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Michael Hector


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I am delighted with the signings of young players, but we have to use them or we're wasting time. For me it's perfect. See our young players grow up to be football stars is one of the best things of

It has got better, sent off in his first cup game as well *starts statue campaign*

Hector to replace the irreplaceable papy... Massive shoes to fill in. Can he do it? Is he up to the mark

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Chelsea loanee Michael Hector calls for FA Cup rule change after being denied chance to play at Stamford Bridge for SECOND season in a row!

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-6635995/Chelsea-loanee-Michael-Hector-calls-FA-Cup-rule-change-denied-chance-play.html

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Michael Hector was immense for Wednesday, with two of his long passes leading to chances for them (one of which was Lucas Joao’s late goal). He also made a crucial interception to deny what would’ve been a certain Freddie Sears goal.

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‘It sounds crazy but I’d do it all again’ – Michael Hector on life after Chelsea

https://theathletic.com/1726509/2020/04/16/chelsea-michael-hector-fulham-hull-reading-sheffield-wednesday/

hector-michael-chelsea.jpg

Michael Hector knows the question is coming and, at the first hint, nips in expertly to cut the interrogator off in his prime.

So, if you had your time again…

“No, no, no,” he interjects. “Look, my friends are always asking me this and my answer is always the same. It would have been impossible to turn Chelsea down. I’d been released by Millwall at a young age. I went to college, played Sunday League, worked my way back with Reading then learned on loan in non-League. Back then, I never would have dreamed of ever signing for the club I support. That was fantasy stuff.

“Yeah, I might have played more games in the Premier League by now had I not joined. I’ll never know how my career might have progressed. But if the team you supported as a boy comes in for you, you have to go with it. My mates are all West Ham fans, so I say to them: ‘If West Ham offered you a contract, would you turn it down?’ Of course they wouldn’t. Why would I? So would I change what I did even though things didn’t work out the way I hoped they might? No, not at all. I’d do it again. I know it sounds crazy, but I’d do it all again.”


Hector is sitting in his back garden in Essex, his young son pottering around the lawn in the sunshine exploiting the fact his father is on the telephone and distracted to seek out some mischief, with football suspended and his career enduring its latest hiatus. Momentum has been checked, for all that this is a time to see the bigger picture given the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic. The centre-half is now at Fulham, his eye-catching form since finally becoming eligible in January having contributed heavily to a promotion push that sees the Londoners third with nine games to play.

Scott Parker’s side have lost only once in the 11 Championship games the defender has played with six clean sheets en route. It says everything about his impact that the locals have nicknamed their classy, authoritative centre-half ‘Virgil van Mike’. There is still lingering frustration that the £8 million deal to secure him from Chelsea missed the deadline by minutes back in August, largely because it hinged upon Tottenham Hotspur securing Ryan Sessegnon, a transfer which – inevitably – went to the wire. But Fulham pursued a deal regardless, a show of ambition and faith from the vice-chairman and director of football relations, Tony Khan, which is now paying off.

The centre-half was granted permission to train at his new club ahead of the formal completion of the move mid-season. He could mix with future team-mates, maintain fitness in training, and even play two matches for the under-23s in December to bring him closer to match sharpness. With weekends and weekday evenings free, he even had time to train for his UEFA B licence, and has completed all the practical work for the coaching badge. He can pore over the paperwork during the current interruption, if his toddler permits him that luxury.

Khan’s tenacity in pursuing that interest has been rewarded. “It was a long pre-season, let’s put it like that,” Hector tells The Athletic. “The move to Fulham had been in the pipeline for a while, but it needed other things to happen before it could be completed. To miss out by minutes in the end… yeah, that hurt. But I’ve had a few deadline day moves in my time, cutting it fine, and this was one too many. Maybe it was karma telling me I need to do this properly from now on.

“So I was on the outside looking in when it came to matches, but the staff at Fulham were unbelievable in terms of keeping me fit. It wasn’t just running, either. There was ball work and those two games with the under-23s. We had a man sent off just after half-time in the first one, too, so that meant I was really tested for 45 minutes. When January came, I probably felt the fittest I’ve ever been in my career. That’s been shown on the pitch, coming straight in and playing 90 minutes from the outset despite what was, really, a long lay-off. And, before this latest break, I was really enjoying it. I felt at home. I had some rhythm to my game. My form was there.

“As a centre-back, maybe it’s easier to slot in. You can talk more. You can organise and protect yourself. As you get the games under your belt you can do more for the team with the ball and that’s what has happened. I felt part of things with unbelievable players to my side, in front of me and, in Marek Rodak, at my back. I was on their wavelength, and it was just so good to be playing again, to have that smell of the match day experience. I’d had months to play out in my head how my first touch as a Fulham player would go: just make the first thing you do positive, be solid. When it happened, it was a tackle against Aston Villa in the FA Cup. A little ‘I’m back’ moment. One to enjoy.”

It is as if the 27-year-old is making up for lost time which, for all that there is a ‘Hector No 30’ match-worn Chelsea shirt in his house yearning to be framed, he is.

There is little conventional about his footballing career. His has been a nomadic existence through 15 loans spells at clubs up and down the pyramid: from relegation toils at Bracknell Town in the Southern Football League Division One (West) at the age of 17, to flirting – perhaps optimistically – with the Championship play-offs with Sheffield Wednesday last season. He was once named Barnet’s young player of the year and took the senior award at Hillsborough, his efforts invariably appreciated by the support.

There was a successful six-month stint at Aberdeen, after which he travelled back north to watch his former team-mates win the 2014 Scottish League Cup final with the fans. With Jamaica, he reached the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup final only to lose to Mexico in front of almost 69,000 fans in Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. Then there was that ultimately fruitful year at Eintracht Frankfurt under Nico Kovac – “A proper culture shock at first, but a chance to experience something very different” – which included an appearance in the DFB Pokal cup final, for all that Borussia Dortmund proved too strong.

Each temporary stint, whether secured while his registration was wedded to Reading or Chelsea, was an education. Even when, as an 18-year-old, he was sent off three times in 11 games while playing for Horsham and hauled in front of a Football Association tribunal. They passed down an eight-match suspension. “One of the reds was as the last man, clipping the striker by accident,” he says. “But the other two were reactions: to someone stamping on my toe or elbowing me off the ball. The referee turned round and saw my reaction, not the original incident.

“I was a young lad playing against men. The manager was always on to me, telling me not to get bullied, to stand up for myself. Maybe I took it too literally and didn’t do it in a controlled manner. But it was good for me to learn the game at the coalface, and how to behave off the ball. That was key for me as a centre-back. You have to control your emotions. You’re the last man, and you’ll come up against a few bruisers in your time. It’s not always pretty.”

All those techniques seemed to be paying off. Having finally been offered game-time at Reading, the club he had joined on scholarship terms after impressing against them for Barking Abbey in a friendly, he finally made his debut in early 2014 and swiftly established himself as a regular. His performance in the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal the following season, where he helped the Championship club blunt Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud before Alexis Sanchez won the tie in extra-time, showcased his talent.

There were top-flight suitors for his signature that summer, with Crystal Palace’s pursuit of his services the most persuasive. With talks yielding agreement, Hector went and stayed at his uncle’s house in Dartford, across the Queen Elizabeth II bridge in Kent, to be closer to Palace’s training ground in Beckenham where he anticipated undertaking a medical on deadline day.

Then a phone-call out of the blue changed everything. Or, at least, that was the hope.


It was Pat Hector, Michael’s father, who fielded the call from Michael Emenalo.

In his youth, Pat had played cricket three first-class matches for Essex back in 1977. The England junior international once mustered 40 from a berth in the county’s middle-order against Cambridge University, and took three for 56 against Leicestershire as a fast-medium bowler in a Championship fixture. He tried to imbue the same love of the game in his son, but Michael, who grew up in East Ham and did play for Essex’s junior sides – the Chelsea connection stems from his mother’s roots in Fulham Broadway – found the drag of all-day games rather less appealing. Even boring. “My dad always told me sport should never become a chore,” he says, “and he’s always supported me with my football. He’s been behind me all the way.

“That summer I was basically done to [go to] Palace. Reading had agreed the deal and we were staying with my uncle to do the medical. Then that evening, the day before the deadline, my dad left the room to take a call. He came back and said: ‘You’ll never guess who that was.’ It was Emenalo, who was Chelsea’s technical director at the time, saying they wanted me. Once I’d worked out he wasn’t winding me up, that was that. I’d turn down any club in the world to join Chelsea. It was an absolute no-brainer for me and my family.

“My dad went over to Stamford Bridge that night to talk with them, but it wouldn’t have been right not to speak directly to Palace, too, and tell them what was going on. I felt bad leaving them in the lurch, but we spoke to (the Palace manager) Alan Pardew and, to be fair, he understood. Chelsea were ‘my’ team. This was all a dream come true.”

There were eyebrows raised at the reigning Premier League champions’ business on that final day of the 2015 summer window. Jose Mourinho, whose second spell at the club would be curtailed before Christmas, had started that summer with aspirations to secure John Stones from Everton but, on the day Hector signed a five-year deal and joined for £4 million, Chelsea also secured Papy Djilobodji from Nantes.

Some questioned the logic in clogging up the pathway for Andreas Christensen, Tomas Kalas and even Kenneth Omeruo into the first team. At 26, Djilobodji, whose career at the club amounted to a minute of normal time in a League Cup tie at Walsall, felt a baffling purchase. For Hector, three years younger and a player who had made an impression in the second tier, this was at least reward for steady progress.

“Maybe Steve Clarke, my manager at Reading, drove the move given he was a former Chelsea player and coach and had made me vice-captain,” he says. “They wanted me back for the season on loan – we felt we had a real chance of going up that year – so it was a fleeting visit to Cobham to sign the contract and shake hands with a few of the players and management. I bumped into Mourinho in the canteen and he told me to keep my head down and work hard. Which I did. Everything I did from then on was with the intention of eventually making it at Chelsea.

“I’d never move somewhere I didn’t feel I could break into a team. I believed in myself, particularly after that semi-final against Arsenal the previous season. I felt I could compete. You can do well in the Champ but, against Welbeck and Giroud, I held my own, so I knew I could play at the top level. So when the Chelsea move came about, given the chance, I believed I could play at that level. Even when I started training with them at the start of the following season, just after Antonio Conte had been appointed, it felt natural. I felt good. Everything was positive.”

In hindsight, Hector never came closer to forcing his way into the first-team picture at Chelsea than in that summer of 2016. He trained under the Italian and his staff at Cobham, and travelled with the senior squad to Austria, the United States and Germany on pre-season. He played 32 minutes in a 3-0 win over RZ Pellets WAC at the tiny Lavanttal-Arena in Wolfsberg, Austria, replacing Djilobodji towards the hour-mark. He sat on the bench at the Michigan Stadium as more than 105,000 fans watched Conte’s team edged out 3-2 by Real Madrid. A couple of weeks later, he played 13 minutes of a 4-2 win at Werder Bremen at the Weserstadion.

It felt as if he was making an impression. Conte, easing his way into new surroundings, had made positive noises. The squad had welcomed him into the fold. John Terry, a player Hector idolised, made a particular effort to make the new man feel at home. “He’s from Barking, JT, and I was from down the road and had grown up watching him. He invited me and Carlo Cudicini for a round of golf on one of our days off on the tour of the US, trying to make me feel welcome and to get to know me. He was just a winner. Even at his age, he wanted to win every time in training. He never cut corners, the ultimate professional. And yes, he won at the golf. Easily.

“It was a really posh course, too and we were there in our training kit and trainers. You could see the members all looking at us wondering what the hell was going on. I don’t think my round recovered from almost crashing the buggy, which was a bit embarrassing, but it was just nice to be part of it all. It would have been nicer to have been part of a proper match-day squad, obviously.”

Those hopes were dashed in a conversation with Conte a few days before the start of the Premier League season. “My shirt was printed, I had a really good pre-season behind me. He said he’d been impressed but he felt I needed to play regular top-level football for a year and have another go at Chelsea the following year. If the manager tells you that, you know you’re not going to play. So the Eintracht Frankfurt loan, which had been in the background for a bit, suddenly felt very attractive. A chance to try life in a top league. That was different, tough, learning in a different culture.”

He was sent off in his first two appearances for his latest loan club. “JT was one of the first people to text me – after my parents – saying: ‘Don’t worry, these things happen to centre-halves. Just keep focused and keep plugging away.’ He wanted to check everything was OK for me, living in a different country, and that I was coping. For him to do that for someone he’d known for, what, two months? That meant a lot.”

That opportunity to play alongside Terry in a competitive match never materialised, with the cameo in Bremen his last appearance in a Chelsea shirt. Hector improved and impressed at Eintracht. He played 38 games at Hull City the following season, and 39 at Wednesday last year.

Throughout that time, as his parent club recruited defenders or brought youngsters through from their academy, Chelsea maintained regular contact. There were detailed reports on his every display, and regular follow-ups by WhatsApp, text, in telephone conversation and even in person with the likes of Eddie Newton, who oversaw their army of loanees, and his deputy Paulo Ferreira.

“It was a bit like school when you get your report card back, but good because you’re always learning about your game, what you’ve done well and what you need to improve,” he adds. “I’d basically be getting two lots of analysis, this constant stream. They’d come to a lot of games, or even visit the training ground to have a chat, and put clips together of my performances which we’d go through together. The level of feedback and advice was something else. I’m the type of player who likes to see how I can correct things or improve. At centre-back, you can save your legs, almost, and play on until you’re older. Even now, at 27, I can still learn and play at the top level – if I get there – for quite a long time. So you have to have an open mind.

“But, while I was still improving – back at Reading, when Brian McDermott replaced Steve Clarke, they even spoke with Chelsea about using me in midfield to improve my distribution – it got to the stage where I needed more stability in my life. Every summer I wouldn’t know where I would be playing my football in the season ahead. I could be at Chelsea a few days before the start of the season, and then dispatched absolutely anywhere in the last 48 hours of the window. After a while, that becomes too much.

“My son was born towards the end of my loan at Hull and, while I enjoyed playing in Sheffield the following year, after that loan I couldn’t do it anymore. I realised that about halfway through last season. We found it hard getting my son into a routine, even when he was up with me in Sheffield, and just needed to be able to plan a bit more long-term. It didn’t matter whether it was in London, wherever. I needed to put some proper roots down.

“I want to play at the top level, I am still ambitious, but I have to do right by my family as well. Moving around each year started to feel selfish. It was the right time to go to a club where I could build something. Fulham was perfect. I still live in Essex, but travelling round the M25 is nothing compared to driving up north as regularly as I once did, or even moving to a different country with Eintracht. There was a sadness that things hadn’t worked out as I’d imagined they would at Chelsea, but moving to Fulham and playing… it felt like going home.

“When I looked at the squad I was joining, it was scary to see how good the players they had were. I had played against them when they were promoted through the play-offs in 2018, and this is basically that squad with class players like Anthony Knockaert and Ivan Cavaleiro thrown in. You knew you’d have a great chance, seeing that. And a good, young manager in Scott Parker, too. My West Ham mates are always pestering me about him given his history there. I like his temperament. He’s so calm, the way he talks to the players…

“It’s hard for him. We’re expected to smash this league, but the Championship’s not like that. Wherever you play, it’s a tough game. You’re always coming up against a side fighting for something. Teams want to sit in against us, too, which makes it harder still. But I’ve enjoyed working with him in the short time I’ve been here so far. I’d watched it all over the first four months of the season, desperate to be involved, and it was such a relief to get stuck in since the turn of the year. So now it’s another hiatus. But, when football returns, I’ll feel properly part of things.”

The hope is, at some point, a promotion push can be resumed and Virgil van Mike might make a difference. Hector, five years on from Emenalo’s call, is finally making his mark in south-west London.

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