We sit down with Reece James to discuss his return from injury, his experiences as captain so far, and why Chelsea’s potential is starting to show…
Sometimes, you have to slow down to speed up. It’s a lesson Reece James has learned the hard way this season.
A few days after our opening game against Liverpool, the newly appointed skipper sustained a hamstring injury in training. It would rule him out for over two months.
'There are times you feel things, but all you want to do is play,’ Reece tells us. ‘Then you push and realise something has happened.
'My body gave me a warning, but I didn’t listen. I’m more aware now when something is screaming, slow down a bit.’
Such is the impact James has already made in his career, it is easy to forget he is still only 23 years old. Dealing with injuries has, frustratingly, become commonplace, but Reece is doing everything to get his body right for the rigours of Premier League football.
‘I haven’t felt this good in a long time,’ he says.
‘I definitely feel my strength and fitness building up again. Recently, I’ve been able to play consistently. I haven’t been able to play 90 minutes yet, but I’m training and playing hard, and pushing the limits every day to get back to my best level.
‘I’m happy to be helping the team again as well. After almost three months out, it takes a while to build back up and find your form again. Some people think as soon as you come back you should instantly be at the level you left at, but it doesn’t work like that.
'You have to move slow and steady. That’s what I have been doing. I’m slowly progressing.’
James is not quite doing himself justice. In his three starts since returning, we’ve beaten Blackburn and Tottenham, and drawn a classic with Manchester City in which he got an assist for Raheem Sterling’s goal and won a game-high five tackles, despite only being on the pitch for a little over an hour.
James says he and the coaching staff are carefully monitoring his minutes. He gauges how he is feeling during games and relays that information to the bench.
The ‘super high intensity’ of our past two matches has contributed to his early withdrawal in each, so he is now working towards playing the duration of a game, but putting no timeframe on that next step. Slowing down to speed up.
During his time on the sidelines, James ‘kicked and headed’ every ball. ‘I now know what it’s like to be a fan,’ he laughs. That period also steepened his learning curve in his first season as skipper.
'The captaincy has been great, but it was difficult when I wasn’t fit because it is hard to affect things as much when I’m not with the group all the time.
‘Thiago probably helps me the most whenever I’m unsure, or I feel like I need advice on something. He is nearly old enough to be my dad! So he is the person I go to.
‘It’s not for me to say what sort of captain I am, but I’ve enjoyed it so far. It’s an honour,’ adds the right-back.
A few days after the event, James is still bowled over by the atmosphere created by Chelsea fans during the City draw. He believes it’s the best he’s heard the Bridge since the famous 4-4 against Ajax in which he struck an iconic equaliser.
James can sense the bond between the team and the supporters building. He has seen firsthand why Mauricio Pochettino is ‘an amazing person and an amazing manager’. And whether he was watching pitchside or, as now, in the thick of things, the 23-year-old believes the Blues’ high potential is beginning to show.
‘We’re still a fairly new group. The more time we spend with each other the more understanding we have. That helps us. We have come a long way.
‘Our performances in the past five or six weeks have picked up. Everyone is happy around the place. Our confidence is growing. Results help that. It’s the starting point. When we’re performing well as a team people are going to try more things and look more confident.
‘We’ve had a tough run of games, and we’ve picked up some good points. We have stepped up. We need to keep building on this now.’
And as James knows all too well, sometimes it’s best to go slowly when you want to speed things up.