The Blues have not had too many success stories from their loan group but their brightest star has made the breakthrough this season
Calm, talented and grounded are the words that seem to come to mind for those around Andreas Christensen, as he makes a spot in the centre of Chelsea’s three man defence his own.
The 21-year-old Denmark international has renewed his contract and he is seen by the club as the academy prospect that can finally take the mantle from John Terry.
Conte has brought him into the fold and he has to be regarded as the most successful player to emerge from a 38-player loan group last season. Chelsea wanted Virgil van Dijk but have saved £75 million by promoting a player from within to boost their back line.
Christensen’s father, Sten, was a goalkeeper for Brondby. He has described watching his son progress, over a two-year stint at Borussia Monchengladbach, into a better footballer than he ever was.
“The two years he has spent there he has been fantastic. His development has been huge. I think this is the best move he has even done,” he told Goal. “In the first year, nobody thought he would play that much — me, Andreas, Chelsea or Gladbach.
“We thought he might get around 15 games or so to try to get used to German football, but he played a lot. The first and second years were great. He played with a lot of good young players for Gladbach.
“[Club director] Max Eberl was great with him. I will miss going there a lot and so will he. Max very much wanted him to stay, but the loan deal ended and he will go back. Whatever happens, it is important for Andreas to play, he is not content with the bench.”
Two years led to 81 games for Christensen at the Bundesliga club and he got to experience Champions League football immediately, despite having only made one Premier League appearance for the Blues prior to the move. He also won Gladbach’s Player of the Season award in his first year at the club.
Christensen is obsessive about football and he still attends games at his first club Brøndby, where Chelsea signed him from in 2012 under the stewardship of Andre Villas-Boas. Chelsea beat Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Arsenal to his signature, as well as a host of clubs in the Netherlands. His first coach at Brondby was John Ranum, and he described watching the then-16-year-old leave for London.
“Yes, it was a very sad day [when Christensen left] because we hoped that he would stay here and play in our first team after maybe one more year and prove that he was good enough to play adult football,” Ranum told Goal.
“So that was what we hoped, but if you look back now then it has been a good decision for him [to leave]. The plan Chelsea made for him was fantastic. They made a plan for his education going forward and it was very very good.
“It is a fantastic academy at Chelsea, if you can’t develop there then you can’t develop anywhere, I don’t think. They have everything there. I hope he gets his chance, now he is back.
“He is technically fantastic. As a person he is very calm and he has very good vision. He has always been very, very clever at reading the game. Sometimes when he started to play central defender, some people said that he won’t be physically strong enough to play it at the highest level.
“Then we said, ‘Yes he will because he doesn’t need the physical strength and he will put that on later in his career’. He is so clever to read the game that strength is not necessary.
“We can see at Gladbach that he is reading the game very well and when he needs to go physical, one against one, he now has the strength also.”
Christensen used to watch his father play in goal for Brondby, and Sten now works for the Copenhagen side as their goalkeeping coach. This is where he learned to love the sport from such a young age.
Sten admits that he told a lie to get his son into Birkerod, a youth team in Copenhagen, after watching him with a ball glued to his feet from an early age.
“He has been playing football since he was two years old, he was always kicking. He loved kicking the ball in the small goals,” he said. “From an early age he always had a ball at his feet. Even today when we are talking or eating, he has a football between his legs.
“He has been like that since he was two years old. He started football when he was four and we had to lie a little bit about his age because in Denmark, you can’t start to play until you are five.”
Andreas was surrounded by a strong family unit, with his mother Tina and younger brother Magnus supporting him as he aimed to follow in his father’s footsteps. Sten Christensen was then asked by his son whether he could join him at Brondby and make an important step in becoming what he is today.
“So we told people at his first club that he was five years old, when he was only four. Then he started at a little club in Nordsjælland. When Andreas was 10 years old, he asked me if it was okay to join Brondby to train out there at a higher level.”
“So I said yes, you can go out there. We took him there to play and one of the coaches there, John Ranum, he said, ‘Okay, we see Andreas as a six but we would need to teach him to defend so we can put him down as a centre back so he can defend a bit more’.
“When he was very young he played as a striker, a right winger and he also played left-back. He can still play in a lot of positions. His strength is in reading the game. He got good at it quickly and that was it.
“When he was 15 years old, Aston Villa spotted him first in Holland, when he was playing in a tournament down there. One of the most important things about Andreas is that he is a team player and he always found room for his friends and he has never had an attitude.
“He is very calm. Andreas just wants to be on the pitch playing. That’s his sole motivation. He doesn’t need to be in the newspapers, he rarely wants to speak with the press. He just wants to play football because he loves it so much.”
There are two recurring themes when talking to the people who know Christensen the closest. He is almost stereotypically cool and calm, as the Denmark national character is often painted to be.
He also just wants to play football. That is why he fell in love with the unfashionable town of Monchengladbach in Germany, which provided him with the platform to be known across Europe. Ranum reiterated Christensen’s father’s assessment of his son and now regards the centre-back as amongst the best in the world for his age.
“I think he is one of the best central defenders at his age, that’s for sure,” Ranum added. “I think he still has to take some steps to go really far. I think he has the potential to play for the best clubs in Europe, for sure.
“I think his next step, I would say that if he is going to go back to Chelsea he needs around 30 to 40 matches. After playing in the Bundesliga, one of the most important things for him is to play in the starting XI most of the time. That’s what’s important, I think.”
Christensen has since leapfrogged David Luiz for a spot in Chelsea’s defence but at only 21-years-old, the best is yet to come. There’s a real feeling that he could become truly world class and thus, he would fully follow in John Terry’s footsteps.