On-loan City youngster Ryan Bertrand will, he admits, find it very difficult playing before one man and his dog again as he savours his new life strutting his stuff in front of 25,000 supporters.
The 18-year-old will get the same kick again at the St Mary's home of Southampton. The last time he was on the South Coast, it was for a Chelsea Reserves clash. With two men and his dog for company.
“It's going brilliantly,” said Bertrand this morning, quizzed as to how his second loan spell of the seaosn was progressing. The first, of course, came at the Boundary Park home of Oldham where again supporters were in relatively short supply.
“To play with the players that we've got and to play in front of the fans – 25,000 every week – is more than I can ask,” said the Chelsea starlet, with Canary boss Glenn Roeder this morning dropping every hint that he could be joined by someone of a similar ilk from Arsenal as he works his Premiership connections to the max.
“The Reserves is good but the experience you get going out on loan is second to none,” added the one-time Gillingham youngster, with Gills owner Paul Scally probably still smarting somewhere over the West London giants swoop for the Kent side's little discovery. “And like I said, playing in front of 25,000 every week is more than I can ask for.”
The summer is, of course, a long way distant. But as things currently stand, the teenager will have another fight on his hands next season to push his way beyond the England international pairing of Wayne Bridge and Ashley Cole.
At which point Chelsea Ressies could again loom – something that Jimmy Smith looks destined to rediscover this spring following his recall to Stamford Bridge. The fact the the older professionals can still switch their game on in such unappetising circumstances is, says Bertrand, something that demands every respect.
“You've got to give it to the pros,” he said. “Those that have been around and been at the top level and they come back down and play in the Reserves and still do really well. And that does take a bit [of work] because going back now would be a slight downer – playing in front of a few hundred instead of 25,000.
“You just have to get on with it – and I'd give my all wherever I was playing.”
This Chelsea youngster cuts a distinctly different figute at Colney to the last – though, in fairness to Smith, his cause was hardly helped by that summer ankle injury and finding himself in a team that were plummeting headlong into League One once he returned from rehab in the autumn.
He was just starting to find his feet again under the Roeder regime when the African Cup of Nations prompted his recall to The Bridge where he can now sit and watch Stevie Sidwell and Frank Lampard hold the fort. Either them or some lad called Ballack…
Nevertheless, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed would sum up Master Bertrand quite neatly; Master Smith was never that sparky – on or off the pitch. Witness Bertrand's response to the most obvious question: 'How's it going?'
“It's going fantastically well – it feels as if I've been here years now. I've got to know everyone and it's been really good,” said the youngster, who proved just what he can deliver on the ball with that sumptuous, fourth-minute cross for Lee Croft in the Leicester game. The delivery alone was worth the game's opening goal – only for a linesman's flag to cut everyone's celebrations short.
Given that Bertrand has barely played on the left-hand side of midfield, it is clear that the Chelsea prospect has more than one string to his bow.
“I've been adjusting to it for the first couple of games, but hopefully the more games I can get in that position the more I can improve,” said Bertrand, bright enough to realise that his own career development will benefit in the longer-term from this current education.
“Playing left-midfield will also improve the attacking side of my game. So when I do play left-back, do cross the half-way line with the ball, it'll improve my game in that aspect,” said the teenager, clearly thoroughly enjoying himself in Norfolk. The words 'brilliant' and 'fantastic' would pepper this morning's conversation.
Even bumping into some good, old-fashioned Championship bruisers was all good fun as far as the youngster was concerned.
“It's much more physical – and the speed of the game. No-one gives you any time on the ball, so you really have to know your next pass and be able to look after yourself as well,” he said. “It's all brilliant for my development, so I'm relishing the chance.”
Where this will all lead is something for the summer to decide. He knows that he will have a fight on his hands to dislodge the Cole/Bridge combo, let alone any exotic foreigner that Blues boss Avram Grant might fancy for Chelsea's 2008-2009 Champions League challenge.
“There's always going to be competition for places,” said Bertrand. “If it's in the team you're in, there's a younger player – or it's someone from abroad. There's always someone coming for your place.
“You've just got to take the competition as it comes and if you want to be the best, then you've got to beat the best.”
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