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Sharing Hudson-Odoi's journey, Kyle Walker comparisons and how Chelsea's James surprised himself at Wigan

5:01 PM GMT+8 08/04/2019
Reece James EFL Awards 2019 Wigan Chelsea
The teenager is seen as one of the most talented defenders in his age group and has enjoyed an impressive season in the Championship

Reece James has been compared to Kyle Walker, called up to train with the England senior squad and, on Sunday night, he collected his award for making the Championship team of the season.

Still just 19 years old, James was a star of Chelsea Under-18s quadruple-winning side last season, but, as a defender, he has often avoided the same hype as his friend Callum Hudson-Odoi.

Ask anyone at Wigan Athletic, where James has spent the season on loan, and they have been blown away by his contribution which has helped the club fight against relegation following their return to the Championship.

James was back in London on Sunday at the EFL Awards 2019, attending what should be his first award ceremony of many, and he spoke about what makes him tick as eyes increasingly turn towards him.

“Football is everything,” said James when speaking to Goal. “When I first came to Wigan, I didn’t know what to expect. When I got my first opportunity to play, I gradually built confidence. It was a big jump. I have seen a lot of players go on loan and then they haven’t been able to cope physically.

"I think that’s one of the strengths in my game, to be honest, and I am happy to be playing week in, week out in such a strong league. You don’t really know what level you are at until you actually play it. You can’t make that judgement until you are actually in it.

"I think when I was 16, 17, I started to find my feet and start improving. Last year it was the first year that I looked at the players who went out on loan. I saw Ola Aina, he played 40 games on loan last season and went to Hull City.

"I looked at him because I play in the same position and I wanted to replicate what he has done. I saw Wigan and the way they played last year in League One and I liked the way they played. I thought that this could be the right place, thankfully it was.

"Anyone can say you are going to play before you move, but once they see how good you are, then that’s another story."

Chelsea will take a look at James and other loan stars from the Championship when they assess a group to take on their pre-season tour of Japan this summer.

Whatever is next for James, his experience at Wigan will no doubt attract a more prominent club, and a big-five league loan could be next for the Chelsea fan who grew up in west London.

He has been watching his friend Hudson-Odoi breakthrough at Stamford Bridge this season, and he thinks both he and his former youth-team colleague are not affected by the noise from outside about their talents.

"You can’t pay too much attention to it, you need to carry on playing your football and, at the end of the season, see where you are," James added. "Callum has had a few opportunities to play in Chelsea’s first team, and he has managed to impress.

"So, fair play to him and he took his opportunity. Getting that opportunity is a good start and then taking them is down to him. He is a quality player and I have played with him since he was nine years old. I know what he can do and how good he is. He has stayed the same person the whole way through."

Wigan manager Paul Cook has used James in all but one of his side's games across all competitions this season. James has taken his opportunity, winning three Wigan Player of the Month awards in a row, with his latest moment for the highlight reel being a wonder goal scored against high-flying Bristol City on Saturday.

England coach Gareth Southgate and his staff have noticed James’ potential and, like fellow Championship loanee Mason Mount last season, he was called up to train with the senior squad. James spoke of coming up against Harry Kane in training with England and how he was honoured, but not star struck, to be among such esteemed company.

"It was a great experience," he continued. "The level was very good, and they are all high Premier League players. I was surprised, and I didn’t expect, I was glad I got the opportunity. It was an honour, but it was also just another training session and football is football.

"The quality of the players is high, the tempo and the way they play. Harry Kane is very good. He was up against me a couple of times in the session."

Academy stars at Chelsea are often assigned tasks to study first-team players, who can act as examples of professionalism and talent to the young hopefuls. For James, he was assigned three of Chelsea's greatest ever players in Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry.

However, James readily admits that his style is very different to those he has been told to watch and, despite playing in both midfield and defence, he sees comparisons to Kyle Walker as reasonable ones to make.

"I was told to watch a few players, but they weren’t in my position. It was Lampard, Terry and Drogba. I had to look at them. They are all in a different position. I tried to take a few things from their game and put it in mine.

"It was mostly just about how they conduct themselves and how professional they are. This is what I want to do, and if you are not professional about it, then you won’t get as far as you want.

"My position is right-back, but if I have to play another position, I am not fazed by it. I will offer to play in any position. As a right-back, a big part of my game is crossing, and I like getting forward. I am also half decent at defending.

"I think you could say that [I am similar to Kyle Walker], if you didn’t say him, then I wouldn’t know who to compare me to."

James will only be focused on Wigan between now and the end of the season. However, his form has not gone unnoticed by English football, and the next step could well be a first season in the Premier League, either on loan or at Chelsea.