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Samuel Iling-Junior: Ex-Chelsea wonderkid impressing at Juventus

09:00 BST 29/09/2021
Samuel Iling-Junior NXGN GFX
The Bianconeri beat off stiff competition to sign the 17-year-old winger in the summer of 2020, and the early signs suggest he has a bright future

Chelsea has built a reputation as having one of the best academies for developing elite talent anywhere in the world over the past decade or so.

There has been a narrative building around Stamford Bridge, though, that the majority of homegrown players need to leave the club if they are to truly blossom at the senior level.

Just this summer, the Blues sold Tammy Abraham to Roma, Fikayo Tomori to AC Milan, Tino Livramento to Southampton and Marc Guehi to Crystal Palace, with all four quickly establishing themselves as consistently strong performers for their new clubs.

But perhaps the biggest success story in terms of a Chelsea youngster leaving the club and thriving in their new surroundings is Jamal Musiala.

In his two years since joining Bayern Munich from the west London outfit, Musiala has emerged as one of the most exciting teenage talents anywhere in Europe after breaking countless records for the Bundesliga champions on his way to forcing his way into the Germany squad ahead of Euro 2020.

The 18-year-old, though, is not the only player from his age-group to have left Chelsea to join another member of Europe's elite in recent years.

Bayern were, in fact, one of the clubs who were keen on signing Samuel Iling-Junior in the summer of 2020 when it became clear that he would not be signing a new deal with his boyhood club.

Paris Saint-Germain and Borussia Dortmund also showed an interest in the wideman, before Juventus eventually won the race to sign him.

Iling-Junior had been promoted into Chelsea's U19s squad as a 16-year-old, but having seen former team-mate Musiala emerge in Bavaria, the England youth international was keen to follow in his footsteps.

And with the battle to sign him intensifying, Juve offered Iling-Junior the chance to undertake an extended trial in Turin in a bid to give the teenager a flavour of what to expect from life in Italy.

That proved to be turning point in negotiations, with Iling-Junior eventually putting pen to paper on a three-year contract with the Bianconeri in September 2020.

"I am full of vast emotions, being at Chelsea from such a young age has truly built me, not only as a player I am today but also as a person," he wrote on his Instagram page upon the confirmation of his move.

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"It's been a blessed journey and I'm deeply thankful for all those in the academy. From the groundsmen, kitchen staff, players, coaches and the list goes on. I'm filled with gratitude for the time and effort put into my development, leading me to where I am today."

Despite his obvious talent, Iling-Junior might have been forgiven for making a slow start to life at his new club, given he had moved to a new country as a 16-year-old without his family, all in the middle of a pandemic.

But instead he wasted little time in making an impact on Andrea Bonatti's Primavera (U19s) side, with the coach keen to help his new charge's adaptation by playing him various different roles.

Already regarded as being versatile enough to play either as a left-back or left-sided forward, Iling-Junior found himself playing on the right-hand-side at times, as well as a No.10 or even central midfielder during his debut campaign.

Bonatti has been most impressed by Iling-Junior's dribbling and shooting ability, and Juve are now keen to have him play more off the right so as to allow the 17-year-old to cut inside and fire off efforts on goal with more regularity.

That alteration was brought into effect towards the end of the 2020-21 season, with Iling-Junior enjoying a strong finish to the campaign in his new role, taking his tally for the year to four goals and seven assists in 28 appearances.

That late-season form has seen him earn his first opportunities with Juve's U23s side, who play in the third tier of Italian football, with his debut in professional competition coming in the Coppa Italia in August.

More chances at that level will likely follow as the campaign wears on, with Juve impressed with the way Iling-Junior has handled himself off the pitch, as well as on it.

He continues to learn Italian in his spare time, while he also organised private coaching sessions in London over the summer in a bid to work on particular aspects of his game that require improvement.

Iling-Junior will be keen to show off those improvements when he comes up against his former club on Wednesday, with Juve's youth team set to take on their Chelsea counterparts in the UEFA Youth League ahead of the senior sides meeting in the Champions League later that evening.

Ironically, Chelsea go into the match short of options to play at left-wing-back, with Iling-Junior having surely filled that position were he still at Cobham.

Instead he will line up for Juve, his path towards first-team honours already beginning to take shape as he approaches his 18th birthday.

And while he still has some way to go to match the exploits of Musiala in Munich, the early signs are that Iling-Junior's Italian gamble is one that could yet pay off.

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