Jude Soonsup-Bell: Chelsea's teenage goal machine with Ronaldo's skills

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There are not many 16-year-olds who get to train with the senior squad of a 'big six' Premier League side, so when one does, it is because they are a pretty special talent.

That is exactly what Jude Soonsup-Bell found himself doing at the start of 2021 after he was called-up to work with the Chelsea first team by Frank Lampard ahead of his side's FA Cup third-round tie against Morecambe.

Of course, before his departure from the club in late-January, Lampard built himself a reputation for trusting in the Blues' academy stars, with the likes of Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Reece James having made the leap from being promising youngsters to regular members of the England squad under his watch.

But Soonsup-Bell was, by a distance, the youngest player to earn a call-up during Lampard's 18 months in west London, and though that remains his only experience of training alongside some of the world's best, it is unlikely to be his last.

The striker has enjoyed a breakout season in the Blues' youth ranks this season despite only having turned 17 in mid-January.

By that point, Soonsup-Bell had scored 16 goals in just 12 appearances across the club's Under-18 and U23s teams, despite predominantly playing against defenders who were at least a year older than him.

A run of 13 goals in just six games through October and November, which included two four-goal hauls, truly put him on the radar of supporters as he began to emulate his footballing hero.

"Growing up my idol was Cristiano Ronaldo," Soonsup-Bell, who owned both Manchester United and Real Madrid shirts as a kid, told the Changsuek YouTube channel.

"I used to watch clips and skills of him when I was younger and look at his all-round game. I used to try to repeat his skills and what he did in games."

That willingness to try the extraordinary exists in Soonsup-Bell's game today, with the teenager having found the net with both overhead kicks and backheels this season, while he has also been known to dribble through Chelsea's opponents before applying a lethal finish.

That technique and ability on the ball was first honed at Swindon Town, where he began his formal football education at the age of nine.

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He spent three years with the Robins before being snapped up by Chelsea following a short trial, and it was there that his potential as a true No.9 began to be realised.

"He actually started as a central midfielder, which is where he played at Swindon," Soonsup-Bell's older brother, Zac, tells Goal. "At Chelsea, aged about 14, they changed him into a striker.

"They saw something Swindon didn't see, but that technical side he learned in midfield and that unselfish side helps him as a striker. Chelsea saw that he could score goals but contribute more to mould him quickly into a centre forward.

"He is athletic, as a No.9 should be, and he is quite tall and quick. But, for me, his best attribute is his intelligence both on and off the ball. He has the brain for the sport, with composure on the ball.

"He is right-footed but he spent years working on his left foot when playing football in school, and now he would say he doesn't have a weaker foot. The athletic side is also coming into his game more now."

That forensic work on his left foot has paid dividends this term, with five of his 17 goals having been scored with what would still be classed as his weaker foot.

Though he is now thriving, Soonsup-Bell's early years with Chelsea came with their challenges.

With his football-mad family based in the Wiltshire town of Calne, the England youth international – who is also eligible for Thailand – would originally have to make four-hour round trips for every Chelsea training session before eventually moving in with a host family closer to London.

"I know that was hard for him, as it would be hard for any teenage boy to leave their home. Where we live is so different to London," Zac says.

"He got to grips with it and he knows that it is all worth it, especially now. It was a sacrifice and I think he was happy to do it.

"Now, it is just nice to see him training with the first team and moving in the right direction. He said being in the squad makes him feel like he can make that last step.

"He was so impressed at [Olivier] Giroud's volleys, Mason Mount's technical ability and Tammy [Abraham's] finishing. Whenever he makes his debut, it would be a huge thing for us to celebrate."

That debut may not be too far away if Soonsup-Bell can consistently replicate his early season form.

At one stage, he was averaging a goal every 62 minutes, while he became the first Chelsea player in 59 years to score four goals in a single FA Youth Cup tie in November's 8-1 win over Barnsley.

Having been permanently promoted to the U23s at the turn of the year, he has predominantly been used as a substitute, though he still ranks as the youngest member of that squad.

As such, there is more than enough time for him to grow and catch Thomas Tuchel's eye. The next superstar striker off the Cobham production line may not be far away.