Sam Hutchinson, born and bred to be True Blue, may have played for Chelsea only six times, with another 64 appearances at the U18 and U21 levels combined (over half of those coming before 2007), but he's still very much a Chelsea hero. His comeback from an injury-forced early retirement is a story well known amongst the fanbase, who showed their appreciation with a standing ovation when Hutchinson came on as a substitute for Jose Bosingwa on April 29, 2012.
"It was fantastic, so special. I was in the moment but I know my family, especially my dad Eddie, who has been to every game, were ecstatic. I could have played before then but it had been such a strange season with Andre Villas-Boas going then Roberto Di Matteo coming in."
Through a few loans, including one to Vitesse with a view to work mostly on rehabilitation and fitness, he looks to have managed to carve out a future after all in football. Against all the odds, against all the pain and bouts of depression, he's ready to shine in the Championship after re-joining Sheffield Wednesday, this time permanently, earlier this summer.
"Then the dust settled [after early retirement in 2010] and it hit me. Everything I'd been programmed to do since I was seven had gone. My dream was shattered."
"I fell into some really dark times. My family tried to speak to me, John Terry and Ashley Cole would ask how I was doing but I didn't want to let anyone in. The only one that could calm me down was Jennifer, my girlfriend. I was struggling to sleep and ended up talking to people for advice."
Hutch credits Chelsea for keeping him busy, offering him part-time coaching and Chelsea TV punditry opportunities. Beyond Terry and A.Cole, he specifically mentions Ryan Bertrand, academy director Neil Bath, and the medical staff (including Dr. English and Dr. Carneiro) for never losing their faith in him.
"Chelsea were brilliant to me. I enjoyed helping the kids coming through, people like Todd Kane, and giving them advice. I never wanted to go into coaching but I felt the advice wasn't always there for everyone."
His comeback was helped by Olympic sprinter and football training consultant Darren Campbell as well. Fortunately, Sam's body had recovered enough to accept the new training.
"Darren Campbell the Olympic sprinter had been in doing sessions with Andriy Shevchenko and they suggested I try working with him to see how I coped. It all just clicked into place. As soon as I put my boots on again it just felt right and there wasn't much pain."
"As a kid you don't say ''no'' if someone asks you to play but, looking back, I was doing too much and it took its toll on my body. I think Chelsea learned from me and if my experience helps protect others then I'm happy to have made the sacrifice."
Armed with relative youth (still just 25), full health, and a special training regiment, Hutchinson will be looking to inspire and help guide his new team to greater heights than last season's 16th place.
(All quotes from the story in the Daily Mail.)