Ben Chilwell’s difficult summer extended into a frustrating start to the season but the England left-back says an honest, supportive conversation with Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel helped get things back on track.
It has been a whirlwind five months for the 24-year-old, who went from winning the Champions League to a watching brief – and period of self-isolation – during the Three Lions’ run to the Euro 2020 final.
Chilwell did not play a single minute during the tournament and then had to bide his time in the opening weeks of the new campaign, before belatedly bursting into form a month ago for club and country.
He scored on his international return in Andorra and is set to line-up against Albania on Friday as he looks to help England all but secure World Cup qualification.
“It was difficult,” Chilwell said of the summer. “I’ve been asked quite a lot recently since I’ve started playing and the way I’ve answered is a cliche but it’s football.
“These are things that are going to happen to the majority of players in their professional career where they have low moments, high moments.
“The way I try to look at it, I was disappointed that I wasn’t playing in such a massive competition in England. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.
“But the way I was trying to go into the whole thing was that it happens to a lot of people in football. I just need to make sure I’m ready, I’ll come through this stronger and better on the other side.”
Chilwell tries not to overthink the chat with Scotland midfielder Billy Gilmour that led to him and Chelsea team-mate Mason Mount going into Covid-19 isolation, saying doing so “would just eat up at you”.
Instead, he focused on the fact he felt a full part of “an unbelievable summer with an unbelievable group of players”.
That collective mindset continued on his frustrating return to Chelsea, where boss Tuchel said Chilwell was “mentally exhausted” from the Euros.
“I think it wasn’t so much mental fatigue,” he said. “I think it was more I was so eager to get back playing football, it was maybe coming across that I wanted it a bit too much.
“Me and the manager at Chelsea had a very honest conversation where he did say to me ‘you know, I feel like mentally at the moment you’re just, in training, you’re pushing a bit too much to try and get back in the team – we love you here, we know the qualities you possess just relax a little bit, you’re going to get back in’.
“Which for me was brilliant to hear and then it was just about being patient and making sure that I was ready so that when I was called upon to play I could do my best for the team.”
Chilwell has done just that and was shortlisted for October’s Premier League Player of the Month award, having not only helped Chelsea keep things tight but scored in a run of three straight top-flight games.
It has been an impressive comeback by a player who admits he was better at cricket growing up, having been signed to the Northamptonshire academy and even attended a three-day England Under-15s trial.
Chilwell eventually pursued football and will have been a particularly interested observer of Wednesday’s T20 World Cup semi-final given his father is from New Zealand.
“I’d like to think in cricket I could have gone on to be a successful cricketer,” said Chilwell, who says he batted at number three and added a bit of pace as first change bowler.
“I was always probably better at cricket, I just preferred football a lot more and it got to a decision at 14, 15 where I kind of had to pick one or the other.
“And you know it was something that I spoke to my dad about because he was the one that got me into cricket.
“Obviously being a New Zealander, he loves cricket and rugby – they’re his two sports – and, you know, I just said that I loved football and didn’t enjoy cricket anywhere near as much as I enjoyed playing football.
“That was the reason I took up football instead of cricket.”
Asked if he would have represented his father’s homeland had he stuck with cricket, Chilwell said with a smile: “He would have wanted me to. I wouldn’t have. If I had the choice, I would have chosen to play for England, of course.”
But Chilwell clearly embraces his New Zealand heritage. He has a tattoo of the country on his arm and has spoken of his appreciation for the “famous Kiwi mentally” his dad instilled in him, along with admiration for the All Blacks.
“I’ve definitely been made aware of it by my dad,” Chilwell added.
“He’d like to tell me all the time that the All Blacks are the best team to ever play sport and the way they go about things is very proper and the way that he tried to bring me up was on a lot of their ethics and morals.
“Just doing everything right, not taking any shortcuts, being respectful, and just whenever you put your mind on something doing it properly, doing it 100 per cent or don’t do it at all.”
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