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General Chelsea Stuff

Started by Unionjack,

329 posts in this topic

This is something Roman can cover easily. He is committed to the club. Clubs that have bigger revenue than us are in much more problems because of Covid since they have different kind of owners.

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‘He was so young it seemed impossible’ – Chelsea unites after death of ‘Woody’



On the Saturday before the October international break, Chelsea recorded a fairly comfortable 4-0 win over Crystal Palace in an empty Stamford Bridge, but the mood among many of the supporters who would ordinarily have been in the stadium was subdued. For those accustomed to cheering from the stands, these bubble matches have tended to be disorienting, disconnected viewing experiences. On this occasion, however, their hearts and minds were elsewhere long before kick-off.

One of their number was no longer among them. Two days earlier Andrew Wood, known to his many friends as “Woody”, died of a sudden heart attack at his home in Mansfield aged just 33. His death was the kind of inexplicable tragedy for which life offers no preparation and yields the kind of grief for which there can be no real consolation. What happened in the days that followed was an example of what happens when a community recognises the nature of that pain and responds accordingly.

Chelsea’s match-going support — particularly those who regularly trek all over England and Europe to follow their club — is a relatively tight-knit group. Those who didn’t know Wood personally at least knew of him. He had helped some secure last-minute tickets for games and sponsored others in their efforts to raise money for charity. Some simply became accustomed to seeing his broad smile and hearing his gloriously loud laugh in the Matthew Harding end of Stamford Bridge, or in pubs or trains heading to away matches.

“One of the joys of being a regular away supporter is being able to walk into a pub in a far-flung northern town before an away game and know that you will know people in there,” former Chelsea Supporters’ Trust chair Tim Rolls tells The Athletic. “One larger-than-life character I have always enjoyed bumping into, who loved Chelsea, and loved the whole match-day experience, was Woody.

“I first met him in a bar tent outside the Liberty Stadium and over the next seven or eight years, saw him in pubs and on away concourses all over England and in Europe. On a midnight train in Frankfurt and on Baku seafront. In a station hotel in Leicester and a cricket club in Burnley. Queuing to get into Old Trafford, Anfield and St James’ Park.

“Always happy to chat with a fellow supporter, always with a huge smile on his face. Even when we lost, he never seemed down, always looking forward to the next game, the next trip. Going to football is massively enriched by the likes of Woody and he will be sadly missed by so many fellow Blues.”

News of his death on the Thursday before the Crystal Palace game circulated via a series of stunned phone conversations. “I spent the next couple of hours ringing people who deserved to hear the news from someone personally rather than finding out on the socials,” Chelsea season ticket holder Walter Otton wrote in the latest edition of CFCUK fanzine. “I went to bed numb.”

Among those hit hardest were Anthony and Andrew Hall, Chelsea-supporting brothers who came to know Wood better than most. “We saw him three weeks ago,” Andrew says. “We went on a staycation in the Midlands with him and had a great time up there. We played loads of golf, went out with him and his family, watched his sons play football. It was such a lovely weekend and we couldn’t imagine that we’d be in this position now. He was so young that it seemed impossible.”

It didn’t take long for like-minded fans to mobilise online in search of a fitting tribute. “Ordinarily for someone like that, we’d try to organise a minute’s applause in the stadium and do a banner,” says Richard Weekes, founder of We Are The Shed, the fan movement aimed at improving the visual and vocal atmosphere at Stamford Bridge. “That’s what we did for Rob Huxley (the Chelsea fan tragically killed in the Croydon tram disaster in 2016). We tried to think about how we could do that in a virtual way.

“His family were happy with us organising a minute’s applause on social media (in the 33rd minute of the Palace game) with a hashtag (#RIPWoody33), and Kenny Rice (a Chelsea season ticket holder and close friend of Wood) wrote the eulogy that we made into a graphic. We posted that as we normally would for a game in the hope it would pick up, and it did.”

We Are The Shed’s post on Instagram about Wood prompted comments of condolence from Frank Lampard and John Terry. “The good thing about having Lampard as the manager is that he has an amazing connection with the fans,” Weekes adds. “He understands the importance even of a little comment like that, and how much it’s appreciated.”

Their three tweets featuring Rice’s eulogy were seen almost one million times. Stamford Bridge announcer and Chelsea’s popular in-house presenter Lee Parker offered words of support to Wood’s family, and club captain Cesar Azpilicueta dedicated the victory over Palace to him. “To get those tributes made us all weep,” Andrew Hall adds. “Moments like this show you how close the club is. We didn’t expect anything like that.”

On the pitch, Ben Chilwell celebrated his first Chelsea goal by making an “A” symbol with his hands. The following day Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley did the same during Aston Villa’s 7-2 demolition of Liverpool. None of the players spoke publicly about the meaning of the gesture; in the past it has been used to draw attention to A-Star Foundation, which aims to provide positive pathways to education, training and employment for young people.

Regardless of their intentions, the perception that they had chosen to pay tribute to Wood had remarkable consequences. Stories about his death were published by The Sun and The Independent, leading to an even greater outpouring of public sympathy than ever could have been anticipated. The JustGiving page that Anthony Hall set up to raise money for Wood’s family has garnered more than £9,000 in donations, some from as far afield as Singapore.

“We are overwhelmed by the love and support for Woody,” his wife Hayley tweeted. “Thank you everyone.”

Wood’s sudden death ripped through two football clubs. In addition to following Chelsea home and away, he was secretary of Pinxton FC, the local team his eldest son Joe plays for as a goalkeeper. “His organisational skills were unbelievable,” development squad joint manager Craig England tells The Athletic. “He’d only been doing it for five or six weeks plus pre-season, so about two months in all, and he was already up for Secretary of the Year!

“He was the life and soul of the club, and he’d help anyone. He was so organised and thorough that it put everyone else at ease.”

The day after Wood’s passing, the Central Midlands Football League implemented a minute’s silence before all of the games across their five divisions that weekend in his honour. “Our game was cancelled,” England adds. “We were in no shape to play.”

England spoke to Wood on the phone the day he died and counted him as a close friend. Despite being a Manchester City fan, he had been with him to watch Chelsea, as well as attending England games home and away. Their families went on holiday together several times, with one trip offering a particularly memorable reminder of his unrelenting passion for football.

“We once went to Butlin’s on holiday,” England recalls. “They run a football tournament every year, and this year happened to be when Chelsea were in the Champions League final (in 2012). Pinxton were playing in the tournament. He drove to Skegness, had the night there and then left at 3am to drive to Stansted, because he had a plane to catch to Munich (to see the final). He left us with his wife and two kids!”

As a Chelsea fan based in the Midlands, Wood was used to travelling for his passion. The train from Mansfield to London takes four hours, though he would sometimes drive to Newark station to shorten the journey. He would even be seen at Stamford Bridge for youth games, yet made sure that none of this came at the expense of his family life. He was every bit as devoted to Joe’s club Pinxton and Blidworth Bengals, the team his younger son Nicholas played for. When both teams needed funds for new kit, he assumed responsibility for raising it.

In recent years, match-going Chelsea supporters often saw Wood at games with Joe or Nicholas, and sometimes both. His talent for organising meant he often assumed logistical responsibilities for the more ambitious away trips — most notably the Europa League final in Baku in May 2019. “The day after we won, he was the one on the phone to my brother saying, ‘Get the bloody hell up, we’ve got to catch this minibus back to Georgia’,” Andrew Hall says.

Pinxton have renamed one of the terraces at their home ground, the Van Elle Arena, in Wood’s honour. Chelsea have been in touch with his family and will run a tribute to him in the official match-day programme when Southampton visit Stamford Bridge after the October international break.

That programme will be in digital form, along with every other aspect of the football supporter’s experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chelsea fans cannot mark Wood’s untimely passing in the way they would like to at Stamford Bridge, but that has not stopped them showing his family just how much he was appreciated and will be missed within their small community.

“It just shows you how many lives he touched at Chelsea,” Andrew Hall says. “His passion for football was second to none, and we’ve lost a great friend. It’s still hard to comprehend.”

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‘I’ve been put in the bin’: Nigel Spackman’s sign at Stamford Bridge removed



Nigel Spackman has always been realistic about where he ranks among the list of all-time greats at Chelsea, but he never thought the club would decide to put his name in the rubbish.

When Chelsea resumed their Premier League campaign at home to Southampton, the ground looked a little different. During the international break, a sign displaying the “Spackman Entrance” at one corner of the West Stand had been removed.

Until receiving a brief message from the club informing him of the decision, the former midfielder had no idea it was a possibility. The initial news stung a little bit, but finding out the words had been put in the trash made him feel a lot worse.

He tells The Athletic: “I had an email from Chelsea telling me what was going on and that’s it. There was no consultation, no phone call, nothing. I would have loved to have had the sign as a memento. Some of my mates are Chelsea supporters and said they would go and get the sign for me. But apparently, when they went down there, they’d already taken the letters off the sign and thrown them in the bin. That was it.”

Younger Chelsea fans may wonder what the fuss is all about. After all, this isn’t involving one of the stars of the Roman Abramovich era such as Didier Drogba or Eden Hazard.

But Spackman was a good performer for Chelsea over two spells (1983-87, 1992-96) making a healthy 267 appearances in all. He was part of the side that won promotion from the old Division Two (now known as the Championship) to Division One (the Premier League) in 1984 and a minor piece of silverware — the Full Members’ Cup in 1986.


Spackman played a part in Chelsea’s renaissance in the 1990s too, helping them reach a European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final in 1995 at the time Glenn Hoddle was player-manager.

As a sign of appreciation for his efforts, former chairman Ken Bates decided to name one of the entrances in the new West Stand, which was officially opened in 2001, after him.

But this season, Chelsea decided to remove it and replace it with “Club Chelsea — West Middle South” instead.

The explanation given? Spackman received read an email, which read: “These changes to more directional and wayfinding stadium signage will assist in the flow of supporters when we can welcome fans back to the stadium in whatever restricted numbers government and Premier League guidance allows.

“We will also be considering renaming other entry and exit points with more specific and instructional names. We hope that the new signage will improve the flow of supporters around the stadium as and when we can implement a plan for the safe return of fans to football.”

It should be pointed out one of Spackman’s former team-mates, David Speedie, has also had a sign placed in his honour at the other end of the West Stand signalling the “Speedie entrance” taken down.

Speedie, who scored 64 times in 205 appearances from 1982-87, has been accused of allegedly making racist comments in the past, so perhaps that isn’t too surprising. However, it is believed that like with Spackman, his name was removed (changed to Club Chelsea — West Middle North) simply to help supporters find their way around easier when the ground is reopened to the public.

But Spackman is still wondering what he has done wrong to be treated so discourteously. Chelsea did sell him to Liverpool, where he won a league title in 1988 and, 20 years later, Spackman admitted he wanted the Merseyside club to win a Champions League semi-final between the two clubs. But as far as any negative fallout with the club, that’s it.

Spackman is certainly non-plussed. He adds: “The excuse for taking it down — to help the movement of spectators — is ridiculous. No one is going to the games right now and won’t be for a while. I don’t understand it. What can I do? It’s sad but they’re not going to change their minds.

“It was a real honour for me and my family to have the sign in the first place. People I know would send me pictures whenever they were at games and met outside the entrance. I still felt a connection with a club I loved playing for and made my name at. It was always a privilege to see it there when I worked at games doing punditry or went along to a game with some friends.

“I don’t want this to sound like sour grapes, but the way I was informed it had been removed was rather cold. It is really disappointing. I’d understand it completely if it was a new Stamford Bridge and it was a Zola Entrance, a Vialli Entrance, a Terry Entrance or Lampard. What top players they all were.

“But I was part of the club’s history too and I’ve been put in the bin. It’s down to the club. If that’s the way they treat you, what can you say?”

It is understood that no slight was intended regarding the decision itself or what happened to the sign. Due to the use of vinyl lettering, each letter had to be scraped off and by the time the process was finished, they were too damaged to be recognisable and were thrown away. New vinyl lettering has been used to spell out Club Chelsea — West Middle South.

In the communication Spackman received last week, Chelsea did make it clear: “We look forward to welcoming you back to Stamford Bridge along with fans in the hopefully not too distant future.”

But the 59-year-old, who didn’t respond to the email sent to him by the club, feels those sentiments ring rather hollow given the way the situation has been handled.

He concludes: “I wasn’t sure about saying anything because people may think I’m just moaning. But then others may think, ‘Yes, he’s got a point there’.

“We are all adults. There is no one bigger than Chelsea, not even Roman Abramovich. He is the most important though and I’m sure he is too busy to be worrying about issues as small as this so I’m not sure who made the decision. I understand every club’s need to progress. That’s life. It’s the communication around the whole thing I have an issue with.”




pretty fucking shitty by the club IMHO

low class

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Ruben Sammut – from Chelsea, to Sunderland, to LinkedIn, to Dulwich



For Ruben Sammut, the challenge has changed but, in many ways, the imperative remains the same. He needs to stand out from the crowd, he needs to be noticed.

Sammut always wanted to make an impression, whether it be an FA Youth Cup final victory in front of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich or as an 18-year-old walking onto the first-team training pitch under Jose Mourinho.

Sammut recalls: “We were told Roman would be watching the final against Manchester City (in 2015). A lot of first-team players came to the big FA Youth Cup games and Mourinho came along too. You think, ‘This is my chance to make Roman or Jose remember me, to do something in the game’. The whole thing with Jose was his aura. He could put on a session similar to one that other coaches may do but nobody would be mucking around. You didn’t want to annoy Jose. He always called a youth boy ‘The Kid’. You wondered: ‘Does he actually know my name or will I always just be ‘The Kid’?’ You try and do something to make sure your name stood out, so Jose would ask, ‘What is his name?’ and so I could say, ‘I am Ruben!’ Some players thought ‘Ohhh, he doesn’t care about us’ but others thought ‘I want to make sure he knows my name’.

Now aged 23, Sammut no longer seeks to entice Abramovich or Mourinho. During 13 years at Chelsea, Sammut rose through the academy. He won two FA Youth Cups and two UEFA Youth League trophies, forming a prominent part of sides featuring Andreas Christensen, Fikayo Tomori, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Mason Mount, Dominic Solanke and Tammy Abraham. He was coached by Frank Lampard’s current first-team assistants Jody Morris and Joe Edwards at youth-team level, with Edwards in charge for the 2018 run to the semi-finals of the EFL Trophy, where Sammut — the heartbeat of Chelsea’s youthful midfield — captained a team featuring Reece James, Ethan Ampadu and Callum Hudson-Odoi.

Two and a half years later, however, and Sammut’s life has changed markedly. In the summer of 2019, Chelsea and Sammut cut the cord. He joined League One Sunderland but did not make a first-team appearance amid the club’s upheaval and a change in manager shortly after he signed. In May, as the country locked down, Sunderland informed Sammut he would be released after a campaign mostly spent in their Under-23 team.



Sammut leads out Sunderland U23s against Liverpool in February (Photo: Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

After the relative comfort of academy life, this past summer has proved a sobering reminder that even an elite education provides few guarantees in a brutally competitive sport. Sammut was one of several hundred free agents in a cluttered window, where Football League clubs came to terms with a hard salary cap and reduced budgets, which left many unwilling to take risks on unproven young talent.

Sammut was proactive. He adapted his Twitter bio, simply writing “free agent” and inputted his CV and clips onto LinkedIn. He freely provided contact details for his agent. The details of Chelsea’s academy manager Neil Bath and his former coach Edwards were also provided, both of whom had made themselves available for references.

Sammut wrote: “Clubs looking for a CDM/CM, or if anyone knows clubs that are in need of this position. I have arguably the best football education in the world at Chelsea FC Academy. Now looking for a manager to take a chance on a player stepping up into senior football.”

And yet, it was hard. Some clubs refused to take triallists at all this summer, citing the prohibitive cost of COVID-19 testing and therefore plumped for experienced heads when assembling their squad. Sammut went for a trial at League Two Salford City, where he was part of a triallist team that defeated Manchester United’s Under-23s, but he received a polite call to say he would not be needed.

He knew, having failed to star in League One, it may need to be League Two, or the National League. He trained with Dover, Woking and Bromley in the National League to keep fit and, as the window closed and squad space closed up, Sammut dropped into the sixth tier of English football. He is now playing for Dulwich Hamlet of the National League South, defeating teams such as Corinthian Casuals and Christchurch in the qualification rounds of the FA Cup. Last weekend, however, yielded a 2-0 home defeat by Chippenham Town in the league.


Now, meeting in a coffee shop near his family home in Maidstone, Sammut is reflective. There is no hint of self-pity. He is delighted for his friends Mount, Abraham, Tomori and Hudson-Odoi. He is 23 years old but Sammut is not a tale of too-much-too-soon or off-pitch excess. He has invested money wisely, owning properties in London and the northeast. He holds a GCSE in Mandarin and he spent his lockdown completing a Football Association course in Talent Identification, which may provide a pathway towards scouting or coaching. He is, in short, a talented player struggling to catch a break.

His analysis is smart and illuminating, particularly when discussing the flaws and occasional parental touchline rivalry in academy football, or detailing the coaching sessions he experienced under Mourinho, the “regimented” Maurizio Sarri and “the most intense” Antonio Conte. His insight into his former coaches Sarri and Edwards, breaking down the precise drills they use to perfect their pressing, is absorbing.

First, however, to Sammut himself and the most challenging summer of his young career.

“Footballers have an ego thing going on,” Sammut admits. “I had to drop my ego this summer and be realistic. I know players released by Chelsea who had not gone anywhere and were just training at home. I wanted to be proactive. I knew by going on LinkedIn and messaging managers, assistant managers, technical directors, and, yes, making myself vulnerable, it could put me in a shop window.

“I effectively had a season out of first-team football at Sunderland. I played for the under-23s but my eyes have been opened during the last couple of years. I went to Woking and the manager made jokes, saying he went to an under-23s game and there wasn’t even a tackle. At Chelsea, we got to the semi-final of the EFL Trophy and proved we can play at that level but under-23 teams playing against each other is not quite the same. I have spoken to managers who said we need to play men’s football for scouts to take you seriously. I got caught under the blanket of playing under-23s football for too long and should have gone into men’s football a year earlier.”

It must be a difficult mental transition, though, to go from representing Chelsea in youth tournaments, wiping the floor with opponents, to take a punt on a loan move to the fifth or sixth tier of English football.


Sammut nods. “It is a shock to the system. If you drop to that level, you feel like you have failed yourself. Now I am that little bit older, I accept I need to play at that level to progress. I had players either side of me at Chelsea who have first-team careers and you can start to think, ‘Man, I have had to drop down to this level.’ At Sunderland last season, the hardest day was Saturday. I went to games and felt I could offer something in the team. A lot of players I played with in youth teams are playing on Saturday. If they are playing and you are sat at home or in the stands, you can feel like (a spare part). I am honest enough to admit there have been times where I started thinking about opponents I played against in rival teams over the years. You start to think, ‘I wish I got that move he has had, we used to beat them 4-0 or 5-0, they used to never get near me and now they are having a great career in League One, how has he got that?’ But I cannot fall into that trap.

“I know some players fall out of the game and would rather not play at that lower level. Some just quit. Football is a weird world. You ask, ‘I wonder what happened to so-and-so’ and find out he is not in the game anymore and they are doing a ‘normal’ job. When I was 19, I could have dropped my ego. I was trying to go to League One teams on loan but nothing was really coming up because they went for more experienced players. I should have gone to a National League team for half a season.

“Premier League academy players have the dream of being a Premier League player. You are thinking ‘I am a lot better than the fifth or sixth tier’ but the reality is you have not proven yourself to be that. If you are resilient and strong-minded, you can come back up. N’Golo Kante was in the ninth division of French football five years before winning the title at Leicester and now he has won the World Cup. Five England players in the last squad came through non-league. It can be done. I just need to be playing football. Dulwich’s coach Gavin Rose is a friend of Jody Morris, a really good coach and wants to play through the thirds. He doesn’t want to play route one. He sees Dulwich as a good place to develop players and sell on to higher leagues. It is up to me to show my quality.”

Reared in the Chelsea academy, Sammut impressed coaches with his application and his skill. As a six-year-old, he first trained at Arsenal’s Hale End facilities alongside Crystal Palace’s Ebere Eze, QPR’s Chris Willock and Reading’s Ovie Ejaria. Then a dad on the touchline tipped off Sammut’s own father about a Chelsea trial day.

“Chelsea had won the league with Mourinho,” Sammut recalls. “They asked if I wanted to keep going and I just loved it. Jim Fraser is now the assistant academy manager and he took a shine to me. Dad wanted me to listen to coaches and one of the things he really taught me was to give eye contact when people are talking to you, as a lot of kids get distracted. I listened to everything and did what I was told. My attitude got me through the academy more than my ability —  there were more talented players with a worse attitude who did not go as far as me. I became the under-23s captain because I led by example.”


Sammut notes how the dynamics of academy football change through the age groups. What begins as fun becomes more competitive as the teenage years creep up. He explains: “Another dimension becomes apparent as players get sponsorship deals and may be called up for England. Now it becomes serious and there is serious money involved. It becomes tough for parents. Mum and Dad would say this to you. There is even competition, like ‘your kid has a Nike deal’ and things start to change and there is a new dynamic. I didn’t have an agent until I was 16, when the academy manager Neil Bath came to me and explained I would sign a contract when I was 17. Neil said it would be wise to get an agent. I had never thought about getting one, to be honest, before that. Agents came to games and a few would approach your parents. I wanted someone I could trust and had my best interests at heart. It is hard for parents to know what is the best thing to do for their child. You are so naïve at the time because you have never experienced it.”

As competition intensified off-the-field, Sammut continued his education on the training pitch and in junior tournaments. Coached by Lampard’s current assistant Edwards, he featured in the Chelsea team that won the 2015 and 2016 FA Youth Cup final. He jokes how it started to be seen as “the Chelsea FC Cup” as Chelsea lifted the trophy five years on the spin between 2014 and 2018.

Edwards’ work on the training ground, often working with Morris and sometimes accompanied by Lampard, captured Sammut’s imagination and developed James, Tomori, Mount, Hudson-Odoi and Abraham.

Sammut describes Edwards as “the most impactful coach of my academy years.”

He explains: “He could put his arm around you and be more of a friend. But both Joe and Jody have good cop bad cop within themselves. Joe could give a bollocking if he needed to but knew the right time and knew who needed handling differently. His man-management — you could not ask for better. His coaching points were clear. He never did the same thing; always different, always interesting, always fun. He went to America to learn from the San Antonio Spurs and NBA coaches about how they work. He was really hot on analysis and he explained how NFL teams would have guys in at 5am and in all day studying clips. He wanted us to have a good culture, where we wanted to do extra. He developed our mentality so that when a session ended we wanted to practise corners or longer passing. He said that it creeps for people to settle but he wanted us staying in the building as long as possible.”


Edwards, Morris and Lampard have sought to introduce a high-pressing game to the Chelsea first-team. It has, at times, worked impressively although concerns linger over the team’s defensive lapses.

Sammut continues: “Joe and Jody wanted us to press hard and high with energy, just like Chelsea are starting to do now. I watch Chelsea now and I see signs of how we used to play. We played Arsenal once and Thierry Henry was the assistant for Arsenal under-18s at the time. I remember after the game, Joe and Jody told us how Henry could not believe how well we pressed as a group. When we were on our game, all in sync and pressing, no team could beat us. This is why Mount looks so comfortable pressing. He led the press. There may be other players less used to it, which helps Mason stand out a bit more.”

How did Edwards actually coach the pressing philosophy? Sammut says: “We did possession drills where if you lost the ball but won it back within three passes, it was a goal for your team. The onus was on creating a reaction to losing the ball. We studied how an opponent would play out [from the back] and knew exactly where our lines should be to press and where to go. We’d do 20-30 minute sessions on that. It instilled it into our brains. Equally, if a team got ten passes consecutively in a training drill, it would be a goal to them. So you are trying to stop them getting to the tenth pass, working together as a unit to win the ball back. The intensity of training got our fitness levels up and we could press harder for longer periods of games whereas you would only be able to do it for 20 minutes before tailing off. We could do it for 40-minute periods.

“It never became boring with Joe. With some coaches and managers, you know it is a warm-up, a passing drill, maybe a shooting drill and then you go into a game. But Joe just kept our minds active. We might be working one week on switching play, so he would do possession game where there would be a gate on either wing and to score you had to get it through there. You went into training excited, active, and thinking ‘I wonder what we will be doing today’ rather than ‘Ugh, we are doing that today’.”

As Sammut’s stock rose in the youth age groups, opportunities came to train with the first-team. He recalls sessions with Mourinho, Sarri and Conte.

“The speed of the game was the main change,” he begins, “One-touch, two-touch, you turn, you think you have time and there’s a player in your face. You need to be a pass or two ahead, that was the eye-opener. You watch Premier League football and think they have so much time but when you are in training with them, you realise you have no time at all.”

He shifts forward in his seat. “The detail!” he grins. “You get moaned at for not passing it to their back foot so a player can turn out. John Terry was captain and completely drove the sessions. If the standard dropped, you knew about it because John would have a go at you. John made us feel welcome and got other players to say hello. It is scary when you first go there, definitely. The academy and first-team buildings are separate. I came in in the morning and Jody or Joe would say ‘You are training with the first team today’. From that point, you are thinking ‘I better be ready’.”


“You would not know the night before. I nervously jogged over, across the pitch and shook the coaches’ hands. You made sure you were early and then you are there, just on the pitch, waiting, as these first-team stars emerge from the building. It used to be quite daunting but once the warm up is done, you relax a little. They don’t go easy on you. There was a loose ball and I was going in against Terry. In that split second, I am thinking ‘There is no way I am winning this but I have to go in there’. He has absolutely taken the ball, me and a mannequin out. He said ‘That’s what it is like, get used to it’. That was a wake-up call. You need that as a kid because you are in your own bubble, everything is comfortable in the academy — it is an awakening.’

Do all the superstars apply Terry’s level of intensity to training? “Remember they play a lot of games. Eden Hazard, for example, could go through the motions in training. He was still top quality, but not running around crazily. You are thinking ‘How is he then producing what he does on Saturday?’ But he had to look after himself. There was never a point anybody trained badly. The standard had to be high. Cesc Fabregas was amazing. He was one of the players who, if you did a bad pass, he would be on to you. Not in a bad way but more ‘Come on, this is how we do it’. I’d make sure I raised my standards because I didn’t want Cesc on me, especially if I was playing midfield with him in a training game — you don’t want to be letting him down. I was amazed by Jorginho. At the end of Sarri’s training, the game was always one-touch, or two-touch, and I have never seen anybody as good at that as Jorginho. It was like his head was on a swivel and he could touch anything around the corner. Nobody could get near him.”

At Chelsea, Mourinho, Sarri and Conte all faced challenges as the curtain came down on their periods at the club. Sammut’s experience with each was limited but he offers a portal into each manager’s approach. He was, for example, around the group when Mourinho’s second reign fell apart.

He explains: “Jose is quite an emotional guy and whatever mood Jose is in around the place affected everyone. Once that transition came for him knowing he was going to lose his job, it did put a cloud over the place a little bit. That’s the reality of the job but as players, you should not let that affect you. You can tell from the Tottenham Amazon documentary how a lot of players felt like they had let Mauricio Pochettino down because they should have been playing better under him and that’s the reason he lost his job. With Sarri, the training was very similar every day. He was very much regimented in that he would do a lot of shape work and then a one or two-touch game at the end. I always thought if you had Hazard in your team, that was not his game. He wanted to be running at people. A few players found it quite frustrating but others enjoyed it.

“Conte was really involved in sessions and had a load of coaching points to outline. It was almost to the point that he had it done it so much that everyone knew the movements they had to make on the pitch and the exact passing patterns. The season he won the league, he brought a new formation and everybody needed to know exactly where to go and where the ball was going. The detail he goes into is unlike any manager I have experienced. I only trained with him a handful of times. He was the most intense, even in team meetings — he would go into detail breaking it all down and you almost thought ‘How can you go into that much detail as the game is going so quickly?’

“I am a player who learns a lot from analysis but a lot do not take it in as well. Some think ‘You come to the game, you react to what is going around you’ rather than thinking ‘I should be there’. What was hard was that there was a divide between players taking it on board and other players who thought ‘Just play the game of football’. Some players come from that playground football background, where they think ‘football is a game of skill and who wants it more’ and they find that aspect of tactical detail harder to take on board. It is so hard for a manager to strike the balance. Conte has had unbelievable success with his methods in every job.”

For Sammut, contact remains at Chelsea, both with the coaches he left behind and some of the young starlets of Lampard’s team. At his family home, he still keeps training kit from the Chelsea under-13 age group, his UEFA Youth League jerseys, a club-provided picture frame of FA Youth Cup celebrations and the shirts he wore along the EFL Trophy run.

Now, however, he is taking steps backwards in order to move forwards. He concludes: “By the time I left, I needed to play men’s football. I was sad to leave people: Maggie the chef, the kit man, all those people who treated me so kindly. This summer, after leaving Sunderland, dad said there will be hundreds or thousands of players in the same position as me. I asked any football connection in my phone for help. I asked staff at Chelsea for numbers of managers or contacts to just say, ‘Here is my CV and I am available to come in and train’. If anything has come from this, it is the amount of managers I now have in my phone. A lot of them were very helpful, even if they didn’t need me. They wished me all the best and said they would keep tabs. It was quite an uplifting experience. Now I have to play some games for Dulwich and really kick on.”

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