In the second of three interviews catching up with former players who recently began working in the Academy, the official Chelsea website speaks today to Jon Harley…
Jon Harley knows what it takes to become a member of the first team at Chelsea having broken into the side during a successful period at the end of the 1990s, and the former Blues left-back is now imparting his wisdom on young players in the club’s Academy.
A childhood Chelsea supporter, Harley signed schoolboy forms at Stamford Bridge at the age of 11, and made his debut for the club in a 1-0 away win at Derby County in April 1998.
It was a period in which the club were beginning to challenge for honours consistently and, breaking into a side littered with experienced internationals and under the stewardship of Gianluca Vialli was no easy task.
The standout period from his time in the side, where he competed with Graeme Le Saux and Celestine Babayaro for the left-back position, came in the second half of the 1999/2000 season when, in the space of a week, he scored the only goal of the game in a win away at Leeds United (pictured below) before setting up the winner for Gustavo Poyet in the FA Cup semi-final against Newcastle United at Wembley.
After leaving Chelsea in 2001, Harley went on to enjoy stints at clubs such as Sheffield United, Burnley, Watford and Portsmouth, before returning earlier this year, albeit in a slightly different capacity.
‘I was playing at Portsmouth last season but I left there in January and a couple of days after that I came here, first and foremost to train and keep fit, but also to do some coaching, and it just evolved from there really, now I’m full-time coaching,’ he tells the official Chelsea website.
‘I take the Under-15s and the way it’s structured is that they’re in full time. We have a building out by the pitches where teachers come in from a local school and take them early in the morning, then they train at 10.30.
‘After lunch they’ll have some more lessons and then do a bit more training, which is followed by a homework session. It’s a really full day for the boys but the schooling is great and the fact they’re in full-time is great for me as a coach because I get to see more of them. They normally then have a Saturday off and then a game on a Sunday.
‘It can be quite hectic for them but they don’t train on a Monday or a Saturday and that’s really closely monitored. There will be some days where they don’t do as much or a training session might be slightly more relaxed.’
The 34-year-old, unlike some of his former team-mates who have gone into coaching, admitted that until recently it wasn’t a path he’d considered navigating.
‘No, if I’m being honest,’ he says. ‘It was only over the last few years, when I was becoming more of a senior player, looking at various coaches and taking both positive and negative aspects of their work, that I became more interested in it.
‘I took my B License last summer and then, in January, having left Portsmouth, I wanted to carry on playing, but after the first day of working here at Cobham my mind was made up – I wanted to coach but I wanted to coach at Chelsea. I stayed for a little while on a part-time basis and since May it’s been full-time.’
Harley is one of five former Chelsea players now working in the Academy, alongside Eddie Newton, Andy Myers, Tore Andre Flo and Jody Morris, all of whom represented the Blues at a similar time.
He acknowledges that, in some ways, having enjoyed a decent career in the game can prove advantageous when trying to get your message across to young players.
‘I think there is something there which helps, but once you have the players respect, whether you’re an ex-player or not becomes irrelevant,’ he explains.
‘It’s more of a natural thing that we’ve been through the same process which they’re going through. All players have different circumstances, whether that’s loss of form or, particularly in my age group, being late developers, so it’s all about managing that. Having been through that myself it perhaps gives you a slight advantage to know what’s going on in their heads.
‘With the five of us here, and with us all having played at various clubs, there’s a wealth of experience for the youngsters to tap in to.’
During his Stamford Bridge playing career Harley had the good fortune of operating alongside players such as Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Di Matteo, Frank Leboeuf and George Weah, and it’s a period he recalls fondly.
‘I suppose now you look at the likes of Nathaniel [Chalobah] and Josh [McEachran] and they’re in a similar position to myself and Jody 15 years ago, but it was great, and for me having been brought up as a Chelsea fan, from the age of 11 when I signed schoolboy forms that was my goal and I was fortunate enough to achieve it,’ he says.
‘All the hard work you do as a youngster, getting in from school, going down to the park or training, it makes it all worthwhile. For me, though, I didn’t see it as hard work because I was doing something I enjoyed. If you don’t enjoy it there’s no point in doing it, so having been through all that and then turning it into a full-time job was brilliant.
‘Getting paid to do something you love is everybody’s dream and it was a great period for me. Likewise, now is equally enjoyable because I’ve come back in and gone on to the next phase, so we’ll see where that takes me.’
– Chelsea TV spoke to another former player – Eddie Newton – about his current role as technical coach in the Academy. The interview can be watched now via the channel’s online access.