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The Thursday Interview: Paul Clement

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Paul Clement takes charge of Chelsea in the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup this evening, and gave us his views on the tie with Shrewsbury at Griffin Park, as well as his aims for the future, both personal and for our youngsters.

Having dispatched of Stevenage in a tricky away tie before Christmas, we are now presented with giant killers Shrewsbury, who triumphed 1-0 at Newcastle in the previous round. Clement is acutely aware that our visitors will be full of confidence when they arrive tonight.

'It's a bit of a cliché but in a one-off cup competition, it's a real leveller,' he explained. 'We think we will have more of the ball, and man for man we will have more talent, but I've spoken to our players and without the right attitude you can come undone in a big competition like this.

'I don't think they'll be too dissimilar from Stevenage in the last round. I saw them against Newcastle in the third round, and being totally honest after the first 20 minutes I thought Newcastle would win the game.

Shrewsbury had fantastic team spirit, and were organised defensively, but Newcastle had all the chances and were playing most of the football. The Shrewsbury goalkeeper kept the tie alive, and that's the way it goes. They hit Newcastle on the counter and scored a long-range goal.'

Such is his commitment to the role, Clement was present at that game at Newcastle back in December, despite it falling the day after his own wedding.

That alone underlines the devotion that goes on behind the scenes in both the first team and Academy setups at Chelsea, and Clement was keen to stress he is by no means alone.

'I felt it was important for me to go. Somebody else would have gone and sent a report but it's never the same, and I went and it was fine,' he said.

'This is a hard working club, staff put in long hours, sacrifice a lot in terms of their own social and family life, for their own career development and for the good of the club.

'We do put in some hours but it's very rewarding and to work at this level you have to do it. If you don't someone else will. We all want to stay at the cutting edge and be the best we can be, and you have to work hard for that.'

That is exactly the sentiment required for youngsters in the Academy hoping to progress to first team level, and Clement believes Youth Cup victory would be a fantastic kick-start for many young careers.

'Our overall aim is to try and win the tournament, as is every other club's. Chelsea are a big club and don't have a particularly good tradition in the Youth Cup,' he admits.

'I think it was the quarter-finals when John Terry was in the squad, and in previous years we have gone out to smaller clubs.'

Indeed 1961 was the last time the trophy was housed at Stamford Bridge, but we do have talent in the team this year, and there is reason for optimism.

'We can easily start 11 internationals and have more on the bench, so we have depth,' Clement said. 'Against Stevenage we weren't particularly cohesive but we've had more time together now, and want to be a star team, not a team of stars,' he smiled.

Still though there is no hard and fast rule that Cup success at this level promises successful careers, and while our own Joe Cole, as well as Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Michael Owen have all tasted Youth Cup victory, there is no guarantee, and Clement insists he would sooner see long term progression than short term silverware.


'Some years there have been teams that won it and there haven't been players that have pushed on,' he said.

'If you asked whether I would prefer a Youth Cup win or a group of select players going through and representing the club at first team level I would have to say the latter, that's the ultimate aim. If we had both that would be very special.'

Currently, John Terry is the only regular first team player who came through the Chelsea ranks, but Clement explains that the captain is widely exerting his influence to ensure he won't be alone for much longer.

'He's a special example because he came through the ranks here, and is excellent with the players. He has trained with the youth team this season when he was coming back from injury before he went away with England.

'He is good off the field too, and has the pool tournament organised in the canteen. He gets everyone together, and little things like that can make a big difference. He is PFA representative and knows the boys' names, it goes a long way,' the former teacher explained.

If Terry's route to his current position has been conventional, Clement's has been distinctly unorthodox, and it is obvious speaking to him that his is a star still on the rise.

'I was a PE teacher, never good enough to progress to play as a professional, but went down another route because I love sports, lots of different ones, football basketball, athletics, and thought it was something I could do,' he said, detailing his work prior to being involved solely in football.

'I taught in secondary school for five years, and was still playing at amateur level, all through university, and non-league at Banstead and Corinthian Casuals, and went through my coaching qualifications, getting involved in community programmes. Around the time my younger brother (Neil, now at West Brom) was signing at Chelsea I started working in the centre of excellence here.'

With Neil making a successful career from playing, and Paul's father Dave having been in the glamorous QPR side of the 1970s, it is little surprise that Paul has wanted to be in the game.

'I have always been around football, and wanted to be involved in it, but my skill and talent was in teaching and coaching. We see that more and more now,' he said, pointing to Avram Grant, José Mourinho and Arsene Wenger as suitable examples.

While the Youth Cup can't compare to Champions League and Premier League honours, it wouldn't be a bad start, either for Paul Clement or his young team.

You can cheer them on tonight at Griffin Park, with admission for fans (including season ticket holders) being £3 adults and £1 concessions and a good support for the youth team will be welcome as they look to build a first significant cup run in a decade.

Should the young Blues be successful on Thursday, the next opposition has already been drawn. The victors from Chelsea versus Shrewsbury will play Leicester City at home.

Thursday's tie, which kicks-off at 7pm, will be decided on the night with extra-time and penalties employed if necessary.

Source: Chelsea FC

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