Reece James has revealed that he snubbed Frank Lampard last season before enjoying a breakthrough campaign under the Chelsea legend in 2019-20.
The 20-year-old defender is one of several academy graduates to have seen regular minutes for the Blues this term.
Big things are expected of the talented full-back, with his delivery from the flanks having already drawn comparisons to England icon David Beckham.
Chelsea are hoping to see further potential unlocked at Stamford Bridge, having nurtured James through their youth ranks and allowed him to pick up vital experience elsewhere.
A loan spell at Wigan in 2018-19 saw the England U21 international to get a taste of competitive action in the testing surrounds of the Championship.
He won many admirers during his time with the Latics – including Lampard.
The current Chelsea boss had been keen to add James to his squad at Derby a little over 12 months ago, but a transfer approach was snubbed and the pair have since been united in west London.
James, who has taken in 25 appearances this season, told FourFourTwo of Lampard: “He wanted to sign me for Derby last January, but it didn't go through. I was happy playing at Wigan.
“It was good to know he rated me, although that was at Championship level, and when you get a big job at a Premier League team, sometimes minds can change. But we spoke when he arrived and he said he wanted to give me a chance.
“I was injured, and he told me to come back in the best shape possible. I'm thankful that I've got to work with him.”
A transfer ban imposed on the Blues in 2019 has worked in the favour of James and his fellow academy graduates Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Billy Gimour.
The opportunity to work under Lampard is also proving beneficial to those who once looked up to the Blues great when he was establishing a standing as one of the finest goal-scoring midfielders English football has ever seen.
“I admired Lampard and all the main leaders of the team when I was a kid,” added James.
“Every other game, he would score a brilliant goal. When I heard he was the manager, it was great – he’s a Chelsea legend.”
Lampard has the Blues chasing down a top-four finish in the Premier League this season, while they are also through to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and have work to do in a Champions League last-16 encounter with Bayern Munich that they currently trail 3-0.