BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Conor Gallagher has an extra incentive to make his Charlton Athletic loan spell a success – because there can’t have been many better times to be a young prospect at Chelsea.
The 19-year-old midfielder is on a season-long stay in SE7 as he gets his first taste of senior football.
And Gallagher has not only started every single Championship match for Lee Bowyer’s side, the teenager has also scored three times to underline an impressive and instant adaptation to life in SE7.
New Blues boss Frank Lampard has already shown he is ready to trust in youth – more so with the west London outfit under a transfer embargo.
Gallagher could be the next academy product to be pushing for a first-team role at Stamford Bridge after being voted the club’s Academy Player of the Year last season.
He said: “It was an honour to receive the award, especially after the last couple of boys who won it – Reece James and Mason Mount.
“After they won the award they both went on loan the next season and had great seasons in the Championship.
“I’m hoping to do the same thing.”
Gallagher might be just at the start of his footballing journey but he already has an extensive collection of silverware – winning both the U18 Premier League and FA Youth Cup twice, along with the U18 Youth Cup.
He was also part of the England squad – containing Phil Foden, Jason Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi – which won the FIFA U17 World Cup in 2017. Gallagher came on as they beat Spain 5-2 in the final.
Maurizio Sarri also promoted him to the Chelsea squad for May’s Europa League final win over Arsenal in Azerbaijan.
Gallagher said: “It was one of the coaches who told me that I was travelling to Baku. Obviously I was buzzing.
“I was on the bench. I managed to get a medal – which was quite lucky, but I’ll take it!
“It was a great experience to be involved, even though I didn’t play a single minute and it was one of the first times I’d been involved with the first team.
“To be involved in a final, a game like that – and to win it – was amazing.
“I wasn’t aware how good the team was, because I hadn’t played at that level before. I started one game and came on for four. The team were so good.
“For my first U18 season with Chelsea we won three trophies and the second we won four. I think it was the big reason I got picked for the World Cup, which was the first time I was involved with England.
“We ended up winning it, which made it unreal.”
Gallagher has tasted success, but it hasn’t diminished his appetite.
“You can’t get bored of winning trophies,” he said. “The worst thing is losing. I hate it so much. I can’t stand it. It stays with me for the whole week until the next game.”
Gallagher has three older brothers who also play football. Twins Jake and Daniel, 26, were on Millwall and AFC Wimbledon’s books respectively but now are at Dorking Wanderers. Josh, 22, had been playing for Leatherhead.
The youngest sibling played part of Lampard’s first game in charge for Chelsea, a 1-1 friendly draw at Bohemians in July.
Gallagher was playing for Epsom Eagles when he was snapped up by Chelsea at the age of eight.
He lives a 10-minute drive from their Cobham training ground with his parents.
“We [the family] have always been Chelsea fans, which makes it even nicer,” said Gallagher. “My dad can’t quite believe it. I’m not a proper Chelsea first-team player, but they are so proud of what I’m doing. I hope I can carry on and be successful.
“He [Lampard] has shown already he is ready to try youngsters with Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi – they are all going to play a big part this season.
“A couple of the boys have shown that already, in Tammy and Mason. It shows if you give the youngsters a chance they can do the job at Chelsea.
“I trained a lot with the first-team in pre-season. It’s nice to just be around it.
“Frank Lampard was my idol growing up – it is quite obvious!
“Lampard and Bowyer are both midfielders, so they understand what I’m doing – because they have been there. They can help me a lot. Bowyer has helped me a lot already.
“If I was to get into the Chelsea first team one day then I think Lampard could do the same.”
Loan stays for Krsytian Bielik and Josh Cullen worked wonders for their careers. Bielik became Derby’s record signing in August – his Charlton stint undoubtedly the best of his moves while on Arsenal’s books – while West Ham midfielder Cullen has won senior international recognition with the Republic of Ireland.
“There were a few options in the Championship – Charlton was obviously one,” said Gallagher. “It’s close to where I live with my family. I think that might have played a small factor in it.
“But if there were other teams up north then I wouldn’t not go because it is too far.
“This was the right opportunity for me to play as many games as possible, that’s the main thing. I’ve got off to a good start and hopefully it carries on.
“It was my decision and Chelsea were happy for me to come here.
“Lee Bowyer told me he wants me to make the box every time – I love to hear that. I want to score goals. I’ve got three already.
“My best position is as a box-to-box midfielder. That’s what I’m doing here at Charlton. I can play deeper and I can play attacking as well. I don’t really mind.”
Charlton have raised a few eyebrows with their start to life back in England’s second tier.
They are third in the table, although Birmingham inflicted a first defeat since League One promotion – Jude Bellingham, 16, scoring the winner on Saturday.
“Before I came here I was saying I wanted to stay up and that I didn’t want to get relegated, because I’d heard we were one of the favourites to go down,” said Gallagher.
“But then the first six or seven games here – with how hard we all work and how good the players are – I feel like we can do more than that. Mid-table and then maybe push for the play-offs, that’s what I’m hoping for.”
It was Chelsea assistant coach Joe Edwards who revealed Gallagher underwent heart surgery last year.
“In pre-season I was away with England U19s for the Euros in Finland,” said Gallagher. “I was training fine and played a game, which was fine.
“Then in training one day my heart started beating really fast even though I was not doing much work. I was proper confused.
“I just thought I’d leave it, not think about it too much and then it carried on. It stayed the same in training. I got through the Euros, I didn’t play much in that – but not for that reason.
“I came back to Chelsea to end pre-season and the first session back I had to drop out in training because I felt dizzy from my heartbeat going too fast.
“I had to get surgery on it, which kept me out for two months.
“It was minor surgery. After it was back to normal – I’ve had no problems and kicked on from there.”
Gallagher has definitely gone from strength to strength during a hugely impressive start to his Charlton stay.
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