Dion Rankine explained that his loan move to League One outfit Exeter City ‘exceeded’ his own expectations with the Chelsea youngster successfully making the transition to men’s football.

Joining third-tier Exeter at the start of the 2023/24 season, winger Rankine had to contend with the trials and tribulations of men’s football having made the step up from our Academy, going on to feature 36 times for the Grecians.

Learning plenty along the way, including adapting to life more than four hours away from his family for the first time, Rankine is certain that he isn’t just a better footballer, but also a better person following his time in the South West of England.

Reflecting on his loan move, the 21-year-old explained how it exceeded his expectations and that he made friends for life at St James Park.

‘I really enjoyed it,’ Rankine said having returned to Cobham. ‘Before I started I just really wanted to go there, play men’s football and get good minutes. But when I look back on it, it exceeded my own expectations. I played plenty of football, I made friends for life and enjoyed every minute.

‘Comparing it to playing for the Under-21s, you’re playing so much more football – sometimes two or three games a week. It’s a completely different challenge. And then you have the actual matches where teams play completely differently from anything I had come up against before. It’s just so different.

‘The fans were great as well. Exeter is fan-owned so they are really supportive and really invested in the team. I felt that, and the whole team felt that extra boost when we played at home.

‘I think I had a good season and it was good to have my first full season in men’s football. I’m excited and ready to go and kick on.’

The winger admits it was a big jump moving to the other side of the country, but he acknowledged it was an important change that allowed him to learn more about himself.

He continued: ‘It was the first time that I had lived that far away from my family – probably about four-and-a-half hours away. It was a big jump, but I had really great people around me and my family would come down for home games and stay over which was quite nice.

‘I learned a lot about how to manage my body during that time. I’m 21 and you can get away with not having the greatest recovery sometimes, but when you’re playing Saturday and Tuesday every week you have to recover well or you will really struggle. That was something I learned to get better at.’

Rankine was also full of praise for the culture and dressing room that he experienced at the Devon club, with the midfielder pointing to one player in particular who helped him.

‘I had spoken to the manager and the director before joining so I knew what I was going to be getting involved with,’ he added.

‘It was quite a young team so when I got there everyone was so welcoming. It was really good and everyone was really happy to have me there. It was almost like I just slid into the group - it wasn’t really a big change for me. The changing room was really vibrant.

‘After my injury, there were a couple of new signings and one of them was Yanic Wildschut. He was really supportive of me. I think because we played in a similar position and he has had a really good career, it was good to have advice from him and the way he goes about things. He was almost like a mentor to me. He was really good to have.

‘Now I have had my first full season, I’m really excited to kick on and hopefully get more goals and assists.’