This article appears in the Year in Review, a 55-page magazine celebrating the opportunities we offer our students. Read it here.
What a year it has been for former student and now professional footballer Reece James. Having signed a professional contract with Chelsea Football Club in the summer of 2018, Reece was sent out on loan to Wigan Athletic for the 2018-19 season, in order to continue his development. Nobody could have expected the impact that the 19-year-old would have during his time in the north.
Reece was a regular for Wigan, showcasing his versatility by playing at right-back, centre-back and central midfield throughout the season, during which he played every Championship game. His performances earned critical acclaim from supporters and journalists, and he was a very popular figure at the club. Indeed, for his last game, he was made captain – quite a feat for someone so young! At the end of season awards, Reece as awarded the fans’ player of the year with an astonishing 96% of the votes, as well as picking up the players’ player of the year prize. He completed a hat-trick of awards with the Goal of the Season trophy for a stunning strike against Bristol City.
In the summer of 2019, Reece was selected to represent the England under-20s in the Toulon Tournament. Unfortunately, he sustained a very serious injury and was stretchered off. Not deterred by this setback, Reece has worked very hard on his rehabilitation over the summer prior to the start of the new season. New manager Frank Lampard was clearly impressed with Reece’s progress, suggesting on multiple occasions that he will be in strong first-team contention on his return from injury.
This proved to be the case, as he quickly made his first-team debut in a Carabao Cup tie against Grimsby Town on Wednesday 25 September. If Reece was nervous, you would not have known it from his performance, where he got two assists and a fantastic long-range goal. Chelsea fans named him Man of the Match afterwards, a credit to his brilliant showing. A week later, Reece was selected for his Champions League debut at Lille, giving an assured showing at right wing-back this time.
This marked the end of an incredible year for this talented young man, who left us in 2014 to join Chelsea’s academy full-time. During 2018-19, he will look to fully displace CÃ©sar Azpilicueta as Chelsea’s first-choice right-back – based on his career progress so far, you would not bet against him!