Jeremie Boga is learning to graft for his living. As a wunderkind ball-wizard coming out of Chelsea’s youth academy, great things were expected of him. But disappointing loans in France and Spain have made painfully clear to him the gulf that exists between youth football and making a serious living in the game.
He returns to Chelsea this summer after a sobering — but educational — season-long loan to struggling Birmingham City in the Championship. He now sees his career in the harsh light of reality.
“For me, I have done some good things in my career, but for the talent that I think I have I don’t think I have done enough. I think I need to go much higher, I want to keep working to reach my goals at my national team and clubs I play for. I have a lot more work to do.”
This season the 21-year-old logged the heaviest minutes of his young career — exactly 2,238 in 35 appearances — while having to prove himself over and over again at a club facing relegation to England’s third tier until the final weekend of the Championship season. It was the brutal reality of professional football, to which he needed to adapt.
“I played in all different positions. With [Harry] Redknapp, at the beginning, everyone was happy because I was playing as a number 10. I was high up the pitch and working in a second striker position, where I played throughout my Chelsea youth. So for me, that was important.
“I can also play on the wing and did that a lot this season. I can also play as a striker. I have learned to play as a striker. I think it helped me survive, especially this season, because if I could only play as a number 10 then I think I wouldn’t have lasted long in this team with their problems.”
It’s hard enough for a young loanee to win one manager’s trust. How about four? Because that’s how many men Boga had to convince — Redknapp, caretaker boss Lee Carsley, Steve Cotterill, and Garry Monk — , as chaos consumed Birmingham. That he managed so many appearances under such circumstances is remarkable.
Most successful dribbles - Championship 2017/18:— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) March 20, 2018
Adama Traore - 174
Luke Freeman - 107
Jeremie Boga / Ollie Watkins - 104
Traore has completed at least 67 more dribbles than any other player despite only started 18 of a possible 38 matches this season…https://t.co/7094Sy229l pic.twitter.com/S8b6B6zzhA
So he comes back to Chelsea wiser, more versatile, and apparently adamant that his loan days are over. Talks will be forthcoming, once the new manager is finally installed. His future is up in the air — the very thing he’s tired of.
But he’s not tired of Chelsea. He treasures the all-too brief 18 minutes he got to play for the senior team in the first match of the season, against Burnley at Stamford Bridge.
“Yes, it was very surprising for everyone including me to start that game. In pre-season, I went with the first team and for me it was just to add numbers. But I said to myself, ‘I will train hard and you never know, I might get that opportunity’.
“In the Arsenal game [in China] that is what happened because [Pedro] got injured. It was unlucky for him, but it was an opportunity for me. I went in and after that I got more game time. Then when we came back to England I was training well, because I knew there was a player out with a red card so it was an opportunity to take.”
“Luckily, I got my 15 minutes. I think on the day and the day after, I was really sad. I think that is a normal feeling because, for me, I was waiting for that chance for a long time. After that, I got back up and trained as hard again because I couldn’t keep staying down about it. You have to make sure when the next opportunity comes that you are ready.”
“Everyone knows how hard it is to play for Chelsea, so for me, whether it was just one minute or two minutes, I don’t care. It was really a proud moment for me and my family. I now look back on it with pride, yes.”
A Gary Cahill red card forced Conte to change the team and Boga was the unfortunate player to make way. But at least he gave the one-cap Ivory Coast player a chance, a taste of his dream.
Now, Boga starts over (presumably) with Maurizio Sarri. Having worked with two top coaches in Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte (as well as many more less good ones on his loans), he may already know what will be expected of him.
“There is not a lot of differences because they are both top managers at the top of their game.”
”Mourinho was very good as well with me also. He gave me a lot of confidence. I did pre-season with him as well and he was always talking to me. I think they both are good coaches and are really focused on what they do. They notice every detail and don’t let anything get past them.”
-Jeremie Boga; source: Goal
Playing Sarrismo is all about the small details too. It would appear to suit a player with Boga’s skills.
He’ll have most of the summer (hopefully) to make an impression. Can he convince yet one more coach that he has what it takes to establish himself at the very top level of the game, just as his talents have predicted all along?