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Harvey Vale: Chelsea's teenage 'baller' who tried to change his name to Ronaldo

14:00 SAST 2021/12/22
Harvey Vale NXGN GFX
The 18-year-old has been the star of the Blues' Under-23s side this season and is closing in on a first senior appearance for Thomas Tuchel's team

Plenty has changed at Chelsea since Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard in the managerial hotseat, and nothing more so than opportunities that have been offered to the club's academy talents.

During Lampard's 18-month tenure, a clutch of future England internationals broke into the Blues line-up, and while not all of them have stayed at Stamford Bridge, there is no doubt that a pathway was beginning to be established between the youth ranks and the first team.

And while that pathway has certainly not been cut off under Tuchel, with Trevoh Chalobah having broken through over the course of late 2021, it is clear homegrown players have to clear a number of hurdles before earning opportunities under the German coach.

Chalobah, for example, played over 100 professional matches for various loan clubs before eventually getting his chance back at Chelsea, and so far this season only one truly homegrown teenager has broken into Tuchel's matchday squad.

Harvey Vale has made the bench in both the Champions League and Carabao Cup this term, and looks set to be involved again when Chelsea take on Brentford in the latter competition on Wednesday, as Tuchel contends with both injuries and a swathe of Covid-19 cases within his squad.

Unlike some of his predecessors in west London, Tuchel has been keen to observe Chelsea's youth sides in person when his schedule allows, and Vale has understandably caught his eye after some match-winning displays for the Under-23s in recent months.

The 18-year-old has become the talk of the club's Cobham training ground in terms of being the next youth product to break through, though there are some matters to iron out first before he starts fighting for regular selection.

Vale, who joined Chelsea from Fulham at the age of 13, is about to enter the final 18 months of his contract, with negotiations having begun as the European champions aim to avoid a repeat of the summer of 2021.

Highly-rated teenagers Valentino Livramento and Lewis Bate both left the club for cut-price fees as they entered the final year of their initial three-year professional deals, and were not the only Chelsea youngsters who went in search of pastures new during the transfer window, either.

The Premier League giants have plenty to do, then, to convince Vale - who is friends with both Southampton's Livramento and Leeds United's Bate - not to follow them out the exit door. If they are able to, then they could yet put another high-quality, versatile player at Tuchel's disposal.

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"He’s a natural baller and makes it look easy," Tom Joyce, a sports performance coach who worked with Vale, as well as Livramento, over the summer of 2021, tells GOAL. "He’s dedicated and a really hard worker.

"When I teach him something new, or get him to perform a drill, he won’t stop until he’s got it right. He’s determined, and I like that in an athlete. He’s got great passing accuracy and an unbelievable shot, too.

"He’s a hard worker, so he just needs to stay consistent, put in the work behind the scenes and gain every advantage he can.

"I believe Harvey will soon follow Tino in making regular Premier League appearances, as he (Livramento) has shown he is capable of making the transition from the U23s. It has been exceptional."

Many of those attributes can be seen when Vale is in action, regardless of which position the England youth international is deployed in.

He operates best as a central attacking midfielder, though he has also impressed as an inverted left winger at times. Coaches have even been known to try him in a more traditional central midfield role and at left-wing-back over the years, but it is in the final third where he truly thrives.

He earned his first international call-up as a 15-year-old before netting 20 goals for Chelsea's U16s in the 2019-20 season, with that form also earning him a 20-minute appearance for the first team in a pre-season friendly against Brighton ahead of last season.

He backed that up by returning seven goals and 12 assists across various age-group sides in 2020-21, and he is already well on the way to at least matching those totals this season having already scored six times while providing three assists.

He also possesses excellent leadership qualities having worn the captain's armband for both club and country this season, highlighting a maturity that he has possessed since a young age.

"I’ve always looked up to both my parents because it’s probably one of the toughest jobs," he told Chelsea's official website. "I moved out of home when I was 13 and I know that was tough for them, I admire them so much."

His footballing idol, however, might not go down quite as well among the Stamford Bridge faithful.

"In football, [my idol] was definitely Cristiano Ronaldo," he revealed. "When I was younger, I begged my mum to let me change my name to Ronaldo, but looking back I’m glad she didn’t let me!"

Vale has certainly followed in Ronaldo's footsteps in terms of improving his physical stature, and after a summer spent on bulking up, he has largely been a dominant figure in youth team games, and has not looked out of place on the various occasions he has been called-up to train alongside Tuchel's first-team squad.

A first professional appearance now awaits the Haywards Heath-born attacker as Chelsea once again look to show that it was not just under Lampard that their academy graduates could break through and thrive at the very highest level.

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