Richard Nartey is the latest subject of our series highlighting the development of Chelsea players out on loan and the young defender tells us all about his season so far at Burton Albion…
On the books at Chelsea since the age of eight, Nartey has always impressed with his ball-playing ability as a centre-half. He helped our Under-18s win the FA Youth Cup and Under-18 Premier League in 2016/17 before making over 30 appearances at the development squad age group.
Nartey has settled swiftly into life as a senior professional, establishing himself as a regular at centre-back in a Burton side pushing for a return to the Championship after two seasons away.
Only five of the Brewers' outfielders have more league appearances than the 21-year-old to date so the official Chelsea website felt it was a good time to catch up with the Londoner on life at the Pirelli Stadium.
Firstly Richard, how are you finding life in your first loan spell?
It’s been good. I’m pretty much used to it now so it just feels normal. I’ve had a small injury issue recently but it’s not too bad. I stopped before I made it worse so I’m back again now.
I spoke to Bradley Collins a bit before I came here because he was on loan at Burton last season. We talked about what the group of players were like, how they were and the style of football. He loved every second of it so he made it an easy choice for me.
Nigel Clough, the Burton manager, admitted you would have started the season in the team were it not for an injury sustained late in pre-season…
I had an injury at the start and was out for the first six games but that kind of helped me get used to it because I got to watch, to see what it was like and learn off the players. It actually worked out pretty well for me to see what it was like.
I got to make my debut against Oxford, which we were winning in and I played 10 minutes there but you could tell the intensity was a bit different. It took me a couple of games to get used to it, which is why I think easing me in was actually a good thing looking back now, even though at the time you don’t like being injured. I just looked at it as an experience to learn from the other players.
Despite this being your maiden experience of professional football, you’ve become something of a regular and have missed just four of Burton’s 25 League One matches so far this season.
I was always hoping to play as many games as I could but I didn’t think I’d get to play as many as I have done so I’m grateful to the gaffer for giving me the opportunities and having faith in me. I’ve played 25 games now in all competitions and each game I feel better and more confident in just the physical side, which is the biggest thing for me.
Because of the injury at the start, I got a glimpse of what it was going to be like for me so I was a little more prepared for it when I went into my first full 90 minutes against Coventry. It was tough, you get a lot more elbows playing in League One than I’d been used to in the Academy but as the games have gone on, you get used to it.
You realise that you’ve got to learn how to deal with it and how to give a bit back to the other players but once you get used to it, it becomes easier.
You played against senior opponents in the Checkatrade Trophy while in the Chelsea Academy but those games were few and far between. Has the regularity of coming up against League One strikers, often twice a week, been beneficial?
It’s definitely helped me come on as a player. Every game that you play is just another experience to play against people who have been in the game for however many years longer than me so they know all the tricks, which you have to start picking up from them.
Playing against strikers who have been in the league for so long has helped me learn how to defend against it and just be physically stronger.
Unlike some of your Academy contemporaries who went out earlier, you didn’t go on loan until you were almost 21…
Waiting until I felt ready - and Chelsea thought I was ready - was definitely helpful, instead of just saying I want to go out on loan and not actually being ready for it. I think that would have been much tougher for me, not just physically but mentally as well, if I wasn’t getting picked. So waiting until I was 21 and ready makes you feel much better as a player and gives you the confidence to keep doing it.
When you see others going out and doing it, a part of you wants to experience what it’s like as well but in my mind I was always confident that I’d eventually get my chance when I was ready and when the club thought I was ready. I’m just grateful that Burton took me on and they’ve given me a chance to play.
How have you found it going into a League One dressing room?
I went in on the first day of pre-season and I was a bit nervous because it’s my first loan but as soon as you go in, they all make you feel welcome. The older lads who have been in the game for so long have all been in my situation, being the young one in the team, so they all understand. They were great at helping me settle in and making me feel comfortable.
The manager has also made you feel comfortable by making you such a key part of his side…
It’s been amazing the amount of faith he’s shown. I never fully expected to play as many games as I have or for him to have so much faith in me given it’s my first loan and still being young compared to the other players.
His name and the background of the family is a huge thing so it’s been an amazing experience for me, especially with the style he likes to play. It suits how I like to play in playing out from the back and there are not too many times when we just go long so it’s been great for my experience.
Former Chelsea striker Tore Andre Flo is your loans mentor, which must be useful to pick his brains as somebody who played up front at the highest level of the game?
He’s come up to a couple of games now and he brings footage, sees what I’ve been doing well and what I should be working on. He’s always checking in with me like when I’ve had some hamstring issues - he’s always asking after me and he’s been really helpful in making me feel a part of being at Chelsea still.
When he came up, he was giving me advice about what kind of things he hated to come up against as a striker. Obviously he played at the very top so if there’s things that he didn’t like, I always try to take it on board and try to implement it in my game. The best advice is from a striker on what they do and don’t like so he’s been really helpful.
How have you adapted to life on loan off the field?
Burton have found a house for me and the other player on loan so we both stay up here. It was a bit weird at the start, being out of London and living alone for the first time in my life, but you get used to it pretty quickly and now it just feels normal for me.
And you were previously studying for an A-Level while playing in the Academy – how is that going?
I’ve put it on hold for the moment. I was originally going to continue with an Economics A-Level but after the first couple of games when I started playing, I spoke to my parents and just said it’s going to be too hard to do.
It’s the first time I’ve had to play Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday and it takes a toll on you physically and even mentally. I just had to knuckle down and focus on being right for the games. I think I’m going to start it again when I’ve got used to it a bit more, maybe next year.
Burton are currently one of the in-form teams in League One and are into the play-off positions following a midweek win over MK Dons, which must be really encouraging for everyone?
We’ve been doing really. We had some games at the start of the season where we know we should have won but the gaffer just told us if we keep playing the same and having faith in it then eventually the results would come.
Over the Christmas period especially, to win three out of the four games was a huge boost for our position in the table and being close to the play-offs is a big thing that we’ve been aiming for. The league is so tight so you can never get complacent or switch off because it can change really quickly.
For me personally, the play-offs was always the goal I wanted to set out for, coming here in the first place. You can see everyone in the team has faith in how we play and we all know that if we play our game properly and we play well, then we finish up there.