The success Dujon Sterling enjoyed during his formative years in Chelsea’s academy was not normal.
He lifted the FA Youth Cup on three occasions and won the UEFA Youth League twice. There were also two Under-18 Premier League titles and a place in the team of the tournament – alongside Mason Mount – after clinching the 2017 UEFA European Under-19 Championship with England.
At just 17 years old, Sterling made his Chelsea first-team debut. He would also train regularly with Antonio Conte’s squad during the 2017/18 campaign. Quick and direct but with a well-honed defensive instinct, the academy graduate was viewed as the ideal wing-back by the Italian coach.
Unfortunately for Sterling, Conte’s departure and Maurizio Sarri’s appointment saw the first-team door close on him. He would join Coventry City in League One for the 2018/19 campaign and replaced former youth team colleague Reece James on loan at Wigan Athletic in the Championship the following season.
A lack of pre-season and an Achilles injury meant he didn’t break into the Latics side until late October. The 21-year-old then started eight times in nine matches. He was also included in the starting XI to face Leicester City in the third round of the FA Cup on January 4, 2020.
That game would prove Sterling’s last for more than a year. He suffered a hamstring injury which kept him out for three months. Just as he was about to return, football was halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was during the first lockdown that Sterling suffered from a serious illness that had the potential to end his career. He would also contract Covid-19 later in the year.
Those setbacks tested the limits of his mental fortitude but last January Sterling was ready to return to action. It was decided he would stay with Chelsea for the remainder of the campaign, a decision taken to ensure the 21-year-old could regain match sharpness and fitness without the added pressure of battling for points.
It was the right call. By the end of the season, Sterling was very much back to his best. His blistering speed had returned and he possessed a greater physicality due to the gym work put in during his comeback. That he was also used on the right of a back three highlighted his defensive nous remained sharp.
“The light at the end of the tunnel,” Sterling wrote in February after making his comeback.
“Blessed to be back playing 90 mins last night. 2020 was a huge challenge for me physically & mentally with injury/illness sidelining me for the year, but I’ve come through healthier and stronger. Keep pushing and never give up!”
During the April international break, Sterling trained with the first-team squad. football.london understands Thomas Tuchel was impressed with the wing-back, who was on the radar of Borussia Dortmund during the German coach’s time at the club.
Chelsea’s development squad coaches have also taken note of Sterling’s application to not only return to full fitness but to come back stronger. He is more focused and ready to grasp any chance afforded to him.
That opportunity will come over the next fortnight.
Sterling, who has a year remaining on his contract, will be training under Tuchel during the opening weeks of pre-season and could prove to be the wildcard of Chelsea’s preparations ahead of the 2021/22 campaign.
With James and Cesar Azpilicueta not set to return until the end of this month due to their involvement at the European Championships, Sterling will be hopeful of featuring in the Blues’ tune-up fixtures, although he will face competition from the likes of Tino Livramento and Davide Zappacosta in that respect for a spot on the right flank.
If Tuchel maintains the 3-4-2-1 shape that brought Champions League success throughout pre-season, Sterling will be confident of making an impression in the first team and perhaps even altering the club’s transfer plans.
The Blues are open to bringing in a new right-sided player this summer. Achraf Hakimi was considered while Adama Traore is a reported target.
Yet Sterling has first-team experience from his loan spells and the potential to step into the senior squad, especially as he already has supporters in the form of former academy coach Joe Edwards and Anthony Barry, who worked with Sterling at Wigan.
And that would be the fairytale ending to the most difficult 18 months for the youngster.
Source by Football London