Sam Iling-Junior's journey from grassroots football to Juventus and U19 EURO glory with England
Sam Iling-Junior discusses his rise from Clissold Rangers in Islington to joining Chelsea and then Juventus before becoming a EURO champion with England Under-19s in the summer
My first memories of competitive football came when I was playing on the field in my primary school and my friend came over and told me his dad had a team.
I was around the age of eight at the time and I decided to join the team and things changed quickly for me.
I was playing for the team, Clissold Rangers in Islington, for around three or four months before Chelsea picked me up from there. I went to one of their development centres initially and then after another couple of weeks, Chelsea decided they wanted to sign me into their academy.
Growing up, I would often play football in Clissold Park or on the Park View Estate, which was just behind my house, where the kids in the area would play.
England MU19 win the EURO
Two goals in extra-time saw the Young Lions defeat a strong Israel team to become U19 European champions!
We didn’t have a team in primary school but we had one at St Aloysius’ College in Highgate and a few have gone on to play at professional clubs.
I would play every position growing up. I started off as a centre half because I was always the tallest but would always score long-range goals when I was around the edge of the box. So around the age of 11 or 12, it changed and moved to the more attacking positions. I went to centre midfield and then left-back and moved up to the wing, playing as a number ten and a striker.
Now I generally play around the front four and would say my best position is probably as a number ten or on the wing.
I remained at Chelsea from the age of eight until 16, when I moved to Juventus. So my friend’s dad William Diaz and the scout Richard who spotted me for Chelsea ended up playing a big role in where I am now, because they were the ones who really got me into football as no one in my family was that into sport.
When I left Chelsea at 16, initially I had moved over to Italy with my Dad and then he would go back-and-forth, with my mum coming in the school holidays, which really helped too.
After the move to Italy, players like Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham, who had made similar moves from Chelsea to Italy, contacted me to make sure I was doing well. I obviously knew them through Chelsea when I was in the academy and Tammy actually bought me a burger after a game once when I was about ten or 11!
Having senior England internationals take the time to check in on you meant a lot and made a difference.
When I eventually had my first appearance in the senior Juventus squad it was surreal. Being around players like Paulo Dybala and Juan Cuadrado, I don’t know how to explain it. One minute you’re playing with these players on FIFA and then you are around them in the first team.
Seeing other English players go abroad and succeed definitely helped make the decision easier. It was just a case of showing that fearlessness and the belief in your ability to go abroad and still show what you can do.
I really developed a love for football from those early days. My priority from then until now was to always enjoy my football. That is the first thing on my mind.
I remember playing grassroots football and we won the league when it was wet and raining so we all slid into the mud. Those kinds of moments and the laughs you have with your friends in grassroots football live with you forever.
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