Conte’s secret weapon Sterling makes Chelsea comeback after 13 months out

The Blues starlet has impressed people at the club with his resilience following the most difficult year of his young career

Chelsea’s Dujon Sterling is back after 13 months out through injury and illness to try to realise the potential that saw him picked out by Antonio Conte to train with the first-team.

The 21-year-old was seen as one of the best talents to come from Cobham Training Centre and his ability to excel at wing-back had alerted Conte to his potential.

However, his career has since stalled after two loan spells at Coventry and Wigan, but now he is back with Chelsea’s Under-23s following 13 months on the sidelines.

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The Blues are now looking to facilitate the academy graduate’s return after bringing him in to face Derby and Arsenal in the last few weeks for Andy Myers’s development squad.

Ultimately, he has designs on reaching his full potential having arguably outshone all his colleagues in Chelsea’s FA Youth Cup final win over Man City in 2016. On the pitch that day were Jadon Sancho, Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori and Brahim Diaz.

Why has Sterling been out for so long?

After Maurizio Sarri replaced Conte, the youngster decided to move on loan to work with his former academy coach Adi Viveash at Coventry. That successful loan spell saw him play 40 times before joining Wigan to replace Reece James the following summer.

James, who had been behind Sterling in the pecking order at Chelsea, would be called up for Frank Lampard’s first-team after the west Londoners suffered a transfer ban.

Sterling only played 10 matches for Paul Cook’s side in the Championship after suffering a nasty hamstring tear in the FA Cup away at Leicester City.

Without playing for the Latics again, Sterling was preparing for a summer loan move but catching coronavirus then another non-Covid illness set him back.

It is understood that there were genuine fears for his career, only for him to return. Even though Sterling is back, he isn’t with Thomas Tuchel’s first-team and U23 football is seen as a better vehicle to manage his return to action at the moment.

What has Sterling said?

Sterling hinted at his issues in a Tweet following his side’s recent 2-2 draw with Arsenal, where he played out of position at centre-back.

He wrote: “The light at the end of the tunnel. I am blessed to be back playing 90 mins last night. 2020 was a huge challenge for me physically and mentally with injury and illness sidelining me for the year, but I’ve come through healthier and stronger. Keep pushing and never give up!”

What’s next for Sterling?

Chelsea will have to decide on Sterling’s future with just one year left on his current deal.

The Blues are open to renewing the contract of the academy star who has been with the club since he was just six years old. However, Sterling is keen to return to first-team football next summer and is hoping to attract the attention of Tuchel, who is using wing-backs at the moment, through good training performances and U23s displays.

Tuchel has spoken of how he will take an interest in Chelsea’s academy, while Joe Edwards and Anthony Barry on the German’s coaching staff know Sterling well.

Edwards coached Sterling to a host of honours at youth level and Barry was on Cook’s staff at Wigan before joining Chelsea this summer.

If Chelsea decide not to keep Sterling around, he will likely go on loan in the Championship or be sold permanently to a Premier League rival.

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