Sky Sports News tells the stories of five young English talents, who are making waves in the Premier League. Next up is Chelsea and England defender Reece James…
Reece James is one of Chelsea’s brightest stars.
The versatile 21-year-old broke into the first team last year and has already made his England debut.
This is his story as told by his father Nigel James and former Wigan boss Paul Cook…
‘His talent was natural’
Nigel James: “Reece was someone who, when he was young, he was always into his boots and his goalie gloves, and any time he was with his friends or his brother in the park or the garden, you would find him in goal.
“They would be out there as early as 9am. They would come in for food and drink and they would go back. He used to come home and get a flask and take his own food and drink, and they would be out there for hours and hours just playing.
“He showed tremendous ability on the ball and was powerful and direct. He did a lot of things without thinking. It was natural.
“He was one, who if you tried to coach him, tell him to go through cones, to turn out and stuff like that, struggled in taking instructions at a very young age, but if you just left him to his own devices and to play natural he would do things, and you would just think, wow!”
Reece’s game is at a very high level.
‘We knew we had an outstanding talent’
After coming through the ranks at Chelsea, James had his first taste of football in 2018 when he joined Wigan Athletic on loan.
Paul Cook: “The thought process was for him to be a back-up to Nathan Byrne. We needed some cover for Nathan in the right-back area and bringing in a young man from Chelsea, who had not played league football yet, was an option that we thought was correct for everyone.”
James: “Nobody really wanted to give him an opportunity in the Championship. It was only the three clubs that got promoted from League One and that was Rotherham, Blackburn Rovers and Wigan. We jumped in the car, made a few phone calls and all three wanted to see him and were happy to take him.
“Then we went to Wigan and they just blew us away. On day one, Paul Cook, the whole of his staff, the chairman, the director of football and they had so much information on Reece, it felt really warm and comfortable considering that was going to be his first time moving away and being 200 miles from home.”
Cook: “We finished the first day of training and the staff sat down to have a cup of tea together to discuss how it went, and we all said let’s wait until tomorrow to make sure that what we saw wasn’t a fluke.
“From the first minute, Reece was just an outstanding footballer. He was outstanding in everything he did, how he conducted himself, how he trained and how he played. It was quite clear to us – very, very quickly – that we had an outstanding talent on our hands.”
James’ rise at Wigan…
James’ time at Wigan was a massive success.
He was the club’s player of the season and made the Championship team of the year.
Cook: “Reece was such a nice boy. He was a nice character.
“From the first time he came up with his father to look around the training ground and to speak to me, he just conducted himself so well.
“He left such a good imprint on everybody connected with Wigan Athletic.”
That loan move [to Wigan], it was when I said to myself he’s definitely got a chance.
His versatility and return to Chelsea…
James returned to Chelsea and scored on his debut in the Carabao Cup.
Under Frank Lampard’s guidance, he became the club’s youngest Champions League goalscorer and signed a new long-term contract in January 2020.
He can also cover a number of positions in Chelsea’s squad.
Cook: “The reason we were probably moving him around a little bit was because of how outstanding he was in each position. So, if we had what we felt was an area of the pitch we could improve, whether that was central defence, whether that was wing-back or central midfield, Reece would go in there and be our best player.
“If you look at his quality, his defending from wide areas and his delivery of a ball, I think right-back, is probably his best position. In the modern-day game, playing as the right-sided centre-half of a three would be an absolute stroll for him. That will be down to the powers at be at Chelsea to decide now, but Reece won’t let anybody down wherever he plays.”
He’s a very strong lad with a good attitude.
James: “I liked the way Cook and his staff integrated Reece into the midfield. Not starting him for people to judge him before the game has even started. He just slipped into midfield without anyone even realising.
“He went in there and did really well. He got the ball and moved it.”
James’ form led to a first England call-up from Gareth Southgate and he made his international debut last October, replacing Kieran Trippier in the second half of the 3-0 win against Wales at Wembley.
In his short time with England, he’s impressed Southgate and gone onto win four caps.
We were very impressed with the way he trained every day, with the way he took his opportunity as a sub and then with his performance against Denmark. I thought he was arguably our best player.
‘He’s stayed exactly the same’
So, a promising future beckons for club and country, but has he kept his feet on the ground amid his rapid rise.
James: “He’s exactly the same as he was when he was young. He can come across as very reserved and very quiet, but he’s focused and knows exactly what he wants. He’s Reece.
“We have a great relationship. I’ve always been straight and honest, and I tell him what I feel. He’s taken things on board really well.
“I’ve given him rope to grow as a young man but I’m right beside him making sure he makes the right decisions. So far, it’s been great.
“When he plays, I’m kicking every ball with him, I’m running with him. As for being Reecey, he’s exactly the same.”