It’s been a sensational four months for Frank Lampard.
He’s played through the period of Chelsea’s greatest success. But while teams of his past were used to scoring freely, enjoying their football and winning titles, the Blues’ new head coach has brought the glory back in a different way – his own way – since taking the role in the main seat on the Stamford Bridge bench in July.
Talk of titles with the modern day squad is premature, but it hasn’t taken Lampard long to reunite a previously divided fanbase and make them believe that this is a journey, and a team, worth following again following a difficult season under Maurizio Sarri. Lampard has triggered a culture shift that has been in demand for the better part of a decade, and proven fully justified in doing so.
The ?Chelsea of today are young. They’re confident, daring and unafraid. Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount are flourishing. Fikayo Tomori has been unearthed and there’s high hopes for Callum Hudson-Odoi. There’s plenty of others to list too.
But Reece James is the latest off the conveyor belt. His performance shackling Wilfried Zaha in the win over Crystal Palace at the weekend has earned praise – he’s come in for plenty of that since his breakthrough – while he’s already shown himself to be an effective weapon in an attacking sense too. The attention was certainly fixed on the 19-year-old following his equaliser in the crazy 4-4 Champions League draw with Ajax earlier this month.
That said, James isn’t one to let his feet leave the ground. He’s merely concentrating on making a regular spot in the first team his own for now.
“At the moment it’s about taking the next step and being a starter in the team. That’s the next goal,” he told 90min‘s ?YouTube regulars ?Ben Haines, ?Lawrence Bury and ?I at the recent launch event for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, later confessing that it’s actually his mate Mason who is probably the best gamer at the club.
There’s plenty of time for James to brush up on his COD skills in afternoons after training, but making a success of his career at Stamford Bridge following a loan spell at Wigan Athletic last season has been the objective since the age of six – when James was initially brought in to the Chelsea academy.
“I’ve been there all the way through. I was playing in a tournament with my Sunday league team and then got scouted from there,” he continued, going on to share his experience of coming up through the ranks to making his home debut – another game in which he scored in, at that – in the recent EFL Cup win over Grimsby.
“Obviously it’s great playing with loads of players that I’ve played with in the academy [naming Hudson-Odoi, Mount, Tomori, Abraham and ?Billy Gilmour among them]. Everyone seems to be getting a chance at the moment and results are going the right way.
“It was a great atmosphere, stepping out at Stamford Bridge. Winning 7-1 on my home debut and scoring as well was pretty special.”
He named ?Manchester United as the team he’d like to score against, and while a recent chance to do so was missed in the same competition, there will be plenty more opportunities to come for the right back.
James has Lampard to thank for that. His loan spell with the Latics proved successful as he played in all but one of their Championship fixtures last term – he could even celebrate scoring the club’s goal of the season – and James was keen to stress that going out on loan could be an invaluable experience to young players in a similar position.
“I was playing week in, week out and grew to get to know the lads better,” he assessed. “It was a tough season but it was enjoyable playing [regularly]. If you can get out and play then there’s nothing better.”
Except, perhaps, for playing directly under one of his idols.
“[He was] one of the leaders in the team the whole way through when I was a youngster,” James said of his head coach, listing both Lampard and John Terry as the players he looked up to growing up.
“He’s got a lot to teach you but it’s a lot different from when he played the game. Now he’s on the side trying to help you.”
Lampard has made a superb start to his career as Chelsea’s head coach, drafting in a number of youth team players desperate for the chance to represent their boyhood club, while he’s taken his team to a lofty third place (joint second on goal difference) after 12 games. The future is bright, and the club’s fans are supremely grateful for a chance to get behind their own.
James will continue fighting for his position as Chelsea’s first choice right back when Premier League action resumes after the international break, but he has certainly put himself in a strong position for regular selection moving forward. Continuing in his current vein will surely ensure his place in the Blues’ first team squad for many years to come.
Reece James was speaking to 90min at the launch event for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. You can watch the ?full video here.