Losing Sala and being accused of blackmail: How Chelsea's Matt Miazga is growing after Nantes loan move

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The Blues loan star was at his lowest ebb just three months ago, but he is back in business ahead of his next international meet up with the USMNT

Ahead of his loan move to Reading in January, Matt Miazga faced some of the most challenging moments of his career to date as former team-mate Emiliano Sala died in a plane crash, while his Nantes coach Vahid Halilhodzic had accused him of "blackmail" just a week earlier.

The 23-year-old started well at Nantes under Miguel Cardoso, but the appointment of Halilhodzic saw Miazga lose his place, having initially been a regular starter following his arrival from Chelsea on a six-month loan deal.

Being out of favour isn't something that the U.S. national team defender is used to, but he is thankful for his time in Ligue 1. He also revealed that he is unhappy with what his former manager said after he was accused of leaving Nantes without permission, despite loanee protocol having been followed for players to receive treatment on injuries back at Chelsea.

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"I have no regrets at Nantes. Nantes shaped me to become a better player and person," Miazga told Goal. "It went well. I had a great time there, met a lot of good people, played good football. There was a managerial change, and then I was out of favour.

"This happens in football. You see it happen everywhere. It is what it is. I was lucky that Chelsea had the option to bring me back, then got out of one and into another. Chelsea knew it was best for me to get out of Nantes and go to a new club to contribute to my development.

"So, that's what happened with Reading. At Nantes, everything was fine and then finished off fine. I didn't like the way the coach said some things that were not true.

"Everyone was aware that I was leaving, then when I was injured, we had a protocol to come to Chelsea. Everyone was aware of that, and you see it with many of the other loan players. Then Nantes, me and Chelsea agreed it was best for me to leave and go on loan somewhere else.

"I had really good conversations with the manager here and some of the directors at the football club. I knew that not playing for two months at Nantes in winter, I knew coming in here I had an excellent chance to go and contribute.

"That was a big factor as I needed to continue to build my games this season and showcase myself. My goal is to become a consistent Premier League player. At the back of my head is that I am contracted to Chelsea, so it would be good to be a player there.

"Most of the eyes are on England. You have to showcase yourself in England. I figured I could come to the Championship, play at a well-known club like Reading, that's near London, Chelsea were happy with the move. They can monitor me even more closely.

"Eddie Newton and Marina [Granovskaia] thought it was a great move, so I didn't think twice. I knew my goal was to play in England. So I came here to showcase myself in front of the English presence and people.

"I want to thank Nantes for everything. I still keep in touch with all the players. I am happy with my time there. I grew a lot, learned a lot. I can't say anything bad. These things happen."

Emiliano Sala Nantes

During his treatment for a back injury at Chelsea’s Cobham Training Centre, the 23-year-old was chatting to a Nantes team-mate on WhatsApp, when he learned of Sala's plane crashing in the English Channel.

Sala was heading back to Cardiff, having signed for the Premier League club in a £15 million deal, and Miazga was left shaken by the tragedy as his thoughts turned to his former team-mate’s family and his old club.

"He had a break [after signing], so he came to Nantes to say goodbye to everyone. I didn't see him because I was injured," Miazga added. "The next day, I was texting my buddies at Nantes, he told me the news.

"I was in shock. The plane was gone, then there was the search. I was very, very sad for everyone who knew him. You never want to see this happen in football or life in general. I knew him for six months, we lined up together in the same shirt, fought together, travelled together, ate together, trying to win football matches.

"We spoke French, and he let me practice my French. It is very, very sad. Rest in peace. No one wants to see it happen, especially to someone you know. You would never think it could happen in 2019. A good guy, a good player which was shown by his big-money Premier League transfer.

"He had a nose for goal, a fox-in-the-box type. Great in the air, I went against him in training. I pray for him and his family."

Meanwhile, Miazga has been thrown into a relegation battle in the Championship and has been a key player from day one since joining Reading. The club's form has recovered, and Miazga is happy to have chosen Reading.

Miazga is just one of 42 players on loan across Europe from Chelsea, as loan manager Eddie Newton regularly gives feedback over his progress. Miazga thinks that the club's loan policy is wrongly criticised and believes it has been great for his development as a player.

"I would be lying to say I wasn't better than I was after leaving Red Bulls," Miazga continued. "Coming into Europe, I had relatively low experience, as I had only played in the MLS. I felt like I was on top of the world on my Chelsea debut versus Villa, but I didn't want to feel like a bit-part player, so you go on loan to get experience.

"You are not playing because you are on loan, a foreigner, he is a native player, you are younger, he is older. You have to fight through that. You change the coaches’ mind. Gain trust. When you have opportunities, you take them.

"Taking opportunities like that have helped me. Playing across different competitions. I have played in the Eredivisie, Europa League, cups, Ligue 1, won a trophy. It is my path, and I am very happy with the experience and what I am accomplishing.

"It has shaped me today. I am continuing to improve. I was lucky to sign with Chelsea at 20 years old and get first-team experience, but the reality was that I was young with only MLS experience. You have to go and get more experience to be trusted by a big club.

"It is common sense. A lot of people don't realise that, but real people who give proper insights will understand it. The loan system is good. It helps players all the time. It is hard to break into Chelsea. You are a young player, you develop your craft, learn something else and challenge yourself on loan.

Matt Miazga Nantes

"Eddie Newton, for the past two years I have been working diligently with him. He has been coming to Vitesse to watch games, study films, analyse the things I am doing and what to improve on. At Nantes, he came over, and at Reading.

"We keep in touch and once a month or month and a half, he comes to visit me, and we have a proper talk. It is a video session where we analyse my game. We have an app where analysis is sent with video on my game and what I can improve on. It has all our touches.

"The next day after the game, you get a 20-minute video showing just your touches. Reviewing these things is nice. It shows they are tracking your development and I have learned a lot from Eddie in these past few years. I hope to finish the season strong and to continue to learn more.

"The platform here at Reading, there's a lot of eyes looking here in the Championship in what's arguably the toughest league in the world. Schedule, intensity, the style of play, the way people fight and all that stuff. It is more coming here and playing football matches to propel myself forward.

"I am happy here, and I am enjoying it. Take it one game at a time, perform to the best of my ability and contribute to the team in any way I can."

John Terry, Chelsea

The loan star counts himself lucky to have got his move to Chelsea but he was keen to challenge himself in Europe, despite loving life playing in his native New York with the Red Bulls. The £3.5m move to Chelsea in early 2016 was seen as a surprise for some, but Miazga's passion for football makes his pursuit of being a regular Premier League defender look more achievable.

Miazga's move to Europe has led him to meet mentoring figures like John Terry and Ryan Nelsen. Terry was Chelsea's legendary captain, who now works at Aston Villa as an assistant manager, while Nelsen is his agent and captained Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League as a top defender.

Nelsen and Miazga are often found poring over details of football matches that are broadcast on TV, as the centre-back takes an academic approach he has learned at Chelsea to absorb knowledge from those playing in the world's top leagues.

"When I was at Chelsea, I spoke with John Terry a lot," he added. "I looked at his career a lot, a world-class defender who achieved a lot. You can learn a lot from him. His pathway, he went on loan when he was younger, developed fast at a young age and became a leader and captain.

"I look to myself and want to be a leader and captain one day. For me, I look at a lot of good footballers and take little things from them, while also being myself. I speak with Ryan Nelsen, my agent. He was a central defender. A Premier League veteran, me and him always talk about football.

"He is always helping me and analysing games. I have him in my corner. I am open to everything. I see new things. I am smart enough to realise I can improve. I watch a lot of football. I can talk all day about it.

"I watch the world's best defenders and how they cope with situations, I slow down the game to see what happened when a goal goes in, could they have avoided it or done better? I see it to learn about it and to apply it to myself.

"When we concede a goal too, I do that. Could I have done something else? It helps me. It is a craft. You don't just become the best; you have to devote time to it."

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