Chelsea have promoted several academy graduates from their famous Cobham academy in recent years, and Harvey Vale could be next after catching the eye of Thomas Tuchel with some impressive cameos
If Harvey Vale had his way as a youngster, the Chelsea starlet would have shared the same name as his boyhood idol Cristiano Ronaldo. Only an intervention from his parents prevented the youngster from pursuing it further – and today, he is relieved to just be himself.
“My mum told me this story recently that I kept begging her and my dad to change my name to [Cristiano] Ronaldo. Thankfully, they did not let me! It would be a bit embarrassing now, but I was in love with him as a kid, ”Vale told the club’s official website.
The trend of Chelsea academy graduates making the step up to the first team has seen Mason Mount and Reece James tread the short path from the academy center to the first-team ‘phase 3’ area, separated by a small zebra crossing. And there are high hopes that Vale, 18, can follow in their literal footsteps on a permanent basis after training with Tuchel’s squad.
Vale is a confident character and a player who, despite his youthful age, has a clear understanding of the “winning mentality” that is required to play for the club. There was no surprise at Cobham when Vale was named Chelsea’s Academy Player of the Season, an award previously won by Conor Gallagher, Billy Gilmour and Tino Livramento. He has starred for the Under-23s side in a difficult season for the youth team, scoring nine goals and assisting five, and earned a handful of senior appearances to go with it.
It speaks volumes that in January, when Championship outfit Huddersfield Town made an approach to loan Vale, Tuchel was reluctant to part with the young attacker as he felt he would be useful as part of the squad for the second part of the season. And the German has been true to his word, handing out 131 minutes to the 18-year-old in domestic cup competitions – the most of any academy player.
Vale made his debut against Chesterfield in the FA Cup third round, a game that Chelsea won 5-1, and in his bright cameo from the bench showed enough to Tuchel that he deserved another outing against Luton. He made his first start in the Carabao Cup quarter-final against Brentford when the Blues squad had been left ravaged by positive Covid tests. And the youngster admitted he was taken aback by how his debut came about.
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“My first-team debut, it was crazy. Leading up to the game, I’d only trained for two days with the team and got to gameday and thought I was going to be there in the squad or on the bench, ”he said. “Then on gameday I was told I was starting, my family came to watch and to play in front of that many fans for Chelsea was unbelievable.”
Vale has the grace of an attacking midfielder built in the same style as Kai Havertz, a player only four years his senior but far more experienced. And the German’s influence in and around the training ground has helped Vale stay focused: “Kai has been good to me,” he added. “We sort of play similar positions, so he’s told me to stay humble, keep my feet on the ground , and keep working hard just like he did. “
Chelsea have opted to sell a number of highly-rated prospects in recent seasons, with Livramento joining Southampton, Marc Guehi moving to Crystal Palace and Tammy Abraham heading to Roma for £ 34m last summer alone. There are obvious concerns that Vale could follow suit, with only a year left on his contract, but it is expected the Blues will offer him a long-term deal when Boehly £ 4.25billion takeover is complete.
On the other side, Chelsea will be hoping Vale can take the next step up in 2022-23 just like Mount, James, Gallagher and Gilmour have done in the past, but that can only happen with more minutes at a higher level. And with the support of Tuchel and help from Havertz, he could become the next Cobham alumnus to shine at Stamford Bridge – just do not call him Ronaldo.