,’ he continued. ‘In my head the surgery was done, just crack on with the rehab, get stronger and fitter, it will improve me mental strength-wise and just come back for pre-season flying and ready to go.
‘Obviously this season with Chelsea and the World Cup as well were big motivations to really do everything, those little one per cents that maybe I wouldn’t have done, to push myself and make sure that when I come back I was even better than before.
‘I was fortunate. Four and a half months after surgery, I felt no pain. I never really had any bumps in the road. In terms of an injury like that, it was as plain-sailing as it could be. Every step I kept progressing and I was fine. I was getting frustrated and I felt like I could have gone quicker but that would have been stupid.’
Chilwell dreams of representing England at the winter World Cup, even more so after failing to feature at all at last summer’s Euros. Representing his country matters to him and he even has a tattoo on his leg of his England legacy number 1235, given to each Three Lions player in the order they have represented the country.
However, the 25-year-old also knows that it will be his performances in a Chelsea shirt that determine whether or not he lines up for Gareth Southgate’s side in Qatar.
‘That’s 100 per cent my aim, of course,’ he said of his international ambitions. ‘I’ve dreamt of playing in a World Cup since I can remember and to know it’s just around the corner is more motivation than you can know, to try and seal that spot down.
‘Not just for myself but for my family, especially after the Euros in what was a difficult time for me. If I could go to the World Cup as the number-one left-back, have a good tournament as a team and we do really well and go all the way, that would be amazing.
‘It would be the highlight not just of my career but for my life, so over the next three or four months I’m just going to do everything that I can to try and make sure that is my spot.’
Thomas Tuchel will have a big part to play in that and the mutual admiration between the two is evident when Chilwell speaks of his club boss.
‘As players, we have full confidence in the manager,’ he added. ‘We know we’re not going to get a better manager here. I’m not just saying it.
‘Now there is that stability. Everything that could have potentially been tricky last season has been resolved so it is up to us to work and to try to get that consistency on the pitch.’