In this exclusive first interview with Dujuan Richards, the 18-year-old opens up on his journey from Jamaica to London, his nickname Whisper and the Chelsea player who encouraged him to follow his dreams.
Hailing from Port Royal, situated in the south east of the Caribbean country, the 18-year-old was taken with his country's football culture at a young age.
And with his indomitable focus set wholly on making it as a professional, Richards enjoyed the journey that would eventually land him a move to Chelsea.
Following his transfer being finalised in January, Richards has made two appearances across the Blues’ Under-21 and Under-18 sides. His debut came during Thursday’s FA Youth Cup victory over Crystal Palace – but his journey to SW6 started on the other side of the world.
Reminiscing on his humble beginnings, Richards admits it wasn’t easy, but his three pillars – football, the Phoenix Allstars Academy, and family – helped guide him through.
‘It was rough for me – I’m from the ghetto but had a big dream,’ Richards opens.
‘I didn’t know something like this would happen, but in my mind, I always thought that I would become a professional footballer. Whenever I got an opportunity, I took it. In Jamaica, it’s not easy if you’re not mentally strong or mentally tough. You will fail if you’re not resilient.
‘My family were very important to me. They continue to always support me, text me, and check in on me even during training. I love that.
‘Going through the Phoenix Academy was a pleasure as well. I will always love Phoenix no matter what and no matter what happens next, I will always love Phoenix. I will always support them because they helped me when it was rough on my journey.’
As he grew older, Richards remained engrossed in football and watched his idols make their mark. As he explains though, there was one player who caught his eye after their journey from Jamaica to the European game.
‘When I was younger, I didn’t like watching live matches on television,’ Richards explains.
‘I was always a fan of highlights and watching skills, seeing who the fastest player was, but as I got older I started getting into live football. I then started to watch players and wanting to be like them.
‘Growing up I only watched Leon Bailey because he is from the same academy as me.
‘He has been my idol for five or six years now. I’m really pleased to say that we’re friends now that we have met in the Jamaican national team. He was everything I wanted to be.’
It was during his time working through the ranks at the Phoenix Academy where he earned the affectionate nickname ‘Whisper’, due to his reserved nature off the pitch.
‘When I was younger, if I spoke, I wouldn’t speak loudly,’ Whisper says.
‘I would always come beside you and talk so only you and I could hear. I got the nickname from a coach, and I have lived with it since.
‘I’m hoping one day I might be able to have Whisper on the back of my shirt!’
From the age of 11, right up until his move to Stamford Bridge, Whisper plied his trade against top academies from around the world featuring against Aston Villa and Crystal Palace, amongst others.
His natural talent and work ethic would grab the attention of many clubs around the world, but his effort got noticed by Blues winger Raheem Sterling – himself born in Kingston, Jamaica.
‘Raheem and I messaged over Instagram before I arrived at Chelsea.' Richards, who was unable to finalise his move to Stamford Bridge until after his 18th birthday, explains.
‘I just got a message from him one day and I was really surprised. I woke up for training and I told everyone there that Raheem had messaged!
‘Things like that don’t normally happen. For someone playing at the highest level to message and tell me that I’m a good guy – it motivates me a lot. He’s a good guy and is looking out for me.’
Motivated by Sterling’s comments, Whisper’s momentum hit top gear as he made his debut for the Jamaican national team in March 2023 against Trinidad and Tobago, eventually scoring his first international goal against them in the Gold Cup a few months later.
‘Stepping on the pitch for the country I was born was like winning the Ballon d’Or,’ he says with a smile.
‘It was a really special moment. To then score, I didn’t know what to do. I just ran and did a celebration for fun. I didn’t know what to do. I have seen videos of my family screaming and crying. It was something special.’
His continued rise earned him a move to Chelsea and he joined up with the squad for pre-season to immerse himself with his new club – a dream realised for Richards.
Whisper adds: ‘I got the chance to train in the summer with the club during the pre-season tour, so I have the of experience playing with professional guys who are really experienced.
‘I got along really well with Carney Chukwuemeka and Noni Madueke. The feeling that I got was that everyone treats everyone as one.’