The Manchester City boss is among the defender’s growing list of admirers but acclaim has not come easily for the Leicester fullback
When Ben Chilwell lines up alongside England’s World Cup heroes at the Nations League Finals in Portugal this week it will be his rewards for 12 months of impressive progress where putting in extra toil paid off.
Chilwell counted himself among a nation of enraptured supporters last year, when Gareth Southgate guided the Three Lions to their first major tournament semi-final for 28 years at Russia 2018.
The 22-year-old Leicester City left-back was also reflecting upon a 2017-18 campaign where “I had good games but I had some bad games as well” and endeavoured to do something about it – enlisting the help of his father Wayne in a no-frills close-season training regime.
“It was just me and one of my mates, and my dad came down with a stopwatch and basically just timed us running up and down the pitch,” Chilwell explained, having marked a rare British summer heatwave by throwing himself into sprinting drills.
“Thankfully I was fitter than him, which you’d hope.”
If it makes Chilwell’s mates from his home in Milton Keynes feel any better, Opta data shows the defender completed 749 sprints in Premier League matches last season, amounting to a stunning 20.8 per 90 minutes.
Of players to have completed 1,000 competitive minutes in England’s top flight this season, only international colleagues Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling have better per-game numbers. Chilwell’s overall sprints are comfortably the best in that top 10, with Liverpool’s Andy Robertson (676) and Sterling (666) the next most prolific.
There is considerable guile and style alongside this fast-twitch brawn in Chilwell’s game and his performances are reported to have caught the attention of Atletico Madrid, who are seeking a replacement for the Bayern Munich-bound Lucas Hernandez.
Premier League champions Manchester City are understood to no longer be in the market for a left-back although, were that situation to change, Pep Guardiola showed who he might think is up to the task by making a beeline for Chilwell after his team beat Leicester 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium last month.
“He just said he thought I was a really talented player and he wanted me to keep playing well, getting up and down the pitch and never going away from it,” he recalled of Guardiola’s full-time observations.
“That was it and then he walks off to the next person he wants to speak to. But it was nice for such a successful manager to say I’m a good player.”
Chilwell started three of England’s four Nations League group matches after making his competitive debut in the second match of the competition, a 0-0 draw in Croatia last October that came four days on from his call-up as an injury replacement for Manchester United’s Luke Shaw.
He acknowledges the plethora of Under-21 graduates who played under Southgate in his previous England role has eased the acclimatisation process at full international level, but Chilwell is keen to underline this is a team for the present as well as the future as they prepare to face the Netherlands in Guimaraes on Thursday.
“This is a young squad and we want to win stuff now,” he said. “We don’t want to learn over the next few years and start winning in a few years.
“We want to win this summer and then continue to win for the rest of our careers.”
If England lift the trophy at Porto’s Estadio do Dragao on Sunday, Chilwell believes his dad will let him put his feet up in satisfaction. For a short while, at least.
“I’ll have a few weeks off to relax as it’s important to get away from football,” he added. “Straight after that I’ll be back in the park with him doing my sprints.”
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