Dylan Williams did not grow up supporting a football club. He, like so many others of his generation, idolised a single player, someone he wanted to replicate if he ever broke through at the elite level.
For Williams, that player was Ashley Cole. And now, a decade or so on, the teenager finds himself in a position to become the next great Chelsea left-back.
"All the kids in our village of High Ercall supported either Manchester United or Liverpool, Williams’ dad, Keith, tells GOAL. “When Dylan's friends asked him who his favourite team were, he'd say (local non-league side) AFC Telford.
“But he did like watching players, and when he was on the path to being a defender, he started watching Ashley Cole closely.”
Having broken into the Derby County first team during the first half of the 2021-22 season, Williams moved to Stamford Bridge in January as one of the final signings of the Roman Abramovich era.
And he is making a strong impression already.
"Just after Dylan signed, we met John Terry and Ashley Cole who were working at the academy, and he shook all their hands and introduced himself,” Keith recalls.
"After his last Under-23s game at Cobham, which Chelsea won to stay up, I saw John Terry and just said hello to him again for the first time since that day. He stopped, walked over to me, shook my hand and told me how well he thought Dylan was doing.”
Terry is currently working as a consultant within the Chelsea academy, meaning he takes more of an interest in the club’s youth ranks than he might otherwise, but it is still a good sign for Williams that the legendary club captain is impressed with his progress.
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The 18-year-old played a key role in the Blues avoiding relegation from Premier League 2, filling what had been a problem position for the club’s older age-group sides.
He has also trained often with Thomas Tuchel’s first-team squad, and made the bench for their FA Cup fifth-round win over Luton Town in March.
For those who watched the 18-year-old come through the ranks at Derby, though, Williams’ progress comes as little surprise.
He made his debut for the Rams’ U18s as a 15-year-old, and two years later was making his professional debut under the watchful eye of manager Wayne Rooney.
Williams made eight appearances in total for Derby before Chelsea made their move, with Rooney reluctantly deciding not to stand in the prospect’s way of joining a member of the Premier League’s elite.
"Dylan is a wonderful person to have around the football club as his positivity is infectious, always wanting to learn, ask questions and do more, whether that was on the field or off the field," one of his former coaches at Derby tells GOAL.
"He is quite mature for his age as he was able to hold conversations with any staff member and also crack a joke or two."
There was a time, however, when Williams considered opting for a different path than pursuing a career in football.
"He has always been so determined,” his father says. “When he was at Under-8s, he opted to leave his local team Shawbury for another slightly better one called Oakengates.
"Then he joined Wolves after trials with Aston Villa and Stoke. Unfortunately, he fell out of love with the game by the time he reached the U13s level. They wanted to keep him but he had made his mind up and wanted to go back to playing non-league.
"For someone who fell out of love with football, he was playing it even more after leaving the academy and Derby spotted him playing for his school. He rejected them initially, just fearing he wouldn't enjoy it, like Wolves, but six months later they came back and Dylan said yes. Derby have been fantastic with him."
The coaches at both Derby and Chelsea have since been able to hone Williams’ agility, stamina and ability with the ball at his left foot, with which he is able to deliver menacing crosses into the box at will.
He has also been able to pick the brains of the likes of Mason Mount within the Chelsea dressing room, and should Marcos Alonso leave this summer, Williams could find himself backing-up Ben Chilwell through the coming campaign.
The road to one day filling Ashley Cole’s boots might be about to get a little shorter again. One day, there might even be children dreaming of becoming the next Dylan Williams at Chelsea.