It wasn’t an unusual occurrence for Frank Lampard to wax lyrical about one of Chelsea’s academy graduates. Given the trust he’d placed in them, that was really no surprise.
Lampard had complete faith in the club’s own, a belief in the work that had been done by the academy coaches at Cobham. All he felt the Blues’ youngsters needed was an opportunity. He was going to give it to them.
Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham thrived pretty much from the off. Then came the turn of Reece James.
He scored and assisted on his Chelsea debut but it was his equaliser in the mad 4-4 draw against Ajax in last season’s Champions League group stage that brought the full-back to the wider attention to those outside of Stamford Bridge.
Click to play
Tap to play
The video will auto-play soon8Cancel
“He is going to be a top player for the club,” Lampard said, almost matter-of-factly, after the game. “He has got great quality. Modern full-backs are expected now to join in, to be a threat going forward.
“In the Premier League there are many doing it in an outstanding way. Hopefully, Reece can do it for us.”
James made 39 appearances during his debut season in the Chelsea first-team. Of those, 26 were starts. There were mistakes, difficult games against tricky wingers, lessons to be learned. But few could deny the full-back’s first campaign as a senior Chelsea player was hugely impressive.
Lampard had a tough decision to make going into the current season. Or perhaps it wasn’t given the trust he had in James. The 21-year-old was installed as Chelsea’s first-choice right-back. Club captain Cesar Azpilicueta had to settle for a spot on the bench.
The academy graduate started 12 of the Blues’ opening 15 Premier League matches. His game had become more polished, his defensive instincts and abilities improved through exposure. There was a senior debut for England too, after which Lampard reaffirmed his belief in James.