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Happy birthday Michael Mancienne - 21 today!

While the idea of receiving the key to the door at this age is a very outdated one, our aspiring centre-back at least appears to be standing on the threshold of a Chelsea first team debut if the events of the last few days and months are anything to go by.

Helping England Under 21s qualify for the European Championships in Sweden next summer; an out-of-the-blue call into the senior national squad and rave reviews during a loan at Championship high-flyers Wolves have now been followed by a return to Chelsea and seemingly a place in Luiz Felipe Scolari's immediate plans.

Yesterday Michael even scored the winning penalty that crowned his seven-a-side team as the kings of Cobham training for the day.

'Top team, and good little games,' Michael declares, freshly changed from his triumph in concert with Hilario, Branislav Ivanovic, Paulo Ferreira, John Mikel Obi, Deco and Nicolas Anelka. He is already feeling back at home.


'I just got a call to come into training last Wednesday,' he explains on how his two-month loan at Wolves came to a halt.

In his Friday press conference, Scolari indicated that the returning defender was now here to stay and train with him every day, highlighting problems that have depleted his stock of centre-backs throughout the season.

'That is a very good thing,' Michael says of his manager's intention for him, although he doesn't dismiss totally the thought of going back out on loan again at some point ahead of the Under 21 Championships should the four other centre-backs stay fit and available.

'I need match fitness coming up to the Championships,' he points out.

'I am now where I wanted to be at 21 - around the Chelsea first team but also playing first team football as well by going on loan and getting experience.

'I have that experience now of playing pressure football, football with lots of fans and the expectation to win games, so that has matured my game. That is different from playing reserve team football,' he insists.

Michael previously spent nearly two seasons at our neighbours QPR, like Wolves a division below the top flight, although at the time Rangers were battling relegation. He made 71 appearances there and was voted the club's young player of the year.

A genuine product of the Chelsea youth system having first come under the club's wing as an eight-year-old schoolboy, Michael's ball-playing, quick and composed-defending potential has never been doubted by the coaches who worked with him - hence his debut for the reserves before he had even graduated from full-time education to full-time Chelsea scholar.

He was also capable of playing as a midfielder or full-back.


But after a natural progression through the England representative age groups, 37 reserve team appearances and a pre-season tour with the first team, his lithe, athletic build needed to grow accustomed to the matching up against the powerhouse strikers that inhabit first team football in England.

Initially QPR played him at right-back, later moving him into the central melee. It's often said the lower leagues provide a more physical challenge than the top flight, although it is hard to imagine more of a strength test for a defender than the likes of Didier Drogba, Emile Heskey, Kevin Davies, Kenwyne Jones etc - but regardless, Michael believes he toughened up in his time away from Chelsea.

'I'm stronger, definitely. There are physical forwards in the Premier League but in the lower leagues, every striker is physical like a Drogba or a Heskey. They are all brutes and the ball is being hoofed about and you find yourself in battles every single game.

'I know there is a bit of that in the Premier League, but you can't get away from it in the lower leagues.'

Michael also showed his ability to cope with more sophisticated pace and movement in attack when he was an outstanding performer for England Under 21s against an accomplished Portugal side back in the autumn.

He believes the best of him is likely to be seen as the mobile partner to a more traditionally solid centre-half.

'I have always been quite comfortable dribbling out from the back but my midfield and right-back days have definitely gone,' he reckons, 'I am definitely a centre-half, which is what I have always wanted to be.

'That was another good thing about being at Wolves. Playing under Mick McCarthy with him having been a centre-half, you get good pointers if something is not right.

'It is the same with Stuart Pearce with England Under 21s. He was the one who gave me my chance there and he was brave enough to keep me in there above Premier League centre-halves.


'They have not taught me anything really major but if something is not right in a game, they will see it because they know what it is like to be a defender and how to get around the problem.

'It went really well at Wolves. I knew a couple of the boys from England Under 21s and I fitted in really well there. That is what made it really easy to play my football.'

Of his 10 games for the Molineux club, there were six wins, three draws and just one defeat, ironically against QPR. Michael is pretty certain Wolves will be joining Chelsea in the Barclays Premier League next season.

His second match with Wolves, a win at Cardiff, led to McCarthy's already famous comparison in style with Franz Beckenbauer, the German legendary sweeper who was hanging up his boots some five years before Michael was born.

Maybe even more significant words were the ones from Pearce, heeded by Fabio Capello, stating the youngster should be given an early taste of life with fully-grown England for last November's friendly against the Germans.

Michael was an unused sub that night, as he was on Saturday for Chelsea against Southend. He had been on our bench three times previously.

Now he has the chance to learn first hand from another former defender in Scolari, as well as Chelsea's present world-class performers in his position.

When his debut comes it will be one of the most anticipated in recent years for a new young player at Chelsea. And of course the new 21-year-old is looking forward to the day too.

'I am buzzing for it,' he smiles, before leaving to complete another day's preparation with the Chelsea first team squad.

his interview on the website today :)

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