At first, he thought it was a wind-up.
When he learned it wasn’t, he didn’t hesitate for a second.
But when he eventually figured out that he needed something more, he didn’t think twice about leaving.
That, in a nutshell, is Michael Hector’s Chelsea career, which he details in a very good interview with The Athletic’s Dom Fifield. Since it’s The Athletic, it’s all behind a paywall, but they do offer a free trial for a week, if you feel so inclined.
Hector, whose loan career while on the books of Reading and Chelsea is legendary — no fewer than 15 stops in about ten years! — was set to join Crystal Palace on deadline day in August 2015, when Chelsea rang.
“That evening, the day before the deadline, my dad left the room to take a call. He came back and said: ‘You’ll never guess who that was.’ It was Emenalo, who was Chelsea’s technical director at the time, saying they wanted me. Once I’d worked out he wasn’t winding me up, that was that. I’d turn down any club in the world to join Chelsea. It was an absolute no-brainer for me and my family.”
Hector, like his idol John Terry, was born in East London but (by way of his mother) was a Chelsea fan growing up. So it was a dream come true to join his favorite club, which he thinks may have been aided by former Chelsea player and coach Steve Clarke, who was the Reading manager at the time.
Hector would actually stay with Reading on loan for that entire season — he apparently met José Mourinho just for a brief if impactful moment — and then join the Blues properly in the summer of 2016, alongside new head coach Antonio Conte.
“Everything I did [during 2015-16] was with the intention of eventually making it at Chelsea. I’d never move somewhere I didn’t feel I could break into a team. I believed in myself [...] Against Welbeck and Giroud [in the Reading vs. Arsenal 2015 FA Cup semifinal], I held my own, so I knew I could play at the top level.
“So when the Chelsea move came about, given the chance, I believed I could play at that level. Even when I started training with them at the start of the following season, just after Antonio Conte had been appointed, it felt natural. I felt good. Everything was positive.”
But that would be the closest he’d come to actually playing for the club.
Season-long loans at Eintracht Frankfurt, Hull City, and Sheffield Wednesday followed, Hector doing progressively better at each and even winning Wednesday’s Player of the Season award.
About to turn 27 and now with a family, Hector was at long last tired enough of the loan warrior life to find a more stable situation. Of course, that didn’t go too smoothly either as Fulham missed the registration deadline by minutes in the summer, so he wasn’t eligible to actually play for them until January. But he was allowed to join the team and train with them, which made things a bit easier. With Fulham pushing for promotion, sitting third before the break, Michael Hector may even fulfill his Premier League dreams eventually.
“My son was born towards the end of my loan at Hull and, while I enjoyed playing in Sheffield the following year, after that loan I couldn’t do it anymore. I realised that about halfway through last season. [...] I needed to put some proper roots down.”
“There was a sadness that things hadn’t worked out as I’d imagined they would at Chelsea, but moving to Fulham and playing… it felt like going home.”
Not that he has any regrets. He learned something at every stop he made so far in his career, and he’d do it all over again if he had to.
“I never would have dreamed of ever signing for the club I support. That was fantasy stuff. Yeah, I might have played more games in the Premier League by now had I not joined. I’ll never know how my career might have progressed. But if the team you supported as a boy comes in for you, you have to go with it.”
“Would I change what I did even though things didn’t work out the way I hoped they might? No, not at all. I’d do it again. I know it sounds crazy, but I’d do it all again.”
-Michael Hector; source: The Athletic
It doesn’t sound crazy at all to me.
Hector also talks about JT’s positive influence, guidance, and care, plus several other topics in his big interview, so check it out if you can!
An interview with @Big_Hec35, #FFC's 'Virgil van Mike':— Dominic Fifield (@domfifield) April 16, 2020
⚽Making up for lost time @FulhamFC
Almost joining #CPFC
Signing instead for #CFC, the club he supports, and having no regrets
️♂️Crashing John Terry's golf buggy
Learning over 15 loan spellshttps://t.co/XddMwyyKi8