Reece James talks family, friends in the Academy and recovering from injury...
It has been quite an eventful few weeks in Reece James’s household, with Chelsea’s latest Champions League debutant stepping up to the challenge in Lille just a week after a goalscoring Blues bow in the Carabao Cup, while his younger sister Lauren has also been earning headlines in the Women’s Super League.
James enjoyed an excellent season on loan at Wigan last term, claiming a clean sweep of individual end-of-season awards with the Latics, though an ankle injury sustained on England Under-20 duty meant the young defender was denied a well-earned summer holiday.
Instead, he was back at Cobham rehabilitating and watching from close quarters as Frank Lampard, the man who tried to take him on loan to Derby in January, was appointed Chelsea head coach. It was a decision that naturally delighted James and provided that extra motivation for him to get back fit and firing.
‘Frank is a club legend and someone I’ve always looked up to,’ admitted the 19-year-old. ‘If a manager believes in youth and believes in you then eventually you know the chance will come.
‘I’m only just getting back into the swing of things. My first step was to get back fit and now I’m here, I just need to keep improving gradually week-in, week-out. Getting injured is all part of the game and you just have to build yourself back up to get strong and fit.
‘It was a slow process because the injury took longer than expected but I just had to take it step by step. I’m just grateful now that I’m back fit and competing to play.’
For young homegrown players at Stamford Bridge, these are incredible times as James has been joined in Lampard’s senior squad by fellow Academy graduates Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori. Growing up the year group below Mount, the two would often train and play together, a bond that has remained from Under-9s to the Champions League.
‘I’ve known Mason since he was nine years old so it’s great to be playing with him now in a Champions League game,’ continued James.
‘It’s a dream come true. When I was nine or 10, he was in the year above but when we played at tournaments, we were in the same [year-born] age group so we’d play together then. We were good friends and we still are now.
‘It’s fantastic to see the young players coming through together and it just reflects on how good the Academy actually is. Frank helps us a lot, he wants as many young players as possible to play and he’s there to give you opportunities if he feels you deserve it.’
Prior to joining our Academy at the age of eight, James would play endlessly in his back garden with his older brother and younger sister. His dad was a coach so football became ingrained into family life, and remains so to this day. Lauren James is a WSL player with Manchester United Women and scored her first league goal in the same week as Reece’s rocket against Grimsby.
‘She’s doing well in Manchester and did well to get her first goal of the season,’ he said. ‘It was a good finish and hopefully she can keep up the good form as well.
‘I have an older brother so she would see us playing in the garden and then she wanted to play as well. All three of us would play day-in, day-out and we learned off each other.
'Lauren was a bit younger so I’d always come out on top. I never let her win but that probably toughened her up because when you’re not used to winning and you’re playing with older players, it can only help you.’
Football is all about identity and the sight of so many homegrown players in the team this season has clearly charmed the Chelsea supporters. James is also one of those fans, a boyhood Blue who still has a signed shirt from John Terry on his bedroom wall.
‘This is the team I support so it’s always been my dream to play for Chelsea,’ he added. ‘I’m more motivated now than I’ve ever been.’