With a first-team appearance now under his belt, Lewis Baker sat down with the official Chelsea website to discuss his debut at Derby, and plenty more besides.
Eighty-seven minutes had been played at the iPro Stadium on Sunday when Jose Mourinho opted to make his final substitution of the afternoon, replacing Oscar with Baker and switching to a three-man midfield in the process. Our 18-year-old Academy midfielder settled quickly alongside John Mikel Obi and Ramires as we closed out the game to ensure a smooth progression to the fourth round of the FA Cup.
With a couple of days having passed since his landmark maiden appearance, Baker has had time to reflect on the enormity of his achievement.
‘It’s sunk in now,’ he smiles.
‘I keep thinking back to it, and it was probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Jose Mourinho just said good luck and enjoy the experience, while every single player has been great to me as well.
‘They’ve been helping me along and giving me lots of advice, telling me to just play my normal game and try and enjoy the experience.
‘I’ve played in massive games like the Youth Cup finals, the Next Gen tournament where we played Barcelona and other top European teams, but this was different, playing with some of the best players in the world, the stadium was packed and it was just a great experience.’
His entry onto the pitch was met with an enthusiastic reception from the 5,500-strong travelling Chelsea faithful, and he recognises the support he has received since.
‘A couple of friends and family were at the game and they said after that I got a good ovation when I came on. To be honest at the time I didn’t really hear it because I was focused on the game!
‘I’ve had a lot of team-mates, family, friends, as well as fans saying well done and they hope I get many more appearances, so it’s been really nice to hear and I’m very grateful.’
Baker couldn’t escape one Chelsea tradition which new players have to fulfil: singing an initiation song in front of their team-mates.
‘I luckily missed out on doing it when we went to Swindon [for the Capital One Cup game earlier in the season, when Baker was an unused substitute], so I had to do it on Saturday. I sung Hold on, We’re Going Home by Drake. It was nerve-racking!
‘I was anxious about it because I knew it was coming sooner or later. I didn’t know when though, so every time I sat down for dinner I was a bit nervous.’
Having joined Chelsea at the age of nine, Baker quickly emerged as the fulcrum of any team he played in. Recently, and most notably, that meant playing a key role in the victorious FA Youth Cup side of 2012, while last season he captained a crop of talented youngsters to the final of both the NextGen series – where he was named player of the tournament – and the FA Youth Cup.
The midfielder earned his first professional contract in the summer of 2012, and within a year put pen to paper on a new three-year deal, reward for some fine individual performances over the course of that momentous 2012/13 campaign.
A tough-tackling, creative central midfielder who loves to get forward, Baker cites Zinedine Zidane as an early inspiration, and now looks up to the goals of Frank Lampard and the running of Ramires as he seeks to continue his own development. One standout feature of his game is his ability with both feet, so impressive he can take corners or free-kicks with his left or his right. It’s something he explains he has worked on for as long as he can remember, practising with his father Audley – himself a former powerlifting world champion – every day after school.
Baker and his peers at youth level have progressed through the age groups in unison, and he believes that will stand them all in good stead in the years to come.
‘The players in the Under-21s have been together for a long time, and we’ve always had great team spirit on and off the pitch. We do things outside the training ground together and we all get on really well.
‘Our togetherness has helped us through a lot of difficult situations, like when we were 3-0 down against Forest in the FA Youth Cup and we came back to win 4-3 in the season that we won it.
‘You don’t know what’s going to happen. We can’t all get to the first team but everyone has definitely got that team spirit and I think we’ll take that on in our individual careers.’
For now, though, Baker is left to ponder the wider impact of his time on the pitch against Derby and what he hopes to achieve in the months ahead.
‘It was great that I came on, not just for me but for the Academy as well. I’ve been here a long time and it shows that if you work hard enough you’ll be able to get your chance.
‘Right now I have just got to keep working hard for the Under-21s and in the UEFA Youth League, and hopefully between now and the end of the season I can get in the first team again.’