Clinton Mola remains grateful to Chelsea despite making a deadline day switch in January to 2. Bundesliga side Stuttgart for €400,000. The youngster, who just turned 19, was a highly-regarded defensive midfielder in Chelsea's academy but opted to move with just six months left on his deal with the west Londoners.
The Blues negotiated a 10 per cent sell-on feeas ex-Arsenal transfer chief Sven Mislintat secured Mola on a deal until 2024.
Stuttgart manager Pellegrino Matarazzo has shown Mola was right to make the move by immediately giving him his professional debut in a DFB-Pokal match against Bayer Leverkusen. Mola admits it was a difficult call - with Frank Lampard having given so many debuts to academy stars - but says that he has no regrets.
"It was definitely a time for me to really think about my future and life and I only had a short space to do so," Mola told Goal. "It kind of came about in the final two or three days of the transfer window.
"I just found out that they were interested and they had been watching me for some time. I have a chat with the sporting director Sven Mislintat and we FaceTimed and then I found myself in Germany in the next few days.
"I am definitely grateful for what Chelsea did for me. It was a hard decision but I just thought if I was to really excel in my career, then it is best for me to move on.
"I can maybe come back to England in the future and I am grateful to Chelsea as they matured me as a person, I made great friends there and I am close with the staff as well.
"When I saw the opportunity to move abroad and to come to Germany I thought why not take it and see where it gets me. They are a big club with a big history.
"They have a lot of young players in the team and I like the style of play that they play which was definitely appealing. When I was 13 I was using Mario Gomez on FIFA and now I am in a changing room with him.
"It is a bit crazy. The same for Holder Badstuber, it is crazy. They are big names and big characters. They both helped me settle in very well. This club has a big stadium and a big fan base."
Der VfB verpflichtet Clinton #Mola❗️— VfB Stuttgart (@VfB) January 31, 2020
Der 18-jährige Mittelfeldspieler wechselt mit sofortiger Wirkung aus der U23 des FC Chelsea nach Stuttgart und erhält beim #VfB einen Vertrag bis zum 30. Juni 2024.
Herzlich willkommen, Clinton! 👋✍️🤝 pic.twitter.com/PkzkOxujzS
Mola is one of a host of youngsters to move from an English academy team over to Germany. Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho is blazing a trail and other Bundesliga clubs are looking to emulate his success.
Sancho has 14 goals and 15 assists in 21 league starts this season, and Mola admits that his fellow 19-year-old has shown what can be achieved on the continent.
"I don’t know Jadon personally but I have seen him set the bar for young English players," Mola added. "He came over and produced wonders at Borussia Dortmund so that definitely was a factor of: 'Wow! I can come here and do well like him and maybe people will know me on the world stage'.
"I just have to keep working hard every day in training, then take my opportunity at the weekend. I wasn’t expecting the debut to be so soon. I thought I would have at least a week to settle in but the manager showed the faith to put me in after four days and I thought I did alright.
"I wasn't nervous. I just thought this is the time to show what I am about. I am going to be playing at a first-team level so I need to take my opportunity when I get it.
"My first game was against Bayer Leverkusen in DFB Pokal. They are a Champions League side and when I came on I wasn’t nervous one bit. I came on and we didn’t win but I thought we did well. [I was against] Kai Havertz who is a world-class talent and I think he is going to be one of the best players in the world in a few years.
"When I played against him, I knew he was a good player, but I thought I did well against him. The quality, speed and tempo was high but I thought I adapted to it well. It showed me a great level to aim to play at.
"I was really happy to make my debut. If you asked me if I would do that a couple of months ago, I would call you crazy, but it shows that things can happen so quickly in football which is crazy."
Having joined the Blues academy at the age of 14 from the Islington club AC United, Mola proves that it is never too late to make it in the game.
"When I was younger being a footballer was always the dream but I never had the opportunity," he continued. "I was playing in school and for a local team. I just heard that I would get a trial for Chelsea. My first thought was: 'Play for Chelsea? Are you sure? Have you got the wrong person?'
"I went up there and I had a six-week trial. The first session I was nervous like crazy. I didn’t think they were going to call me back. They did and I completed the six weeks and I found myself getting signed for Chelsea.
"I didn’t expect to go from Sunday League to Chelsea. The step up was crazy. I learned a lot from Chelsea. Chelsea helped me mature a lot. I was at the full-time programme a year later so I was at school there and I had a house-family away from my parents.
"That definitely helped me and gave me an idea of what my future might be like so Chelsea definitely helped me a lot to become more mature. I won four trophies in one season. That was my best memory, 100 per cent, under Jody Morris."
Chelsea's talent production machine has seen nine Cobham-trained players make their debuts this season under Lampard. Mola has played with Billy Gilmour, Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi this season - three players who are now considered first-teamers and he knows full well that they deserved to make the grade.
"I have played with Billy for the last few years. When he first came from Scotland I was like: 'Who is this guy?!'
"He was a top player from day one. He deserves everything that is coming to him now. He is a great player.
"He is simply a baller from what he does on the pitch. Off the pitch, he just worked hard every day, is disciplined and he is a leader. I loved playing with Billy and I love seeing him getting the chances and minutes that he deserves.
"The players that are playing with the Chelsea team that I played with are guys I know 100% deserve to be there. I am talking about Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James and Billy Gilmour now. These are players I played with in the last three seasons and they are great players.
"What Frank Lampard and Jody Morris are doing there is so good for the academy. The guys in the academy deserve it as well. There’s a bright future. I think more and more people will get their chance as well.
"The players who are playing now definitely have a bright future and they will become great players for Chelsea. I believe that 100%."