Rice and Nketiah return to Chelsea, where rejection helped shape them

Harry Watling has vivid memories of the first time he saw Declan Rice play. Watling, who spent five years as an academy coach at Chelsea, recalls watching Rice as an under-10 player during a game against Liverpool. Despite being physically smaller than the other players, Rice stood out with his maturity and skill on the pitch. Watling was immediately impressed and asked, “Who’s that?!”

During his time at Chelsea, Watling had the opportunity to work with many talented young players including Mason Mount, Reece James, and Tammy Abraham. However, for Chelsea, Rice slipped away. He was released by the club at the age of 14, alongside his now Arsenal and England teammate Eddie Nketiah. Despite the disappointment of being released, Rice and Nketiah have both shown remarkable determination and resilience on their journey to success.

Watling attributes Rice’s mental strength as his X-factor. Even as a young boy, Rice displayed a strong mindset and dedication to the game. He would arrive early for training and stay late, practicing free kicks with fellow player Mason Mount. Rice’s commitment to improving his skills and his unwavering mindset have been instrumental in his success.

Rice quickly became a beloved figure within the Chelsea academy, as he was from a family of passionate Chelsea fans. Despite his popularity, Rice was released due to concerns about his physical development. According to Watling, Chelsea may have lacked patience when it came to Rice’s growth spurt, which affected his coordination and performance on the pitch.

Nketiah, on the other hand, faced the opposite problem. He was often smaller and less physically developed than the defenders he faced. However, Arsenal saw potential in Nketiah’s goal-scoring abilities and took a chance on him. They were willing to be patient with his physical development, knowing that his skills would shine through in the long run.

Both Rice and Nketiah had their fair share of challenges and doubts along the way. There were moments when their futures in football seemed uncertain. However, with the support of their families and the belief in their abilities, they were able to overcome the obstacles and forge successful careers.

In conclusion, the stories of Rice and Nketiah are inspiring tales of perseverance and determination. Despite being released by their respective clubs at a young age, they never gave up on their dreams. Their journeys serve as a reminder that success in football requires not only talent but also mental strength and resilience.


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