What's happened to Ben Chilwell? England's forgotten man who is yet to play a minute for Chelsea

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Ben Chilwell of Chelsea looks on during a Chelsea FC Training Session at Chelsea Training Ground on September 02, 2021 in Cobham, England. - GETTY IMAGES
Ben Chilwell of Chelsea looks on during a Chelsea FC Training Session at Chelsea Training Ground on September 02, 2021 in Cobham, England. - GETTY IMAGES

As he sat with Mason Mount and Reece James in the centre of the Estadio do Dragao pitch in the aftermath of Chelsea’s Champions League success, Ben Chilwell must have thought he was about to enjoy the best summer of his life.

And yet it proved to be one of disappointment and frustration for Chilwell, who has still not played a single minute of football since helping Chelsea beat Manchester City in the Champions League final at the end of May.

The 24-year-old is the only Chelsea player to have started the final who is yet to play for the club this season, having also been one of only three outfield players not to make an appearance for England during the European Championships.

“It has absolutely been difficult for him (Chilwell) and I think it is pretty normal,” said Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel. “He came from a Champions League and some crucial games at a high level.

“For him personally, then it was a tough Euros because there were chances where he thought he could have played, but he did not. So, personally, I know it was a tough one because you feel he did everything to push the team as part of it, but you don’t feel really if you don’t sweat it out on the pitch and don’t wear the shirt or aren’t involved. It is a strange feeling.

“Then he had a break and it was hard for him to totally relax and get this disappointment off his shoulders, and when he arrived here I felt him mentally tired a bit, still worrying about the situation and at the same time he had to accept it."

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel (front second left) and Ben Chilwell (front left) on the bench during the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge, London. - PA
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel (front second left) and Ben Chilwell (front left) on the bench during the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge, London. - PA

If ever there was a way to be brought back down to earth with a bump after the Champions League final, it came via Gareth Southgate for Chilwell as he was one of the three players to be left out of the matchday squad for England’s opening game against Croatia.

Southgate had only included two specialist left-backs in his squad and yet it was Keiran Trippier, a right-back for Atletico Madrid, who was preferred to both Chilwell and Luke Shaw.

Chilwell at least made the substitutes’ bench for the Scotland game, but a post-match chat with his Chelsea team-mate Billy Gilmour perhaps sealed his fate for the rest of the tournament as the former Leicester City star and Mason Mount were forced into isolation and missed the Czech Republic match, a game Chilwell may well have played in.

It must have been hard to take when, again among the substitutes, Chilwell watched Southgate send Trippier on to replace Shaw with England four goals up against Ukraine in Rome, rather than giving him a run-out in the quarter-final, and there was no place on the bench for Chilwell for either the semi-final or the final.

Marcos Alonso watched the Euros from his sofa and so it made sense that the Spaniard, with a full pre-season under his belt, would start the season ahead of Chilwell, who returned late with the rest of Chelsea’s England contingent.

Having scored Chelsea’s first League goal of the season against Crystal Palace, Alonso has started all four games in the club’s unbeaten start and wore the captain’s armband against Aston Villa with Cesar Azpilicueta and Jorginho starting on the bench, from where Chilwell once again looked on.

Marcos Alonso of Chelsea FC smiles during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on September 11, 2021 in London, England. - GETTY IMAGES
Marcos Alonso of Chelsea FC smiles during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on September 11, 2021 in London, England. - GETTY IMAGES

“He (Chilwell) was very unlucky at the start of the season because Marcos was here the whole pre season and every single training session, and he took this opportunity so well with such a huge quality and attitude,” said Tuchel. “He was crucial for us from the first day in training and then he delivered in Chilly’s position.

“We had some talks with Chilly about the situation. He knows I would have done the same thing if it had been the other way around.”

A recall for Trent Alexander-Arnold cost Chilwell his place in the England squad for England’s latest round of games, the three World Cup qualifiers against Hungary, Andorra and Poland, as Southgate picked one specialist left-back and four right-backs.

Southgate justified his decision by pointing out that Chilwell has played no football since the Champions League final “through no fault of his own” and yet Jesse Lingard earned an international recall on the back of four minutes as a substitute against Southampton for Manchester United.

Shaw has made himself Southgate’s first-choice pick at left-back thanks to his excellent performances in the Euros, but it seemed odd not to have Chilwell to play against Andorra, rather than Trippier who has to cut back on to his right foot when attacking.

Other than his understandable disappointment and frustration, there have been no whispers or stories of Chilwell reacting badly to his England demotion or having to wait for his chance at Chelsea this season.

Chilwell spent 30 minutes after the Villa game on Saturday night doing sprints on the Stamford Bridge pitch without a coach in attendance and last Friday he had impressed Tuchel and his staff with two crosses from which Romelu Lukaku scored in training.

His cheerful demeanour, highlighted by his father Wayne who revealed to Telegraph Sport over the summer that as a four-year-old Chilwell would run around the sofa pretending to be Dick Van Dyke to the Mary Poppins song ‘Step in Time’, has returned.

“There are no further worries for Chilly about the situation,” said Tuchel. “It took some time. He had a little bit more time to be patient and find joy with himself again and find things easier on the pitch, and not force things too hard. This is where we are now. He is in the race now. He is in good shape with a good attitude so he can play any minute.”

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