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Lewis Bate, Chelsea’s next young English star

https://theathletic.com/1954900/2020/07/28/lewis-bate-chelsea-jody-morris-talent-academy/

lewis-bate-chelsea.jpg

It is the moment every young player dreams of: one of the management staff is delivering the good news that you have been selected in the first-team squad for a match for the very first time.

Most people will assume that it’s an occasion where you are able to talk about every single detail — but that is not the case for Chelsea’s rising star Lewis Bate.

It was on the eve of Chelsea’s match at Sheffield United on July 11 that assistant manager Jody Morris pulled the 17-year-old to one side to tell him that he was going to be named as a substitute at Bramall Lane.

Soon afterwards, he was on the phone to family and close friends to reveal the good news, but there wasn’t much more he could add. Whether it was just pure excitement or disbelief over a childhood aspiration being realised, Bate can’t remember anything else about the conversation.

As he explained to people when asked about what was discussed, the midfielder admitted to being fazed for five minutes. The midfielder can’t recall what he uttered in response, let alone what Morris was saying to him. It is one of the only occasions in recent years that Bate has been guilty of being unable to focus. Mind you, it is his ability with the ball at his feet that does most of the talking for him anyway.

When the squad gather on Tuesday to begin their preparations for the FA Cup Final against Arsenal, Bate is expected to be among the group once more, trying to make an impression.

With 20 places up for grabs, coach Frank Lampard can name nine substitutes on the bench at Wembley, so there is a possibility he could be included. If nothing else, he might get to travel with the team.

It is a measure of his rapid progress and just how highly he is rated that Bate is in the frame at all. He began the season with the under-18s, was upgraded to the under-23s at the beginning of 2020, and is now regularly rubbing shoulders with all the internationals at Cobham.

Nine academy players have been given their debuts this season and perhaps if Chelsea had been leading 3-0, rather than losing 3-0, at Sheffield United, Bate would have made it double figures.

He joined Chelsea at under-nine level and, like Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi, has continued to impress while working up through the ranks. The England Under-17 international garners attention for the way he can dictate the game from midfield, with a silky left foot that can spray passes from one side to another and cut through opposition defences.

However, it was demonstrating a more feisty characteristic which really caught the eye of Morris. Standing a mere 5ft 6in and with a diminutive frame, it looks like he might be easily bullied by stronger, more physical players.

During one youth game that Morris was watching, an opposition player sent Bate to the floor with a crunching late tackle. There was not much of a reaction from the youngster. He didn’t chase the referee demanding punishment or asked to be substituted to recover from the pain.

After quietly taking the treatment, Bate got up and got on with the game. Then, 15 minutes later, he made a strong challenge of his own on the player who had hurt him. It sparked quite a few protests and complaints from the team Chelsea were playing but for Morris, it was a sign of Bate’s character and competitive nature. As one source tells The Athletic, “I think Jody saw a bit of himself in him”.

Morris had a fight to prove he was good enough to make it as a youngster at Chelsea in the 1990s. Despite being 5ft 5in, he went on to make 173 appearances for the first team. It certainly played a part in Bate being asked to participate in training sessions ahead of the restart last month.

Bate had kept himself very fit during lockdown, so much so that in the early tests conducted, it is believed he finished second among the group he was working with. As far as the coaches were concerned, that showed he had the right mentality, as well as the ability. He also impressed during drills with players much older and experienced than him.

It led to Bate being involved in Chelsea’s first game of any kind for three months when Lampard staged an in-house friendly between all the players at Stamford Bridge.

Bate wasn’t the only youngster involved — Tino Anjorin, Armando Broja, Jamie Cumming and Henry Lawrence also got minutes — but it was the former who really stood out. As one observer says: “They already thought he was good but what he did that day really made a big impression and made them think he is even better than they thought.”

Some might think in Billy Gilmour, Bate has a significant obstacle to bypass. They are of similar stature, playing style and love being in midfield.

Gilmour is 18 months older and has already made 11 appearances for Lampard’s side, including remarkable showings against Liverpool and Everton in March. A knee injury sustained earlier this month has halted the Scot’s progress but he clearly has a bright future in the set-up. Instead of seeing Gilmour’s presence in a negative light or as a bitter rival, though, Bate regards him as an inspiration, someone to drive himself on to work even harder.

Chelsea handed Bate a three-year contract last October and inevitably, with one of their emerging players, there have been enquiries from lower-league teams about taking him on loan. No decisions have been taken as to what he will do in the next campaign as yet. It is a conversation to be had with his agent, the club and his very supportive family during the close season.

But a measure of the kind of person Chelsea have on their books came in an under-18 game against Southampton last August. Bate was given the ball 30 yards out and he just stroked it into the net. It proved to be the only goal of the game but there were no wild celebrations. As his team-mates surrounded him, Bate just carried on walking calmly, as if what he had just done was no big deal, was part of the norm.

There is nothing ordinary about this kid.

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Lewis Bate is very similar to Kovacic with a little bit more of a goal threat. He will have it easier than Billy making it into the first team because he can play also the no. 8 role, while Billy cannot.


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