After Ian Maatsen received a maiden call-up to the Netherlands senior squad, we spoke to the 21-year-old and several key figures who have shaped his journey so far...

When Ian Maatsen made his first senior appearance for Chelsea four years ago, it was the fulfilment of a very ambitious target he had set himself when he arrived in England.

'When I’m 17 years old, I hope to make my debut for Chelsea in the first team,' he told Chelsea magazine not long after joining our Academy system in the summer of 2018. He was 16 at the time, and very few Blues youth products had made such a bold claim, let alone achieved such a lofty goal.

'I realise you need to be realistic,' he added having noticed the look of surprise in his interviewer’s eyes, 'but if the chance is there I hope to make my debut soon. I pray every day for it and believe in myself.'

That self-belief paid off in September 2019, when Frank Lampard brought him on as a second-half substitute in our Carabao Cup third-round tie against Grimsby Town.

Still six months short of his 18th birthday, Maatsen played 25 minutes in a 7-1 win that night, as Reece James, Tino Anjorin and Marc Guehi also made their Chelsea debuts.

Thinking back, Maatsen has to wade through 125 other senior matches in his memory bank to remember his first.

'That moment went really quickly,' he explains. 'I had it in my head that I wanted to play here, for this club. I found it difficult to accept, sometimes, that maybe I wasn’t ready at that age, and I needed to improve myself.

'I wanted to show at the highest level that I am able to play for this club, and I did that.'

You will often hear young players at the start of their professional careers use the word 'pathways' when talking about the various ways they could make it to the first team at Chelsea.

After making his debut in the Carabao Cup that night, Maatsen was earmarked for the next stage of his development: loans away from Stamford Bridge.

Over the next three years, he gradually stepped things up from League One, with Charlton Athletic, to the Championship, with Coventry City, to being named Player of the Year in a promotion-winning Burnley side last season.

'It was not the right time to play here, but there was a chance to go somewhere else and improve, adapt more and learn more about the game,' he explains. 'I’ve done that and it’s really worked over the three years.

'You can just tell, from the beginning to now, a lot has been improved in my game, and also outside the pitch. I am more mature, I make better choices on and off the pitch, and I really know what I want to accept from myself and what the standards are as well.'

Andy Myers – once a Chelsea left-back – was Maatsen’s mentor during his season at Burnley and also his coach in our Under-21s side. He has seen the Dutchman’s progress as clearly as anyone, and identifies his attitude, his willingness to work and improve, among the unsung attributes that set him apart.

'Myself and Jon Harley are probably the people that have worked with him most,' says Myers, highlighting another former Chelsea left-back who coached Maatsen in the Academy.

“We loved him. He has a demeanour. I always say Maats has a poker face. You never know if he’s happy, sad or in between at any time because you can just never read him.

'But he loves football and his enthusiasm and energy when he trains is replicated on the pitch. You’ll see him sprint, you’ll see him get up the field, you see his endurance, you’ll see him bounce back and go again if he makes a mistake.”

Myers also points to Maatsen’s versatility, how he has thrived in various different positions, for managers with diverse methods and approaches, something on which the Chelsea Academy has long placed a heavy emphasis.

“I coached him in a season when we focused a lot on playing the inverted full-back role that he was used in a lot at Burnley last season,” he says. “There were a lot of things we taught him that season that have worked well for him, in terms of popping inside, because he’s a clever player.

“Maats is always wanting to learn. He’s got that enthusiasm to work so hard and that
is the fundamental thing – when you’ve got that, the rest will take care of itself.

“He had the previous loan at Coventry, where he was at wing-back, and he had a good loan at Charlton before that. But I think last year he came into his own in a position he enjoyed, because Burnley were so fluid. I watched him score, create, everything.”

It’s easy to fall into the realm of cliché when speaking about a versatile Dutch footballer, but Maatsen has shone in roles across the pitch from the very beginning, as Jim Fraser, Chelsea’s head of youth development and recruitment, remembers.

'Ian was a player that we first identified playing in centre-midfield, when he first got into the national team at Under-15s,' explains Fraser.

'We were looking for a left-back as a bit of a priority position, and when we carried on following him he was actually playing centre-back in the national team, and at times left-back as well.

'We felt that he was multi-talented. The confidence I had in my role to be able
to say to the club, "Look, we’ve identified a player who can play centre-midfield, left-back or left wing-back and has even played centre-half."

'We wouldn’t have imagined he would play centre-back here because of the dynamics of the English game, but being able to play on the left side of a back three was a really big thing for us.

'He’s now had three loans and made more than 120 appearances in the professional game, in multiple roles. To think he was doing that when we first identified him at 14, and he’s now coming on for our first team as a No.10 and as a winger... I think that shows what a talented footballer he is.'

Maatsen was well-equipped to play in any system on the pitch when he began his first loan spell, but that doesn’t make it any easier for a 17-year-old to walk into a League One dressing room just 18 months after moving to a completely new country.

'It was a bit weird, I was a little bit nervous to see new people,' he says of his first morning at Charlton. 'Here at Chelsea, the facilities are amazing and it’s your comfort zone. So once you step out of that, you realise you’re alone and you have to talk and stand up for yourself.

'When I was young, I didn’t really talk or mind the business of other people, but I started opening up and that just helped my development as well. So I’m grateful for the experience I had there.'

Each summer, Maatsen had to make a choice about his next step. After that spell with Charlton, he felt ready to move up a league, where he went from strength to strength as a wing-back at Coventry.

But the following summer, he had a multitude of offers, and decided to move on loan to Burnley, who had just been relegated.

“I could have gone to other places, but I really wanted to do one more year in the Championship, with a team that had a lot of quality and different expectations. It was, for them, a big thing to go straight back up to the Premier League, so it was a different kind of pressure.

'I really wanted to deal with that and put myself in difficult situations, with the pressure of expectation and the media – all that stuff.'

His manager at Turf Moor was Vincent Kompany, whose approach to the game and intensity as a motivator had a telling impact on the young loanee.

'He was really busy with me, having conversations, long meetings, watching clips,' says Maatsen. 'He was a coach that really pushed me to the limit. We had really good personal conversations, not just about football but sometimes in life when you want to achieve something, those conversations can help.

'He always said to me, "You can win this championship and become Premier League but every year, you have to be better and better. You have to draw a line after this season and ask yourself... what did you improve on and off the pitch?"'

Maatsen took that advice into pre-season on his return to Chelsea this summer, scoring twice against Wrexham in the first game of our U.S Tour and giving us the best photo of the trip with a celebration that showed how important it was to him.

“In that moment, even though it was a friendly game and it was pre-season, for me it was just like a relief. Everything...all the hard work I had done...I came here as a boy of 16, to a different country, by myself, learning a new language, making new friends and team-mates. It was just, in that feel proud of yourself.

“It’s a new start, new people – it’s good for the club, and for us young players to demand more from each other, and bring Chelsea again to the highest level, winning trophies, playing Champions League, and all that stuff.

'We’ve got a lot of talent in the squad. It might be the youngest Chelsea team that I’ve known and it’s really good that there’s healthy competition.

“Everyone is competing, everyone is ready to go. I just have to put my head in the right place and every day set my standards high, never letting them drop.

Some days will be difficult, of course, because nobody’s perfect, but in those days I will try to do the same things that I’ve always done.”

This piece was first published in our match-day programme for the Carabao Cup second-round tie with AFC Wimbledon. You can order every edition of this season's programme by clicking here.