No player reaches the top of the game without experiencing difficulties and Ben Chilwell’s story is no different...
The defender may be a regular for Chelsea and England now at the age of 24 but it was the fear of being released by Leicester City as a schoolboy that shaped his resilience and drove him to work harder in order to achieve his goals.
Chilwell’s journey to the Premier League has not been as straightforward or routine as some might think. Although he did spend time on loan in the Championship as a teenager, just like Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Reece James, the boy from Milton Keynes had started his professional career seven years earlier with Rushden & Diamonds after turning down the opportunity to progress further in another sport.
‘I was a big fan of all sports at school so I played cricket and rugby as well as football,’ he revealed recently. ‘I was probably better at cricket than I was at football and it just came down to what I preferred.
‘I was playing men’s cricket at 14 years old, going home afterwards to do my school work while the rest of the team went down to the pub. I didn’t really feel like I was at home with cricket, which is why I decided to pursue football because I enjoyed it more.’
Chilwell spent a couple of years at Rushden & Diamonds before getting his big move to Leicester City just before entering his teenage years. Initially a striker and then a central midfielder, it was a run-out at left-back as a visiting player at Cobham that changed his burgeoning career.
‘I went on trial to Leicester as a midfielder but then my first match was against Chelsea at Cobham and our left-back was injured,’ he explains. ‘As the only left-footed player in the team, I got moved to play back there and for the rest of my six-week trial I just stayed there.
‘For the next few years, up until the age of about 16, I was always asking the coaches to give me another chance in midfield because it was the position I’d always played and I really enjoyed it. If we were 3-0 or 4-0 up, I might get 10 minutes there at the end but once I got my scholarship I really started to enjoy playing at left-back and found that position as my own.
‘It isn’t all about defending and being a midfielder previously I had enjoyed going forward trying to score goals. I realised that being a full-back in the modern game is a lot about attacking as well and that’s when I really started to enjoy it.’
Despite being in the Academy system at Leicester since the age of 12, Chilwell was not guaranteed a scholarship and found life difficult in his Under-15 season in particular. He recalls difficult car journeys home with his father and tough love that helped him realise how much extra effort was required to realise his dreams.
‘I barely played that season,’ he remembers. ‘The coach would read out the squad on a Thursday after training ahead of the game on a Saturday and my name was never being read out.
‘My dad was sacrificing a lot to take me to training three or four times a week, he’d given up his job to drive me all around the country, and those car journeys home were pretty difficult because every week there was hope and then it didn’t happen.
‘I feel like that season really made me into what I am now because it made me realise that talent only gets you so far. I had never really worked on my game away from the training ground and that’s when I saw people jumping above me.
'I thought I was potentially going to get released and that year of difficult times, barely playing a minute of football, has 100 per cent shaped me.
‘After that, I went down to the park every day for two hours to improve myself and the next season I was captain of the Under-16s. It taught me that you need to work hard in everything you do and that happening at such a young age in my career helps when you go through stages like we are now at the club.
'When I’ve gone through something like previously, I know the answer is to get your head down, work hard and crack on.’