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Richard Nartey: 'You learn how fortunate you are growing up at Chelsea'

Young centre-back has been at Stamford Bridge since he was nine but after a season of learning on loan at Burton Albion, his release at 21 means the next step is approaching



“The first thing that happened was a ball got kicked in the air at me and I got an elbow in the face,” Richard Nartey says as he recalls his gritty introduction to League One after going on loan to Burton Albion. The centre-back, who has been at Chelsea since he was nine, knew it was time to sink or swim. He was making his professional debut after coming off the bench against Bristol Rovers in August and it was a rude awakening.

“I was a bit dazed,” Nartey says. “It was my wake-up call. I was telling myself: ‘You’ve got to give it back. You can’t act like this young person from Chelsea, otherwise people will pick on you.’ I had to show I could do all the physical stuff and let my technical side show as well.”

He knuckled down, helping Burton to a 2-0 victory. He enjoyed his time at the Pirelli Stadium and is disappointed that the League One season is over prematurely. He has been back at his family home in Wimbledon during lockdown and, with Chelsea deciding not to renew his contract when it expires on 30 June, he is focusing on finding a new club.

The 21-year-old is used to being challenged. Nartey placed a high value on his education, even though it slowed his development at Chelsea. He attended St Paul’s, a private school in south-west London, until he finished his GCSEs when he was 16. “I stayed longer than most at Chelsea before going on loan because I started full-time a couple of years later,” he says. “Usually you do day release at 13. You still go to school and take a day off to train. At 14, 15, 16 you do full-time football. I didn’t train for two and a bit years full-time.



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What on earth happened to Alexandre Pato?



There are, broadly speaking, three competing schools of thought when it comes to explaining one of Brazilian football’s most nagging conundrums.

The majority view is that Alexandre Pato was undone by injuries — that the gruelling series of muscle strains he sustained at AC Milan chip-chip-chipped away at the edifice of his talent before he had the chance to properly sculpt it. Not many footballers have an entire section of their Wikipedia page dedicated to their various spells on the sidelines. Pato does.

Some will tell you he didn’t want it enough — that he lacked that flame that burns deep inside the chests of the true greats, lending that dash of urgency to everything they do. Those who know him paint a portrait of a well-rounded human being who is content with his place in the world. Perhaps, faced with a choice between hard-won immortality and the good life, he just chose the latter.

Others will insist he wasn’t all that in the first place — that he was a victim of the hype machine, swept along on a wave of expectation he could barely comprehend, let alone control. According to this view, the potential that made him a €24 million player before his 18th birthday never even threatened to crystallise. Even before he began his slow walk into irrelevance, Pato the idea was estranged from Pato the reality.

There are varying degrees of blame and sympathy attached to these positions, but all are shot through with melancholy, a strange nostalgia for what might have been. Pato is still only 30 years old. It is really not difficult to conjure an alternate timeline in which he has racked up hundreds of goals for a Champions League team and is gearing up for a fourth World Cup as Brazil’s No 9.

Instead, he is toiling away for Sao Paulo, his best run of form in the last decade having come not in Europe but in the Chinese Super League. He dreams of a return to Milan, but that possibility looks well beyond him now. He last played for his country seven years ago.

It is a dizzying contrast. And so the question persists: What on earth happened?

For the senior players at Internacional, one training session was all it took.

It was November 2006. Inter, the South American champions, were preparing for the Club World Cup. Their president, Fernando Carvalho, wanted Pato — at that point only 17 but already on the radars of European clubs, including Arsenal — to travel to Japan with the squad, largely because he thought it would help increase his value. So he asked coach Abel Braga to give him a chance in a practice match between the reserves and the first team.

Pato scored. Then he scored again. Then once more, just to be sure.

Braga and his players could hardly believe what they were seeing. “It was so impressive,” recalls Iarley, who played up front for Inter between 2005 and 2008. “We were all taken aback. His potential was frightening. I had to speak to the press after that session. Everyone wanted to know about him. I told them that, after Ronaldo, he was the most complete player I had ever seen.

“He was strong, he was fast – zoom! – and he could shoot with both feet. He was intelligent. He could dribble. Normally, a kid of that age has one main strength. Pato was different. He could do everything.”

Rubens Cardoso, the team’s left-back, had a similar reaction. “We had all heard about Pato, but I was bowled over,” he says. “I thought, ‘Christ, this guy is a phenomenon’. Right from that first moment, I thought he would become the best player in the world. Easily.”

Pato scored with his third touch in senior football, a minute into his debut against Palmeiras. He found the net again in the Club World Cup semi-final against Al Ahly. His third game was the final, against Barcelona. He went home with Ronaldinho’s shirt and a winner’s medal.

Pato Barcelona

It was a whirlwind, but so was Pato. Over the six months that followed, he was an irrepressible force, tormenting defenders with his pace and dynamism. “He brought youthful energy to the team,” says Cardoso. “We always wanted to get the ball to him, because we knew something good would happen. He wasn’t just a young promise who needed further development; he was ready for senior football.”

He also seemed ready for stardom. In early 2007, he made the front cover of Placar magazine, who called him “the new sensation of Brazilian football”. Before long, the whispers of interest from Europe became a roar. As Milan battled to the head of the queue, it became evident he would quickly outgrow Internacional.

His team-mates from the time insist Pato was not swayed by his newfound fame. “He was a super-obedient kid who listened a lot,” says Iarley. “He was always asking questions and never talked back.”

Cardoso agrees. “I think he knew how much potential he had,” he explains. “When you win the Club World Cup and start getting linked with big teams, you do get stars in your eyes. But he was focused and centred. He wasn’t the kind of guy who thought he was the bee’s knees. On the contrary: he had this purity, this desire to grow.”


One particularly memorable quote from the time goes against that grain, however. It was a warning, delivered to Pato by his own agent, about the pitfalls of becoming a household name before being old enough to vote.

“I’m always talking with Alexandre, telling him not to think that he’s already made it,” Gilmar Veloz told Placar. “He’s talented, but things are happening too quickly.”

Interlude 1: Fanfare

“Pato is a good example of the society of the spectacle, which is always searching for celebrities. He is treated like a superstar before he has even played 30 games.” (Tostao, World Cup-winning Brazil striker, Folha de Sao Paulo, January 2008)

“Pato believed everything that people said about him. After that, he never progressed.” (Tostao, Folha, October 2013)

Pato could not play for Milan until he turned 18 — they then had to wait three more months to register him — but that did not stop him making a positive impression. Carlo Ancelotti, with whom he would develop a strong bond, compared him to Careca. Club captain Paolo Maldini believed he would lead their line for years to come. “We have found our striker,” Maldini told his team-mates.

When Leonardo, who was instrumental in the Pato transfer, accompanied Kaka to the Ballon d’Or gala in December 2007, he made a promise to reporters: He would be back the following year with his new prodigy in tow. It seemed a bold claim. But then Pato started playing.

He scored on his debut against Napoli (this is a bit of a running theme in his career), then twice against Genoa. By the end of the season, he had nine league goals to his name, despite only starting 13 matches.

Pato Napoli debut

The momentum continued into the following campaign: David Beckham and Ronaldinho arrived in the summer, but it was Pato who formed the most fruitful relationship with Kaka and Pippo Inzaghi in the Milan attack.

His finishing ability spoke for itself. Yet it was his ability to beat his man that really caught the eye of Andriy Shevchenko, who found Pato impossible to displace from the starting XI after returning on loan from Chelsea. “He had incredible pace,” Shevchenko tells The Athletic. “It was a natural gift. He was very explosive.”

For Brazil, too, he looked a lot like the future. He made his first senior appearance against Sweden at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium in March 2008, scoring a stunning goal moments after coming off the bench. When Placar mocked up a cover to illustrate the fierce competition for the main striking berth at the 2010 World Cup finals, Pato was literally at the front of the queue, ahead of Ronaldo, Adriano and Luis Fabiano. Inside, a report card rating his various skills put him at the same level as an at-his-peak Romario. That seems woefully misguided in hindsight, but it neatly captures the extent to which Pato fever was sweeping the country.

Placar front page

With his boyish good looks and sparkling future, Pato was also prime tabloid fodder. He married actress Sthefany Brito in a glitzy ceremony at the Copacabana Palace; when they split up a few months later, the Brazilian newspapers claimed it was because Brito had grown tired of Pato partying with Ronaldinho. If anyone expected him to duck out of the limelight after that, they were to be disappointed: in 2011, he started a relationship with Barbara Berlusconi, the daughter of Italian prime minister — and AC Milan owner — Silvio.

That created distance between Pato and his team-mates. He also struggled to get on with Max Allegri, who was less paternal than predecessor Ancelotti. “Carlo talked to me,” Pato told Corriere dello Sport. “He told me what to do on the pitch. If I need to improve, (Allegri) should tell me how. A coach has to tell you how to correct your faults.”

In truth, though, Pato’s tumble down the Milan pecking order had more to do with his body than with his personal relationships. When Allegri arrived in summer 2010, Pato’s muscles had already given hints they were struggling to cope with the strain of top-level football. He was still able to produce flashes of brilliance – he made Barcelona look slow and silly at the Nou Camp, for instance – but they became rarer and rarer. By the time the forward left San Siro, two and a half years later, he had suffered a total of 16 injuries, the vast majority of them to his hamstrings and quadriceps.

Pato, Milan

This was bewildering, both to outside observers and Pato himself. “I lost confidence,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport earlier this year, and little wonder. He started just seven games for Milan in 2012, completing 90 minutes on only one occasion. “That really messes with a player in a way that can be difficult to understand,” says Cardoso, who has remained close with Pato.

It did not help that Milan’s doctors seemed unable to get a grip on what was happening. Pato was sent to specialists in the US and Germany for treatment. Some believed it was a psychological issue. It was even suggested that the length of the grass at San Siro was to blame. Solutions, though, proved oddly elusive. “He’s been all over,” Jean-Pierre Meersseman, the founder of Milan Lab, told Gazzetta dello Sport in 2012. “He’s seen and been looked at by scores of doctors and therapists. I don’t know which saint to turn to anymore. I asked my spiritual adviser to pray for him.”

Eventually, Pato decided to take matters into his own hands.

As his Milan career petered out, he flew to Brazil for a private consultation with Dr Turibio Leite de Barros, a physiologist who had previously worked with Kaka. He wanted answers. He wanted hope. He wanted focus on the next chapter of his career — he was still just 23 — without worrying about the next snap or twang.

“Pato was concerned about the frequency of the muscle injuries,” recalls Dr Leite de Barros. “They had really impacted his career. It was a question of demystifying things — dispelling the notion that he was cursed. It was clear, even before a full examination, that there was nothing major wrong with him. He was a young kid who just needed a bit of help.”

Pato stayed in Sao Paulo for three days, undergoing a thorough examination. “We did a series of exams, focusing on different muscle groups,” Dr Leite de Barros explains. “We used electrodes to test him, analysing muscle by muscle. We asked him to go through movements that mirrored game situations: acceleration, sprinting, deceleration, ball control.

“The diagnosis was that he was still suffering the lingering effects of the previous injuries. When you have a muscle problem, it’s natural for the human body to ‘defend’ that muscle. Unconsciously, you end up using it less due to the memory of the pain. A muscle that isn’t used atrophies, loses strength. And then, when it’s called into action in a quick movement, you have another injury. That’s what was happening with him, repeatedly.”

The root of the problem — later confirmed by medical staff at his next club, Sao Paulo’s Corinthians — was imbalance. Pato had built up powerful quads but had not worked on his hamstrings to the same extent — a recipe for disaster. Dr Leite de Barros put together a booklet recommending exercises that would help him to get back on an even keel, allowing his damaged thigh muscles to finally heal properly.

“It wasn’t rocket science,” he says. Which naturally begs the question — why couldn’t Milan’s medical staff figure it out?

“It’s delicate to comment on these things, due to professional ethics,” Dr Leite de Barros says, cautiously. “But I think you’ve answered your own question. It was surprising to me. That kind of diagnosis should already have been done, no doubt about it. It’s hard to judge why it wasn’t.”

Given that evaluation, it is hardly surprising that Pato himself later laid the blame for his injury woes squarely at the club’s door.

“What happened at Milan had nothing to do with me,” he said during an interview on Brazilian television. “I paid the price, but I wasn’t the one to blame.

“The treatment there is different to the treatment (in Brazil). If you get injured in Italy, you don’t do anything for 20 days. Only swimming pool, physiotherapy. Then, in one week, you do all the work you should have been doing in those 20 days. For a year and half, I played one game, got injured for a month, came back, and then got injured again. Everyone can see the results of what is happening there. The players there are still getting injured a lot.”

Interlude 2: Desire

“Pato is the most overrated player in the country. When he came through, I thought he was going to be one of the best in the world. He was quick, two-footed, good in the air. An exceptional player. But when I look at him, I don’t see the hunger that Edmundo, Djalminha, Ronaldo or Alex had. Football is just a diversion for Pato.” (Neto, former Corinthians and Brazil playmaker, YouTube, May 2020)

“From the very first time I saw you, I thought that a goal a game for someone like you wasn’t enough. Once again, you could have scored three. At times, it’s like you do the bare minimum.” (Carlo Ancelotti, Sky Italia, 2011)

A team that revels in its outsider status and a player with something — everything — to prove: Corinthians and Pato should have been a match made in heaven. Their top brass had been trying to make it happen for a year. The €15 million fee was the largest ever paid by a Brazilian club, but they expected him to fill seats and sell shirts. His face was plastered all over their marketing material, including the memorable – albeit slightly dubious – ‘Corinthians epidemic’ campaign.

The physios got him fit. He scored in his first game, with his very first touch. And then… well, nothing good.

Pato was awful. He missed chances. The ball bounced off him. He ran around like a headless chicken. All of which would just about have been excusable had he not committed what amounts to a cardinal sin at Corinthians: Looking like you don’t care.

Pato, Corinthians

This is a blue-collar club. The team, managed by Tite, was a study in gritty collectivism. Rightly or wrongly, the fans and the other players felt Pato considered himself above it all.

For months, distrust bubbled under the surface. Then, when Pato dinked a crucial penalty straight into the arms of Gremio goalkeeper Dida in a Copa do Brasil shootout, it burst forth. The supporters howled with anger. Two or three of his team-mates had to be physically restrained on the pitch. They wanted to punch his lights out.

For many, this was a watershed moment.

“He took it (the penalty) that way due to a feeling of superiority, because he thinks he’s a superstar,” wrote Tostao. “He isn’t and he never was. Pato has never even played 10 great games.”

Edu Gaspar, then Corinthians’ director of football and now at Arsenal, pulled no punches. “We were all excited, but the player didn’t arrive with that Corinthians attitude,” he said. “Here, you play with a knife between your teeth. You have to think, ‘OK, I’m not playing that well today, but I’m going to fight’. I’m hoping we sell him.”

Respite came across town at Sao Paulo FC. Injury-free and visibly happier, Pato played 98 times in two years, scoring 38 goals.

In part, this was down to tactics. For a start, Pato was back playing in his preferred position — not as a central striker, but as a wide forward, cutting in from the flanks. This is another strand to the Pato conundrum: he spent years trying to be something he was not, getting judged against standards he didn’t set for himself. It was simple category error. And Pato claimed Silvio Berlusconi was chiefly responsible for it.

“I played out wide when I turned professional,” he said in July 2015. “It was the same (early on) at Milan, with Inzaghi and then with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It was Berlusconi who suggested that I play through the middle. I tried it, and even played there for Brazil, but I don’t have the physical strength to keep bouncing off defenders and holding the ball up. That’s not my game. I like to have the ball and run at defenders. I can offer more when I play open down the flanks, making the most of my speed and tracking back.”

It also helped that Pato had another coach who understood he preferred the carrot to the stick. Muricy Ramalho had first met him a decade earlier at Internacional, and went out of his way to restore his confidence. The arrival of Kaka, on loan from Orlando City of Major League Soccer, only improved the outlook.

“He and Kaka had a really good relationship,” Ramalho tells The Athletic. “Kaka always wanted to help and he made it easier for Pato. Plus, Pato is just a really good professional. He was great for us in every respect — on the pitch and off it. It worked out really well.”

Interestingly, even Ramalho admits that the natural vibrations of Pato’s personality can trip him up. The appraisal is not so different in content to Edu’s; the difference is that Ramalho was able to get inside Pato’s head and press the right buttons. He did not feel that he was dealing with a busted flush.

“I told him he needed to show desire — to always be striving for more,” he says. “Pato is an exceptional player technically, but he needed to fight a bit more. That’s what he lacked, not just confidence. Football isn’t just about ability; it’s physical, and you have to compete. That was what was missing.

“We talked about it a lot. We got the most out of him when that more physical, competitive edge appeared alongside his technical side. He’s an intelligent player who absorbs things quickly, so it wasn’t too hard to restore his confidence.”

Interlude 3: Fracture

“You hear all these comments about Pato. ‘He doesn’t shine because he doesn’t want it enough’, or ‘Nobody doubts his enormous talent’. I doubt it. Pato is missing the main quality that all great players have: lucidity in his decisions. Pato is confused and makes too many errors. He’s a fragmented footballer, schizophrenic on the pitch. His is a career of little bursts, a few brilliant moments. He’s divided into parts that never come together.” (Tostao, Folha de Sao Paulo, July 2016)

At the end of his Sao Paulo loan, Pato got a giant approach from China. Tianjin Quanjian offered Corinthians €20 million for him; as Pato owned 40 per cent of his economic rights, he would have made €8 million on the spot. Add Chinese Super League wages to the mix and it’s easy to see why it would have appealed. Easy to see why Corinthians were desperate to cut their losses, too.

But Pato felt he had unfinished business in Europe. “He wanted to go back and prove he was able to cut it — that what happened at Milan was just a bad moment,” says Ramalho. “He had not given up on the dream of doing well in Europe. He wanted to give his response.”

Yet when his agent Gilmar Veloz touted Pato to a series Premier League clubs in 2015, there were no takers. “Nobody wanted him,” a source close to the player tells The Athletic. Eventually, after an intervention from Kia Joorabchian, Chelsea agreed to take him on loan. The weakness of the Brazilian Real made it a cheap enough deal: Pato’s wages equated to around £30,000 a week. There was only one issue: the manager, Guus Hiddink, didn’t want him. He played twice in six months.

Pato Chelsea

A stint at Villarreal in Spain wasn’t much more productive, and so Pato did finally answer Tianjin’s siren call. There, he found another sympathetic manager in Fabio Cannavaro. He also found the football very, very easy.

“He was head and shoulders above the rest,” Cannavaro said in a recent Q&A on Instagram. Any video of his best moments there will make you want to send a condolence card to the Chinese Defenders’ Union.

This, then, is where we’re at with Alexandre Pato: amazing in China, hit and miss in Brazil — he has not reached the same heights since returning to Sao Paulo FC a year ago — and unlikely to ever get a third tilt at Europe. Barring a miracle, there will be no Champions League. No Ballon d’Or. No Golden Boot. No World Cup finals. His has been a respectable career but not an era-defining one. A curio rather than a monument.

Was he ever that good, really? Briefly, yes, and it is tantalising to speculate about how far he might have gone if Ancelotti had remained at Milan, and if he had played in his best position. Above all, if that incessant drumbeat of injuries had not broken his momentum.

At the same time, it is worth noting that none of the shortcomings of 2020-issue Pato are physical. Those muscle problems were not terminal; he still has the turn of pace that quickened heart rates when he was a teenager, can still turn on a 50 centavo coin. The most compelling explanation is they simply sapped his mental resources: his confidence, his concentration, his conviction that he was heading for the stratosphere. It is hard to sand down the raw edges of your game when you’re spending most of your waking hours on a treatment table.

For those who knew him at the start, back when Pato’s potential fizzed like a freshly-struck match, there are mixed feelings. “The expectations were very high and he did have the talent,” says Cardoso. “I don’t know whether he should have done more. Maybe his ascent took him to his limit.”

Iarley is more forthright.

“I definitely expected a lot more from him,” he concludes. “With the potential he had, he should have been Brazil’s No 9 until today.”

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How Chelsea usurped Liverpool. And how Liverpool fought back


How Chelsea usurped Liverpool. And how Liverpool fought back – The ...

When Roman Abramovich turned up to his first competitive match as a football club owner, he was stopped by the doormen at Anfield’s boardroom. Around his neck was a lanyard, which confirmed his accreditation. Not around his neck was a tie. It says much about the way things were at Liverpool, where longstanding traditions were followed, that one of the richest men in the world and soon to be foremost influences in the game was held back because he did not look like he was there on business.

“There was a kerfuffle with stewards,” Rick Parry, Liverpool’s former chief executive, explained in 2018. “David (Moores, then chairman) went over and told them to let him in but Abramovich was full of apologies, saying something like, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realise; I’ll find a tie’, which one of his people went and got from somewhere very quickly. In fairness, he was quite decent about it, he didn’t say, ‘I’m not following your rules’. He tried to adapt. He seemed quite humble, smiled, but he didn’t say very much. He certainly didn’t appear arrogant – though after that game, he didn’t come very often.”

The period is the most significant in Chelsea’s modern history. The ripple effect of Abramovich’s arrival in football was dramatic and it also, to a large degree, explains Liverpool’s path ever since: a club who were trying to catch up to Manchester United and Arsenal but suddenly had a new, more aggressive, competitor, meaning they would have to think and act differently or risk falling further behind. This was five years before Sheikh Mansour bought Manchester City and shifted football’s money table again.

In 2003, Moores was Liverpool’s principal owner and he had already agonised over whether he was the person to take the club forward. He was sensitive and would get upset if he ever read a negative letter about him in the Liverpool Echo. He was a wealthy man but not in Abramovich’s league. When the Moores family’s Littlewoods retail company was sold in 2002 – a year before Abramovich bought Chelsea – it went for £750 million. Considering Abramovich’s resources have reduced in the 17 or 18 years since and at the start of 2020 he was worth £12 billion, you can understand why Moores’ anxieties about what he was up against increased.

Within six months, Moores had decided it was time to sell Liverpool. Considering the club’s potential and history, it seems incredible that the sale was not completed until three years later. Due to delays, false promises made by prospective buyers and the necessity to finance materials for a new stadium, this sent Moores and Liverpool hurtling towards an agreement with George Gillett and Tom Hicks, whose reign was brief and catastrophic.

It proved to be a sequence of events that contributed enormously towards Liverpool’s slide on the pitch and it has taken the club, under a second round of new stewardship, almost a decade to wrestle the initiative back towards something anywhere near like it was before an unshaven Abramovich got the knock-back at Anfield’s board room.

“People forget, Chelsea were a bit of a pest,” Roy Evans told me in 2014.

The former Liverpool manager was describing the pressure he started to feel when other clubs – but particularly Chelsea – started signing exciting foreign footballers. That was when the conversation really ramped up about Liverpool’s place on football’s map.

Before a visit to Stamford Bridge for an FA Cup fourth round tie in January 1997, Liverpool were top of the Premier League and believing that a first title in seven years was not far away. Confidence oozed in a first half performance which saw them open a 2-0 lead inside 20 minutes, with goals from Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore. Yet the final score that day was Chelsea 4 Liverpool 2. In the second half, Gianfranco Zola equalised then Gianluca Vialli scored twice.

While Chelsea would end that season as FA Cup winners, Liverpool slumped to a fourth-place finish – another trophyless campaign despite promise. The conversations about Liverpool’s capacity to deliver when it mattered centred around the personality of the team, and this involved concentration levels. Professionalism at other clubs was supposedly improving because of the arrival of experienced foreigners such as Zola and Vialli. In that 4-2 cup victory, Chelsea also had Roberto Di Matteo, Frank Leboeuf and Dan Petrescu in the starting XI. For Liverpool, much of the hope fell on Bjorn Tore Kvarme, a recent recruit from Rosenborg of Norway. Could he solve the team’s defensive problems? He and fellow Norwegian Stig Inge Bjornebye (you can include Birkenhead’s Republic of Ireland international Jason McAteer at a push) were the only non-Brits in Liverpool’s starting XI that day.

Evans admired Fiorentina’s Gabriel Batistuta as well as Alen Boksic of Juventus and the way he spoke about the two centre-forwards, you could tell he’d watched them closely. Ajax’s Jari Litmanen was another he attempted to sign, because he felt Liverpool relied too heavily on Steve McManaman’s creativity and wanted someone else who could help link the midfield with the attack. Yet he was never tempted to emulate what he called a “Chelsea-type” signing just for the sake of it.

“I didn’t want to go and get someone just to put more bums on seats — we filled Anfield anyway,” he explained. “You saw (Ruud) Gullit and Vialli (go to Chelsea), they were both well into their thirties and cost a lot of money. How long did Chelsea get out of them? If the chance had come to sign an older player – maybe in his late twenties, like Teddy (Sheringham) – I would have done it. But I wasn’t someone who wanted to fill the place full of foreigners. I thought there was enough talent in this country at the time.”

Attendances had shot up at Stamford Bridge because of the club’s new and exciting recruitment drive. At the end of the 1995-96 season, the average home gate was 25,598. By the time Abramovich bought the club, it had risen to 39,781. In the corresponding period, crowds at Anfield had risen also but much less sharply, from 39,605 to 43,243.

Matchday revenues in this period were not defining but they did have a major impact on possibilities in the transfer market. Chelsea, indeed, had almost caught up with Liverpool by 1998 – that summer, both clubs tried to sign new World Cup winner Marcel Desailly, who decided he’d prefer to live in London.

Evans stressed that the relationship between Liverpool and Chelsea had shifted quietly before Abramovich’s arrival in England, emphasising that Chelsea’s increased capacity to compete with Liverpool in the transfer market and the greater desire of foreign players to move to the capital rather than a major provincial city impacted on the mood across Merseyside. It was around that point Evans stopped listening to the phone-ins on the drive home to Ormskirk, even after games Liverpool won. “The ones who complained had the loudest voices and they always seemed to want a sexy foreign name,” he said. “Somewhere along the line, what Chelsea were doing featured in the conversation.”

On the pitch, Chelsea were now competing with Liverpool, who did not win a trophy of any kind between 1995 and 2001 – a period in which Chelsea lifted two FA Cups, a League Cup and a Cup Winners’ Cup. There were nevertheless limits to Chelsea’s growth and this was largely down to the size of Stamford Bridge, a stadium with just over half the capacity of Manchester United’s Old Trafford. It later became clear that Chelsea’s spending post-2000 was reliant on Champions League qualification and that without that, the club was in trouble.

Had Liverpool, now under Gerard Houllier, held on to another lead at Stamford Bridge — 1-0 this time — on the final day of the 2002-03 season, they would have qualified for European football’s elite competition at Chelsea’s expense. Instead, inside 17 first-half minutes, Chelsea had seized control of the match and finished fourth, avoiding financial turmoil by a whisker.

Without Champions League football featuring on Chelsea’s schedule the following season, Rick Parry is not alone in wondering whether Abramovich would have overlooked what was happening in west London and decided to spend his money elsewhere.

“I had no concept of how important Abramovich would become, or even the immediate significance of his investment,” Parry admitted. “Why would an oligarch or billionaire have any interest in football, particularly a football club from a country that wasn’t his own? The mega-mega-rich buying football clubs was still new. At this stage, someone wealthy with an interest in football was Jack Walker at Blackburn.

“This took it onto a whole new level.”

In the 33 seasons before Abramovich, Chelsea had only twice finished above Liverpool – and each of those occasions were in two of the previous four campaigns before the start of 2003-04.

Both his impact and Liverpool’s toil between owners who failed and owners in Fenway Sports Group who have taken the long route back to the top, have meant that in 11 of the 17 seasons since Abramovich’s arrival, Chelsea have finished higher.

In the same period, Chelsea have been above Manchester United at the end of eight seasons. Back in 2003, United were the club to beat and those in charge at Liverpool were confident of catching them.

Parry outlined the challenge in front of him by acknowledging Liverpool did not have the resources of United “but at least we knew what the resources were”, which mainly came from the income they generated. Parry believed that if Liverpool could build a new stadium and increase revenues, it would be easier to compete with United.

“It was more of a level playing field, to that extent,” he reflected. “Then, all of a sudden: wham, here comes Abramovich. It was back to the drawing board because we had to stop and think about the long-term impact of a new rival with unlimited funds.”

The new-found negotiating positions of Liverpool and Chelsea were reflected by the transfer of Damien Duff. His club, Blackburn Rovers, had finished one place and four points behind Liverpool in 2003. Twelve months earlier, Liverpool had tried to sign the winger but the maximum they could afford was £12 million. Blackburn did not want to sell because they did not need the money and, in the meantime, Duff agreed a new contract.

Parry and Houllier knew that Duff was a Liverpool supporter and hoped that they’d eventually be able to win him around. His new contract had a £17 million buyout clause, which proved in Parry’s words: “just about the least helpful thing that could happen,” because Chelsea paid it straight away, making Duff the club’s most expensive signing in a groundbreaking summer where they also bought established players from United, Real Madrid and Inter Milan.

“Immediately we were thinking, ‘Oh no – is this how it’s going to be from now on?’,” Parry recalled. “There was going to be one market for Chelsea and another for the rest of us.”

In the Premier League’s new world, where oligarchs and sheikhs compete against US investment firms for titles, Liverpool’s rivalry with Manchester City has developed a sharper edge in more recent times because the teams are competing directly against one another for trophies.

Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola might disagree on the purpose of significant issues such as Financial Fair Play but a respect exists between the pair. Similarly, friendships spread across both teams. Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana remain in regular contact with Raheem Sterling, while the Brazilian contingents at each club socialise together.

Such relationships never existed between Chelsea and Liverpool, where supporters considered themselves as opposites and each manager made no attempt to hide their resentment for the other’s success.

In an alternative universe, Jose Mourinho could have taken charge of Liverpool and there are varying accounts of what happened when his representatives approached Parry in the spring of 2004.

Mourinho was ready to move on from a Porto team he would soon lead to Champions League success and Houllier’s time at Liverpool was almost over. It has been claimed Mourinho had agreed to join Liverpool before Porto knocked out Lyon in the April quarter-finals. Parry allegedly told Mourinho’s adviser, Jorge Baidek, he needed 15 days to agree a severance package with Houllier and, in the meantime, Jorge Mendes approached Mourinho with a more lucrative offer from Chelsea even though the pair had never worked together. This led to meetings with Abramovich ahead of Porto’s semi-final with Deportivo La Coruna and then on the billionaire’s yacht in Monaco the day after Porto lifted the trophy.

Parry tells a very different story, where he received an unsolicited knock on his door at Melwood the early March afternoon before Porto played at Old Trafford in their last 16 tie’s second leg. Though he never revealed the name of the agent standing there, The Athletic believes it was Frenchman Bruno Satin, who had spent the previous hour discussing players he could sell to Houllier. Parry concluded it summed up the ruthlessness of the transfer market that in one conversation an agent could be trying to help a manager and in the next he might be attempting to undermine him.

“I was told at the meeting that Jose Mourinho was very interested in managing Liverpool and asked whether Liverpool might be interested in appointing him for the following season,” Parry recalls. “It tasted badly. The agent had been to meet Gerard trying to sell him players with one hand, but then moments later was ostensibly trying to get him fired. It was classic football. There has to be a more dignified manner, surely?

“I said, ‘Look, we do things a certain way and we are not going to make an appointment behind Gerard’s back, a) out of respect to him, and B) because we are still in contention for the Champions League and we do not want to make a decision in March’. Had we done so and it had derailed the campaign entirely, we might not have qualified for the Champions League that season and 12 months later we mightn’t have had Istanbul under Rafa Benitez.”

That evening, Porto knocked United out 3-2 on aggregate after a 1-1 draw in Manchester and Mourinho reacted to Costinha’s last-minute equaliser by running down the touchline to join in the celebrations with his players.

“We all share the euphoria of beating United and nobody (feels it) more than me. But one of our core values was respect and that includes treating other clubs and people with respect,” Parry said. “There are limits and ways of doing things. Seeing Mourinho celebrate like that reinforced my initial belief. The way he behaved sowed another seed of doubt. Of course, I’m sure he’d have been a great manager for Liverpool – there is no doubting his qualities. But was he really a Liverpool manager – did he characterise the club’s values?”

Parry figured that Benitez did; someone who could not hide his disdain for Chelsea’s spending power, which accelerated under Mourinho after he announced his appointment at the club by declaring himself as the “Special One.” In the summer of 2004, Mourinho splashed out £100 million on new players while Benitez sold one of the team’s two world-class players in Michael Owen and still had less than £20 million to spend.

The first sign of developing tension between the clubs came in that season’s League Cup final when Mourinho shushed Liverpool supporters after Chelsea took the lead and clinched the first silverware of the Abramovich era. Three months later, Liverpool got the better of Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals despite finishing 37 points behind them at the top of a league table which meant a first title at Stamford Bridge for 50 years.

Fifteen years on, there are still debates whether Luis Garcia’s sole goal of the tie crossed the line. Mourinho was the first person to call it the “ghost goal.” Parry thinks of that second leg as Anfield’s greatest night. “What made it even better was the Eidur Gudjohnsen miss really late in the game, which was kind of a repayment for all of Chelsea’s evil over the years. You just thought, ‘Great!’”


The regularity of the games between Liverpool and Chelsea led to a new rivalry.

Over five seasons from 2004-05 to 2008-09, the clubs met a staggering 24 times in all competitions and this familiarity bred more contempt. The acrimony increased because of Mourinho’s pursuit of Steven Gerrard across two summers, the second of which led to Liverpool’s captain submitting a transfer request barely a month after leading them to improbable Champions League success in Istanbul. Gerrard felt that Liverpool didn’t really want him to stay at the club because of the way new contract negotiations were handled. Though fans assembled outside Melwood and Anfield and burned shirts with his name on the back, he retreated from the decision when he realised what it would mean for his legacy at the club, as well as his family’s reputation in his home city. He described the night when it seemed like he was on the verge of leaving as “the most emotional of my life,” where he was reduced to “eating paracetamol like Smarties.”

While Gerrard played 39 of his 710 Liverpool games against the club who tried so hard to sign him, Jamie Carragher turned out 45 times against Chelsea. Gerrard would never win a title with Liverpool but Carragher believes that Gerrard realised “the satisfaction of one with Liverpool, no matter how long it took, would always eclipse three or four at Stamford Bridge”.

Carragher came to think of fixtures against Chelsea as having an importance in line with derby games and sometimes, “maybe even above United” for significance. “Sometimes I would watch United against Chelsea and I’d want United to win. That’s how much Chelsea used to wind me up. So when we used to play them, you don’t just want to win, but you want to stop them winning.

“The two managers had an ego where they thought they were the best. I think that when Abramovich came in and he had all that money, the arrogance kicked in. They were a bit cocky.”

After he’d retired, Gerrard described the rivalry as being “bigger than what people thought.

“Being a Liverpool player and a Liverpool fan, to get any kind of success at some stage, we had to knock Chelsea out,” he said in 2017. “For us to get any kind of success we knew we had to get the better of them. It’s almost like hatred for 90 minutes.”

The feeling was mutual. On England duty, both Carragher and Gerrard say the clubs’ players got on fine but whenever Frank Lampard and John Terry came to Anfield, they were reviled figures. Lampard was especially a target in the early years after his tackle on Xabi Alonso in 2005 left the Spanish midfielder with a broken ankle.

“Going to Anfield was horrible,” Terry recalled. “You drive from the hotel, just a 30-minute bus ride, they’re all on the streets winding you up, throwing stuff at the bus — it was a nightmare.

“Jose knew exactly what he was doing. He knew he could wind Rafa up. He would sometimes have a joke that he was going to say this, he was going to say that. Everyone hated us because we had money, we were the new kids on the block. That siege mentality was from him, from his staff and from everyone. The whole world was against us.”

Lampard saw the relationship similarly: “Chelsea’s traditional rival, outside London, was Leeds. Then we started playing Liverpool regularly and it grew from nowhere. For five or six years, it was so intense.

“When Jose came in and Abramovich took over, we became the money team and people disliked us. There is a natural divide from Liverpool — a working-man’s club that’s had a lot of success off the back of tradition. We were the new kids on the block who had a few quid and signed a load of players.

“Jose puffed his chest out, and then we kept playing each other. It was a clash of two ideals.”

Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea (the first time) in September 2007 but the battles between the clubs continued under Avram Grant, Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti. When Benitez labelled Didier Drogba a diver, the Chelsea striker responded by telling the Liverpool manager he lacked class. Drogba would score twice in a 3-2 extra time win in the 2007-08 Champions League semi-finals as Chelsea advanced at Liverpool’s expense.

The following season, as Liverpool finished above Chelsea for the first time in the Abramovich era, they became the side to end Chelsea’s 86-game unbeaten streak at Stamford Bridge thanks to Alonso’s winner.

Liverpool, however, fell away after that second-place finish and in 2009-10, a comfortable 2-0 Chelsea victory at Anfield in the second to last game of the season put the visitors in pole position for a third title in six years. It proved to be Benitez’s last home match in charge and he would not return to Anfield in any working capacity until nearly three years later, when he was managing Chelsea.

That story is worth an article on its own, given how unpopular Benitez was at Stamford Bridge.

Though his relationship with Abramovich was as healthy as it has been with any owner in his career, the same could not be said about the one with the club’s board, whom he criticised publicly for labelling him an “interim” manager though he held the job from November until the next summer. Following an FA Cup game at Middlesbrough and after only three months in charge, he confirmed he would leave at the end of the season due to the sustained protests against his appointment. Many supporters never forgave him for some of the comments he’d made about Chelsea from his Liverpool days. Despite winning them the Europa League, Benitez was called a “Fat Spanish Waiter” by Chelsea’s fans.

Benitez had inherited Fernando Torres – a player he’d signed for Liverpool in 2007. Three and a half years later, Torres moved on to Chelsea for a British record fee, which made him a traitor on Merseyside.


While Liverpool supporters tended to sympathise with Benitez, whose time at Chelsea was separated from his Anfield reign by six months at Inter Milan and almost two years out of football, Torres got the same treatment as Gerrard when he threatened to leave, with shirts being burned outside Melwood. When the striker made his Chelsea debut, it was against Liverpool, and former team-mate Daniel Agger welcomed him to the game with a thumping challenge which left him in a heap on the floor.

Torres never reached the same standards with Chelsea he’d achieved on Merseyside but he was a part of the squad that beat Liverpool in the 2012 FA Cup final at Wembley – denying Kenny Dalglish’s team a domestic cup double. Almost a year later, there was the Luis Suarez biting incident on Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic, which earned the striker a 10-game ban. That suspension ruled Suarez out of the first six weeks of the 2013-14 season, where Liverpool finished above Chelsea for only the second time since Abramovich and nearly won the title for the first time in 24 years.

It was in Liverpool’s hands until Gerrard slipped at Anfield, allowing Demba Ba through to slide Chelsea into a lead which extended to two goals after Liverpool failed to break down a weakened team led again by Mourinho, who relished his role as pantomime villain, marching down the touchline towards the away end, beating his chest in celebration as the ground lay otherwise silent. That result allowed Manchester City to take full advantage, and Liverpool’s title wait would last for another six seasons.

Gerrard played his final game for Liverpool a year later and Chelsea fans were always quick to remind him of his heartache. Despite granting him a standing ovation in his final appearance at Stamford Bridge having derided him for the entire game, Gerrard could not resist a dig.

“The Chelsea fans showed respect for a couple of seconds for me, but slaughtered me all game so I’m not going to get drawn into wishing the Chelsea fans well. It’s nice of them to turn up for once today.”

Gerrard was left to wonder what it would have been like to play for Mourinho. Despite his best form for Liverpool being under Benitez, the pair’s relationship at best could be described as businesslike. In 2015, Mourinho described Gerrard as “one of my favourite enemies”. Today, Mourinho’s reputation has shifted, but there was a time when his man-management was believed to better than anyone else’s.

“He is the best manager in the world for me,” Gerrard said. “I’d have signed for him three times if I wasn’t a Liverpool fan. He is the reason why my head was turned on a couple of occasions, but he understood why I couldn’t do it and it’s because I love Liverpool Football Club.

“I always said to myself when I sat down with my dad and my brother that if I win a couple of trophies at Liverpool, it will mean an awful lot more to me than if I won 10 at Chelsea or Inter Milan or Real Madrid.

“It always means more when you win for your people.”

Over the last decade, Chelsea have had a habit of hijacking Liverpool’s transfer plans.

Liverpool wanted to sign Willian from Shakhtar Donetsk but he went to Stamford Bridge, via a brief spell with Anzhi Makhachkala. There were similar moves for Mohamed Salah and Diego Costa but both opted to pursue their careers away from Anfield.

A sign that the landscape was changing came when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain chose to move to Liverpool in 2017 instead of Chelsea, who were then reigning champions under Antonio Conte. The midfielder had also supported Chelsea as a boy and was offered more money to move across London from Arsenal but he plumped for Liverpool because of the presence of Jurgen Klopp, having received glowing references from Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana about how Klopp had helped improve their games. Liverpool were emerging as a force again.

The clubs met 42 times in 12 years between August 2003 and October 2015 – the month Klopp was appointed at Anfield. Chelsea’s record in that period was superior, winning 18 games to Liverpool’s 13. There were also 11 draws.

Under Klopp, the balance has shifted, with Liverpool winning five times, three Chelsea wins and four draws.

For the first time since Abramovich bought Chelsea, Liverpool will finish above them for three seasons in a row. Off the pitch, Liverpool have also moved ahead of Chelsea. The most lavish investment by Abramovich came before Financial Fair Play was introduced at the start of the 2011-12 season, a measure introduced partly because of what was happening at Chelsea where the club was spending considerable amounts above its own income. Chelsea’s success meant they were also able to push their revenues above Liverpool’s and when Fenway Sports Group bought the club in 2010, Chelsea were one place above Liverpool in the Deloitte Money League having generated £25 million more in revenues in 2008-09.

John Henry believed in FFP and it was a contributing factor behind his decision to pursue Liverpool. The commercial operation at the club in 2010 was skeletal considering its history and this is where the most dramatic changes originally took place – with new offices opened in Liverpool city centre as well as London in a bid to attract new partners and further investment.

This was before Klopp’s arrival in 2015, when Liverpool had slipped to ninth in the Deloitte rankings (they were seventh in 2010), one place behind Chelsea who were still generating £80 million more a year in revenues.

The swing under Klopp has been gradual over the last five years, with Liverpool becoming Champions League finalists twice, winners once – as well as Premier League winners. In that time, Chelsea have secured one league title but have slipped behind Liverpool according to Deloitte in their latest report, which was released in January. In 2018-19, Liverpool’s revenues were £75 million higher than Chelsea’s, and this was before a new kit deal was brokered with Nike, which could be worth as much as £20 million more per season than Chelsea’s agreement with the same company.

In short, Liverpool have finally got their act together off the pitch and this has helped them surpass Chelsea through a period of transition at Stamford Bridge where a transfer ban has made the club focus on nurturing talent from the club’s academy.

Conversations are happening across corridors of power at Anfield about how the terrain will re-shape after UEFA’s failure to punish FFP sanctions on Manchester City. Though Chelsea have continued to post losses since its implementation, Abramovich has complied with the system. Yet if rules are not going to be enforced, will it prompt him to think again and act the way he did in summer 2003?

Their successful pursuit of Timo Werner was possible because of the deal that took Alvaro Morata to Atletico Madrid. Should Kai Havertz move to Stamford Bridge for a fee that could be twice as big as Werner’s, concerns about the threat to Liverpool’s position will understandably grow.



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‘I’d love to prove myself and come back to Chelsea’ – Nartey



You would think it’s the worst phone call a Chelsea youngster could ever have. Richard Nartey had just been informed by his agent that the club he has been at since the age of nine didn’t want him any more.

“I didn’t feel down or have any ill feeling towards them,” Nartey tells The Athletic. “Chelsea have done a lot for me over the years. I was just excited to look on to next season and keep progressing with my career. My family felt the same way when I told them.”

Some may find that hard to believe. After all, it would be understandable if Nartey had some bitterness. Fellow academy graduates Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Tammy Abraham and Reece James, people he had once played alongside, were all at Wembley on Sunday helping Chelsea reach an FA Cup final.

Another six have also been given their debuts under coach Frank Lampard this season and seem to have a bright future at Stamford Bridge. Meanwhile, Nartey is without a club of any kind at a time when the game is struggling to cope with the financial losses caused by COVID-19.

The 21-year-old didn’t hear the news from anyone at Chelsea in person, either. With the training ground reserved for only a select number of people, the traditional face-to-face chat in these situations didn’t take place. Instead, the grim message from head of academy Neil Bath was passed on via his representative.

But Nartey isn’t the type of person to dwell on negative thoughts — quite the opposite. “I didn’t have a problem with the way I found out. My agent was talking to Neil about my situation in May and that was when Cobham was still on lockdown, so I couldn’t see him.

“Despite what people may think, when I got the news, it just made me feel that this is the first time I can go out and show everyone who I am, to progress my career; to go to a club for two, three years and prove myself at a team instead of the uncertain situation of not knowing if I’m going on loan or something else.

“I wasn’t sad at all. Chelsea helped me to get where I am but I want to go out and be in the football world myself, to show I can start for a team as a member of a squad, not just as a loanee.

“Everyone who has grown up there; of course your dream is to play for Chelsea but the amount of top players they have — my thought process has been there for a while that I might have to leave. But, if ever there is a chance to come back after proving myself somewhere else, that would be my end goal.

“I have got to train with the first team over the last few years. I have seen the level the players are at. When you train with them, your level doubles — triples — due to the intensity they play at. You understand that these players are some of the best around.

“The academy players who are in the squad now; they have had to go on loan first to do it. Then, you look at people like Declan Rice, who was released by Chelsea at 14, and look at what he has gone on to do at West Ham.”

It’s not as if he has had no other contact from Chelsea. Tore Andre Flo, who acted as Nartey’s loan technical coach, has been in touch to say he will try to help him find a new club if required. The club also paid for some special insoles a consultant recommended to him for a calf injury, even though they’d already released him by that point.

If you’re thinking Nartey, who spent this season on loan at Burton Albion, sounds mature under the circumstances, you’d be right. Mind you, it helps that he has so many experienced voices to turn to for guidance.

His representative is Max Ferdinand, who works for NewEra Global Sports. The agency counts his cousins, former Manchester United star Rio Ferdinand and West Ham defender Anton Ferdinand, as mentors. They are on hand to talk too if anyone needs it.

Nartey has made the most of the opportunity. He explains: “I asked for Rio’s number a few months ago and asked for advice and tips on how he managed to maintain being at the top level for so long. He was saying as a defender, you have to work on your game harder, that your body is the most important part. He made it clear to me that you have to always look to do more to stand out from the rest.

“I also spoke to Anton after he came to watch me play for Burton at Portsmouth. He gave me advice on things I have to work on, things I did well. When it comes from people like them, you have to take it on board. A lot of the tips helped me get better throughout the season.”

Richard Nartey, Burton, Chelsea

    Nartey played 29 times for Burton this season (Photo: Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

It was on the back of the conversation with Rio that Nartey took up pilates during the lockdown in order to improve his physical condition.

“Pilates was one of the things Rio recommended to me,” Nartey continues. “I wanted to focus on a lot of injury prevention kind of thing and strengthening areas that were weak for me.

“He gave me a list of things. Last season, I started yoga when I was up at Burton. I was going to continue with that and Rio brought up pilates out of the blue. It has been really helpful for me.

“My parents have been doing it just to keep them in shape and they gave me the teacher they use called Harvey. I started doing Zoom calls with him. He used to be a dance teacher and what I have learnt is that there is a bit of a link with dancing and football. Dancers use a lot of rotation as well. Their legs are strong. I learnt about muscle groups and how they all work together to help you maximise your strength, speed and core stability.”

Nartey hasn’t played a competitive game since mid-February. He picked up a calf injury and then the League One campaign was brought to a premature end, apart from the play-offs, due to the pandemic.

But he has kept himself in shape by doing pilates up to twice a week, plus he goes running and cycling on a daily basis. He has also been seeing a chiropractor.

One would have thought five months without 90 minutes under his belt would be to his detriment. Far from it. “I have got to rest and recharge my body,” he explains. “I had a few injury issues bothering me, so I was able to take a break from the high intensity and fix my body.

“I’ve spent the time off finding out more ways how to look after my body, what I should be eating, asking for as much advice as possible. I feel a lot better now physically, strength-wise — everything — than I did during the season.

“When you’re caught up in the season, as a young player, you’re learning. This period has made me appreciate it even more and get into a rhythm in doing all of this. Wherever I go next, I will keep maintaining it.”

So what are his chances of securing a move to a professional club? Well, Nartey has the benefits of coming through Chelsea’s much-respected stable. He won the FA Youth Cup and Under-18 Premier League with them in 2016-17.

This season, he made 29 appearances in all competitions for Burton Albion, starting 20 games in League One. That is some achievement, especially when the coach you were working for is Nigel Clough, who naturally knows a thing or two about talent.

Clough left the club in May to help ease the financial burden on the club caused by the coronavirus. Nartey sent a message thanking the former Nottingham Forest, Liverpool and England midfielder for giving him a chance — he soon got a call back.

“Nigel said if I ever needed a recommendation for a prospective club, that he would be happy to give it,” Nartey says. “I loved playing under him. He played football like Chelsea do, playing out from the back.

“When he rang to convince me to join on loan last year, he said there would be no favouritism. You got in the team if you deserved it. He would shout at you if you did something wrong and would tell you if you did things well.”

Obviously, this is the worst year for any footballer to find himself unemployed. With clubs not benefitting from match-day revenue for several months, money is tight.

“I was speaking to my parents about this,” he says. “If all this had happened a year ago, before proving I can play men’s football on loan in League One — one of the toughest physically to get used to — I’d be a lot more worried than I am. I’d understand teams not wanting to take a risk on someone who hasn’t played any professional games

“I feel reassured after what happened at Burton. The fact I’m a free agent will help too; will boost my chances. Clubs will have seen me play and know I’ve come from Chelsea, which has a great reputation for developing players. It is one of the best academies in the world.

“I’m being patient. Until recently, a lot of clubs didn’t know when seasons were ending and when the transfer window was starting and so on. Now there has been more clarity. Once all the leagues are done and every club has their budgets, and decide what they need, I know my agent will find the best opportunities for me.

“Given the situation, I’d not rule anything out in terms of where I go. As long as a club say I will be with the first team and it’s up to me to prove myself, I’m happy with that.”

It doesn’t sound like he will have too long to wait.

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1 hour ago, NikkiCFC said:

arrrf, this just reminds me of May 21, 2008

3rd worst night of my life :(

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Chelsea players cannot holiday or return home to countries on UK quarantine list



Chelsea players have been told not to go on holiday to any country that is on the United Kingdom’s quarantine list.

That rules out popular footballer hot spots such as Ibiza, Marbella and Portugal, and means Chelsea’s Spanish players cannot return home during their break.

Tottenham Hotspur star Dele Alli has been in Ibiza with Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish and Leicester City’s James Maddison, but Chelsea have told their players not to travel to the Balearic Island.

With such a tight turnaround between the end of Chelsea’s season and the start of next term, the club cannot afford for players to risk having to go into a two-week isolation on their return.

Chelsea players will immediately start their holidays if, as expected, Frank Lampard’s team are eliminated from the Champions League on Saturday night by Bayern Munich, who are 3-0 up from the first leg.

Lampard has appealed to the Premier League to allow his side to start the season later, but, currently, they will have less than five weeks between their seasons if they are eliminated by Bayern.

With Pedro Rodriguez leaving, Chelsea have three Spanish players in their squad — captain Cesar Azpilicueta, Marcos Alonso and Kepa Arrizabalaga — who cannot return home.

Michy Batshuayi will not be allowed back to Belgium after the country was on Thursday night added to the quarantine list, while Christian Pulisic cannot return to the United States and goalkeeper Willy Caballero cannot go back to his native Argentina because of the self-isolation rules.

Chelsea's French, Italian, German, and Croatian players, including N’Golo Kante, Olivier Giroud, Kurt Zouma, Jorginho, Emerson Palmieri, Antonio Rudiger, Timo Werner and Mateo Kovacic can return home.

But should any of those countries be added to the UK’s quarantine list, then they may be required to return to England immediately, before the restrictions kick in.

As revealed by Telegraph Sport on Thursday, Chelsea will not be making any overseas or long-haul trips to play pre-season friendlies this summer after cancelling their US tour.

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Pulisic, Mount and Carlton – the story behind this Chelsea picture




It’s been an eventful few days on social media for Tom Carlton since Chelsea posted a picture of him to their 14.7 million Twitter followers on Sunday; a Lucozade bottle wedged under his left arm as he gives a thumbs-up to the camera, his right arm wrapped around an 11-year-old Christian Pulisic. On the other side of the young American, grinning beneath a mop of brown hair, is Mason Mount.

“I never even knew Pulisic was there (at Cobham) at that age until I saw the picture,” Carlton tells The Athletic. “When you’re that age, we’re all the same really — anyone could make it. When you grow up and see who’s made it and who hasn’t, it’s pretty surreal. That picture is crazy.”

Sources have told The Athletic that Mount didn’t remember the picture either. Pulisic spent five days at Cobham in the summer of 2010 at the invitation of a member of Chelsea staff who used to play alongside his father Mark in the United States, training with the club’s under-12 side and playing in a friendly match.

“You can see he’s got a ‘T’ on his kit, which means he was a trialist,” Carlton adds.

The high turnover of trialists at Chelsea’s academy — the sons of David Beckham and George Weah enjoyed similar stints training at Cobham — ensured neither Mount nor Carlton could be expected to remember the young Pulisic. Both had joined the club as six-year-olds, playing in the development centre for two years before earning prized places in the elite under-nines squad.

Carlton, like Mount an attacking midfielder, was spotted by a Chelsea scout playing for Sittingbourne Athletic — the boys’ team managed by his father Paul, a former non-League footballer. Several of the Sittingbourne boys were invited to Cobham and ultimately recruited but it was Carlton, bigger and stronger than many of his peers in addition to his technical gifts, who was the standout talent.

“Mason and I were the first ones to sign, I think, when we were six,” he says. “A lot of scouts were asking about me and I went to a lot of clubs, but I signed for Chelsea. When you look back now you realise how competitive it was, but at the time I didn’t. I was just one of the good ones, and one of the lucky ones who got picked.

“Chelsea is definitely the best academy to be at when you’re that age. The facilities are a joke. You get everything you want — but it’s also the hardest one to make it out of.”

Carlton spent eight years in Chelsea’s academy, regularly playing in the same midfield as Mount and Declan Rice and competing in youth tournaments across England and Europe.

“He was the holder and Mason and I used to play in front of him,” he says of now West Ham United star and England international Rice. “We were all quite close as kids: Mason and Dec and I, and a few others (in the team). We went to training three times a week and that’s all we knew. All our families were close and we went everywhere for tournaments together — Holland, Spain, Russia.”

Rice and Carlton became particularly close friends, and their bond was strengthened by the shared trauma of being released by Chelsea on the same day at the age of 14.

“That was really hard,” he says. “My dad got a phone call and that was that. I’d just come home from school. I knew it was the day when I’d find out whether or not I’d be kept on, but as a 14-year-old no one really understands unless you’re in that position. There’s a lot of pressure. It was hard to take. You don’t really get a reason. It’s weird that they can just release you like that, but that’s football.

“I lost a lot of confidence. I was only 14 and getting released from Chelsea. I always knew I should get another club, because it’s one of the best academies in the world.”

Carlton got plenty of offers but, like Rice, he found West Ham’s sales pitch to be the most compelling. “At the time West Ham brought through a lot of youngsters, and they’re another big club in the Premier League,” he explains. “When you’re that age and you’re lucky enough, they offer you a deal where you live in digs.

“You leave home at 14 and they’ve got digs that hold 20, 24 kids. You live there, train there, go to school there. When I got offered that I left my secondary school in Year Nine and went to West Ham.”

Rice has spoken about how difficult he found moving from his family home in Kingston, south-west London to club accommodation in Ilford on the other side of the capital, and Carlton had similar problems. “I didn’t realise at the time how hard it would be,” he admits. “In the first month, I couldn’t cope with it and wanted to come home. My mum and dad told me to keep at it. Not many 14-year-olds leave their parents and go to live separate lives two hours away. It was really hard, but I got through it.”

The friends spent two more years together in West Ham’s academy before their paths diverged; Rice was offered a professional deal at age 16, Carlton was not. “The second time I got released was harder, and I was thinking that I wasn’t sure if I could do this again,” he says. “That rejection is so hard as a kid. I had about two months off and went on holiday with my mum and dad.

“For my mum and dad, it wasn’t great to see their kid getting released, always upset. A lot of pressure comes with it on a young kid’s shoulders. I had a couple of calls from clubs but not as many as when I got released from Chelsea. I went to a couple of clubs on trial, and then I went to Colchester and signed for them. I moved away again and lived in digs there.”

Carlton left Colchester for non-League Herne Bay in the summer of 2017 and has operated at the semi-professional level ever since. He still gets paid to play football but it’s no longer his whole life. “I got a job as a football coach, but I didn’t really enjoy it,” he says. “To be honest, I just fell out of love with football. I wanted to get another job away from sport, so I fit glass and windows now.”

He is still in regular contact with Rice, and takes great pride in his friend’s remarkable rise to West Ham prominence and England recognition. “I think he’s done the best out of all of them, to be honest,” he says. “He’s worked seriously hard to get where he is and he deserves all the credit he gets. He’s a quality player.”

And what about Chelsea’s vibrant youth movement under head coach Frank Lampard this season led by the irrepressible energy of Mount and Pulisic, the two other boys in that picture? “They deserve it, but it’s hard for me to watch,” Carlton admits. “People don’t understand that, but I’ve been with them and it could have been me.”

But despite the blows he’s taken from the brutally unforgiving professional football system, Carlton isn’t inclined to abandon his dream. His new season with Herne Bay in the Isthmian League Southeast Division starts in a month, and there are always Football League scouts looking for talent that others may have missed.

“I’d have hoped things would pan out better, but I’m 21, so I’m still young,” Carlton says. “It’s started to come back again, that love for football. I just hope I get another chance somewhere, and you never know. I’ll never give up, because I’ve been there and I know what it’s like. I don’t think you realise how good the pro game actually is until you’re not in it any more.”

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