Exclusive: Bamford back at the Bridge with a point to prove

In the lead-up to this season, one radio station famous for talking sport tweeted a question: is Patrick Bamford good enough to be a starter for #LUFC in the Premier League?

The striker responded with four words that failed to disguise the eye-rolling weariness of a man who has heard it all a thousand times before: “And so it starts.”

For Bamford, such doubts about his ability began in the first half of this decade after Chelsea had plucked the then 18-year-old promising striker from Nottingham Forest and he went on to not feature in the first team in five years.

Temporary top-flight pit-stops at Crystal Palace, Norwich and Burnley saw him sidelined and then slighted as a player lacking the brawn and bite to go with his brain, before he was jettisoned and landed at soon-to-be-relegated Middlesbrough and a future in what many saw as his natural level of the Championship.

But Bamford, now 27, had other ideas and this weekend he is back at Stamford Bridge, armed with absolute trust from his manager, seven goals in 10 league appearances and a big point to prove.

Chelsea are a club that have made a habit of hoovering up young talent as much in service of an efficient business model as the health of their first team.

Breaking through is a bonus, with the majority farmed out on loan and eventually sold for a profit.

In the same winter window that Bamford arrived at the club, they also recruited defender Kenneth Omeruo, striker Lucas Piazon and a midfielder by the name of Kevin de Bruyne. Loan spells served by this quartet during their time at the Blues? 20. First-team appearances? Six.

Initial fruitful loan spells back in the Football League, with MK Dons and Derby, suggested Bamford might be able to buck the trend and he was adamant in an interview with the Daily Mail that Chelsea had a long-term plan for him when he was lent to Middlesbrough for the 2014-15 season, which saw him score 17 times and win Championship player of the year.

But his chance never came with the Blues, who instead felt loan signings Radamel Falcao and Alexandre Pato offered better back-up to Diego Costa and Loic Remy.

Loan spells at Palace, Norwich and Burnley yielded 22 appearances, four starts, zero goals and no compelling evidence to his parent club demanding greater involvement.

His time at Turf Moor was especially unproductive, with Clarets boss Sean Dyche suggesting to him that his status as a young Chelsea player and his relatively affluent upbringing and private school education meant he had “never had to work for anything in his life”.

The years that followed have showcased the disproving of this myth, starting with the curtailing of his time at Chelsea in 2017 – half a decade that saw him overlooked by seven managers – and a move back to Boro.

Tony Pulis would begin the process of adding grit to guile, moving Bamford to a central attacking role and coaxing 11 goals from him in 2017-18 as Boro fell just short of promotion.

Marcelo Bielsa would finesse the job at Elland Road, making him a tireless modern, pressing forward capable of leading the line on his own, defending from the front and providing 16 goals to help Leeds back into the Premier League.

As former Liverpool defender and Preston fan Mark Lawrenson told BBC Sport, Bamford’s displays this season are a delivery on the promise of his earlier years.

“I used to go into Simon Grayson’s office when he was manager at Preston and speak to the opposing managers and coaches after games,” he said.

“Patrick was scoring a lot of goals in the Championship at that time and when his name came up, the consensus was at that level he looks a really good player but can he make the step up? No-one was too sure.

“Going from team to team on loan when he was at Chelsea probably helped him develop initially, but by the end it held him back.

“He has always had ability, but when I watched him when he was younger, he didn’t look like he was going to be quick enough at one stage to play in the Premier League.

“But he seems to have found half a yard of pace from somewhere, or at least it looks that way. That will be Bielsa, and the work he has done with him, of course.

“And Patrick is a talented player. He still misses a few, he always did, but his scoring ratio is good and for me he goes under the banner of ‘most improved’ because of the way he has worked on his game.”

 

 

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