Chelsea added the Academy Player of the Year recognition to the annual awards slate in 2015, and the winners since have included Dominic Solanke, Fikayo Tomori, Mason Mount, Reece James, and, last year, Conor Gallagher. Four of those five have gone on to play in the Premier League. Three of them in fact are part of the Chelsea youth revolution core, while Solanke is part of the regular rotation at Bournemouth despite a staggeringly poor scoring record.
The way Conor Gallagher’s going, he won’t have to wait too long for his Premier League debut either. On Friday, he turned heads again with a fantastic goal on his full England U21 debut, and he’s been one of the most impressive players not just at Charlton Athletic but in the entire Championship.
Gallagher’s rise may not be a surprise for those in the know, but it does come just a year after a heart problem scare that gave him a new perspective on life, football, and opportunity.
“It definitely drives me on because it’s a bit of a scare, isn’t it? It makes you appreciate it more when you’re out there on the pitch playing. You have to give 100 per cent because every single one of us is lucky to be here. Ever since it happened, after the surgery, I’ve just wanted to prove myself.
“I’ve come back fitter, stronger. I’ve set myself small targets and I feel that is the better way to do it because I didn’t expect to be starting on Friday night and I did and then did well. I can set more targets.”
-Conor Gallagher; source: Mail
The surgery may have been a relatively minor procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat, but anytime the words “heart” and “surgery” are in close proximity, it’s not exactly a comfortable situation.
In an interview with The Athletic last month, Gallagher described how the problem was caught, identified, and corrected.
“I was playing the Under-19 Euros for England and it came on in training. I came home after the tournament and was still training. I just thought, ‘Surely it’ll get better.’ My heart was beating really fast for no reason. The first session back at Chelsea was quite tough. It got too much and my heart was beating too fast, and I felt dizzy and had to sit out the session. I spoke to a doctor and ended up having to get a scan on it. They said the heartbeat was irregular, so I had to get surgery.
“They said they were fully confident they were going to fix it. It was 97 per cent or something. I was just thinking, ‘Get this over and done with and look forward’. I was excited to get back playing.
“After the surgery I had to stay at home for a couple of weeks, and then I came back in to Chelsea and did some light exercise. I wasn’t allowed to do anything that made my heart beat too fast, which was annoying because I felt like I could have done more. But after a couple of months I was able to go into full training again, and that’s when I started playing again.”
-Conor Gallagher; source: The Athletic
True to his words and intentions, Gallagher has gone from strength to strength ever since.