Buidling Dreams Together


Reece James: The Story behind the Armband

At the age of six, Reece James joined Chelsea from grassroots club Epsom Eagles.

Fast forward to the age of 23, and the Cobham graduate has been named club captain ahead of the 2023/24 season.

The question is, however, just how did Reece James get to this point?

Cultured in Cobham

Reece began his life at Chelsea as a budding striker, idolising Blues and Premier League legend Didier Drogba.

Despite this, he was moved into midfield further into his time at the academy, and then once again moved to play as a right-back.

He initially struggled and was not a fan of the role, claiming that he felt “isolated” on the pitch, and would rather be in a more prominent role. Little did he know, he would become influential in this role in the years to come.

As is evident, Reece has since adapted to this role, and was able to make an impact there for the Cobham youth sides. He signed his first professional contract with the Blues in March 2017.

Across 2016/17 and 2017/18, he played in two FA Youth Cup finals, the first of which was played against Manchester City. Chelsea won 5-1 on the day (and 6-2 on aggregate).

Reece’s second final came against Arsenal in the 2017/18 season. The Blues came from behind in the first leg at home to win 3-1. They later cruised to a 4-0 away win at the Emirates Stadium, courtesy of a Callum Hudson-Odoi brace.

The young right-back lifted the trophy in celebration as captain, knowing he’d just led Chelsea to a fifth straight victory in the competition. That summer, he went on to sign a four-year contract with the club.

Life with the Latics

After signing his contract extension in June, Reece James headed to the north-west, and joined Wigan Athletic on loan.

Under the guidance of manager Paul Cook, he made his debut at home to Sheffield Wednesday, in a game which the Latics won 3-2. Following this, he scored his first goal at the DW Stadium with a free-kick against Leeds. This time, however, they failed to pick up three points, and lost 2-1.

Throughout the season, James made 45 league appearances, scoring three goals (most notably a long range strike against Bristol City) and assisting a further three. In his last game for the club, manager Paul Cook gave him the captains armband, and the Latics secured a 1-0 win against Millwall.

To round off his loan spell, he scooped a trio of awards. He won the club’s Player of the Year, Player’s Player of the Year, and Goal of the Season for his strike against Bristol City.

Reece also found himself in the Championship Team of the Season.

Speaking after the club’s award event, he said, “I couldn’t have imagined this season going so well and everyone has made me feel so welcome from the start – I will never forget what this club has done for me.”

Finding his feet in the First-Team

Heading into the 2019/20 season, Reece’s integration back at Chelsea was hampered by injury.

While participating in the under-20 Toulon Tournament, he was stretchered off with ankle ligament damage. Despite his absence from preseason, the right-back returned in the September, and was handed his debut by Frank Lampard. He featured in a 7-1 League Cup victory over Grimsby Town, scoring his first goal and assisting two.

Despite featuring here and there, Reece hadn’t yet entirely gained Lampard’s trust to be a regular starter.

It wasn’t until Chelsea’s Champions League game against Ajax that he proved himself, when he entered the pitch with the Blues 4-1 down at home. A Kurt Zouma header from a corner smashed against the crossbar, finding the right foot of Reece James, as he thundered home to level the game.

He became Chelsea’s youngest goal scorer in the competition, and featured regularly for the remainder of the season.

While the following season was a turbulent one, Reece certainly found his feet. He was relied upon heavily by Lampard, but the former Blues legend was sacked in January with the team sat in ninth.

Thomas Tuchel took over as Chelsea manager, and the youngster was relied upon once again, albeit in a slightly different role. Under the German, he was used mostly as a wing-back, and as such his attacking responsibilities heightened.

Porto and Beyond

After beating Atletico Madrid, Porto and Real Madrid, Chelsea faced Manchester City in the UCL Final.

James made the starting-eleven at right wing-back, with captain Azpilicueta behind him. He was involved early on, going toe-to-toe with Raheem Sterling in the box and coming out victorious.

His defensive contributions proved vital throughout, with another important block from his chest to deny a Sterling shot.

The final whistle blew after 100 long minutes of football, and Chelsea were once again European champions.

Reece celebrated jubilantly with his family. Particularly, with his father Nigel and sister Lauren. He credits his dad as having a major influence on his career.

As a result, Chelsea played in the UEFA Super Cup against Villarreal in September, the following season.

Despite not featuring in the match, he did memorably waved and kiss his shirt in front of the celebrating Chelsea fans following a win on penalties. One thing that certainly cannot be questioned, is Reece’s affection for the club.

Trials and Tribulations

Reece James’ biggest struggle thus far has been his fight against injury, particularly following the club’s European success.

Since the start of the 2021/22 season, Reece has missed 45 games due to injury, which has naturally taken a mental toll on the player.

In an Instagram post, he shared a diary entry from the 18th of May. He wrote, “I try so hard but mentally it’s tough, super tough, and draining.” To end the entry, Reece wrote, “without rain, nothing grows!”

The rain has certainly poured hard for the Chelsea star, but the subsequent growth is clear to see. He has come on leaps and bounds as a player, and as a man.

A notably charitable person, particularly with his work with the thefelixproject.org, who is not afraid to show his human-side away from just being a player. With the team, former manager Thomas Tuchel described him as “strong and influential.”

Despite his trials and tribulations, Reece heads into the new season with a clean slate. New manager Mauricio Pochettino had been posed with the task of choosing the next club captain, following the departure of Cesar Azpilicueta. After trialling certain players in preseason, the writing was on the wall when Reece captained the side against Borussia Dortmund, while Thiago Silva was also on the pitch.

Four days before the season opener, Reece was officially announced as club captain. This pays huge testament to his character to overcome all of his obstacles, and certainly to those who helped him along the way.

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