Frank Lampard has ushered in a new era at Stamford Bridge, one in which younger players can justifiably dream of working their way into the first team.
Reece James, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham are all examples of the Blues’ new-found faith in youth, and one of the later talents to take advantage of Lampard’s approach was right-back Tariq Lamptey.
The diminutive defender had been a star in the reserves for a good few years and had long been seen as a player destined to make an impact on senior football. Chelsea saw that potential in him when he was just seven years old.
“I joined Chelsea as an Under-9, but it originally started at Under-7 when I was playing in a local tournament,” Lamptey says in an adidas & 90min podcast to celebrate the release of the new X Ghosted boot. “After the game, a scout came up to my dad and said ‘we want to see a bit more of him, can he come down to the development centre at Chelsea?’.
“I used to play in every position. I used to get the ball from deep and just start running. You could put me up front and if someone’s going to go through on goal and score, I’d run the whole length of the pitch back and tackle them.
“I started at right wing, but I moved around quite a bit because they’re really good with helping you develop your all-round game. Throughout the ages, I went from centre-mid, to right wing to right-back, so I played in a variety of positions on both sides of the pitch.”
In his first season at Under-18 level, Lamptey was part of the Chelsea side who won the quadruple. The 2017/18 season saw Jody Morris’ young side win the Premier League Southern title, the Premier League Cup, FA Youth Cup and Premier League National title.
With that kind of impact at youth level, expectations rise, and just one year later in December 2019, Lamptey found himself training with Lampard’s senior side ahead of making his debut against Arsenal later that month.
“It was a surreal feeling,” he recalls. “An amazing game, a proud moment for me and my family, and one that I won’t forget.”
Lamptey managed a further two appearances for Lampard’s side, but with his contract expiring in the summer of 2020, questions about his future began to surface. With James earmarked as Chelsea’s long-term star at right-back, Lamptey made the ambitious choice to swap Stamford Bridge for Brighton’s AMEX Stadium.
“I’m an ambitious boy. I look at things and enjoy them in the moment, but the next day I’m looking to see what I need to improve on and how I can stay at that level,” he explains. “I’m always looking for a chance to play again, and that moment made me even more hungry. I’d had a taste of it and I wasn’t going to let it go.
“I sat down with the coaches, family members and agents and thought about what’s best for me. It was a really tough decision. Being at a club since the age of nine, going up through the whole system and making your first-team debut, everything happened so quickly, but I had to look at where I would get the most football and how I could take my game to the next level.
“It wasn’t an easy decision. I thought about it every day. But the opportunity came for me to come to Brighton, which is a fantastic club with a really good plan for the team, and the move made a lot of sense.
“There was quite a few options to go to, but I sat down with my family and talked about where would be best for me, where could help me develop, and I thought Brighton would be the best club for me.”