Scott Sinclair: 'There was never a time I thought I'd made it at Chelsea'

Scott Sinclair tells James Corrigan why he was happy to take a pay cut for a chance at Swansea. Today the winger returns to the Bridge

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The Independent Online

So much for that ever-more popular generalisation of the young highly-paid footballer who does not need to know the price ofanything, so therefore appreciates the value of nothing.

Scott Sinclair is the living, playing proof that not all of that "Baby Bentley" brigade prioritise who they think are above what they think they could be.

Eighteen months ago, the then 21-year-old had a decision to make. Stay at Chelsea on first-team squad wages, play in the Carling Cup and have the odd five minutes in the Premier League. Or leave the brighter lights of west London for the ever so slightly duller shine of Swansea, 200 miles down the M4, and take a pay cut to appear in the Championship. Sinclair chose the latter. He didn't quite trade in the Bentley for a banger, but still...

"Some people may think it was a gamble," he told The Independent this week as he reflected on a financial hit thought to be somewhere in the region of £200,000. "But I had no doubts. I knew it would pay off."

Stamford Bridge could very well witness the spoils of his punt when he returns with Swansea today. Sinclair has not been back since he left and admits to inking a ring around this game when the fixtures were published. Granted, he is genuinely looking forward to seeing and playing against some old friends. But he would not be human, and certainly not a competitive young man, if there wasn't a degree of "just look what you could have had" this afternoon.

"Do I believe I got a fair crack at the whip there? No, not completely," said Sinclair. "I had five or 10 minutes here and there and people say I had the chance to prove myself in that time. But I think you need a run of games and I suppose with world-class players there that wasn't going to happen. Also, I played under five managers there and that didn't help."

There is a new man at the helm now, however, who as a ridiculously precocious 33-year-old should acknowledge the benefits of youth being given its head. And with the elevation of Daniel Sturridge into the striking line, Andre Villas-Boas has at least shown a willingness to bleed and breed. Doesn't Sinclair look at the opportunity being presented to his friend and regret being so hasty? "Would I have got a chance at Chelsea under Villas-Boas?" said Sinclair. "It depends what you mean by chance. To me, 10 minutes here and there is not a chance – a chance is playing week in, week out. They have some great quality youngsters but it's very difficult for them to get in."

Sinclair understands the conundrum. A manager who lives – and, at Chelsea, usually dies – on the results, is not about to drop a top international to afford a kid his opportunity. But then, if this is the case, why buy up so much young talent in the first place? Just to play them in the reserves, or send out on loan? Or maybe to provide a back-up, just in case. Yet how are they supposed to develop in the shadows?

Sinclair is surely a head-scratching example of this anomaly – signed and whisked off to wonderland as a 16-year-old. "It was any young boy's dream," he recalled. "At Bristol Rovers you don't expect Chelsea scouts to be coming down and signing you. They were exciting times."

First came the youth team coached by a certain Brendan Rodgers, who was have to such an influence in his life-changing, perhaps career-defining, decision; and within 18 months he was making his debut in the first team.

Sinclair credits the rise to Rodgers. "Brendan was magnificent with the young players at Chelsea," he said. "He saw it as his job to fast-track them into the first team. With me, I'd come from Rovers as a striker, but he sat me down and told me, 'Scott it's best for you to become a winger'. 'Why?' I asked him. 'Because you've got Didier Drogba in front of you.' He pushed me out on the wing, I started scoring goals and I made my debut pretty quickly."

Sinclair was a teenager and the big time was beckoning. Indeed, the Premier League was beckoning. "Yeah, it was great when I was 18 and making my debut in the Premier League and learning under [Jose] Mourinho.

"But there was never a time I thought I'd cracked it at Chelsea. Not once. It was like a brick wall in front of me. And the frustrations... that's why I had so many loans. Because I couldn't deal with playing reserve football."

In four seasons, Sinclair went out on six different loans, to six different clubs. It must have been a gruelling, often lonely, set of experiences, but, as he said, it was preferable to the alternative. "In the Championship you're playing for three points every Saturday," said Sinclair. "The result's everything. In the reserves, there's people coming back from injuries and the tempo's not as high. Some players just don't want to be there."

Sinclair was evidently one of them. So he donned the green shirt of Plymouth, the hoops of Queen's Park Rangers, the red of Charlton, followed by the stripes of Crystal Palace, the blue of Birmingham City and the blue and white of Wigan.

Never mind blue being the colour, for Sinclair it was the entire rainbow. In between these spells, the majority of which were successful, Sinclair returned to his home club for the very odd guest slot. This included a start against Manchester United in the Premier League, as well as three minutes against Southend in the third round of the FA Cup, which earned him a place on the podium after the final. Not quite Paul Allen at Wembley with West Ham as a 17-year-old. "You don't feel a part of it unless you've played a proper part in it," said Sinclair.

"And you didn't really feel a part of it at the loan clubs, either, as you knew, whatever happened, you would be going to back to Chelsea and trying to win your place there.

"But, like all young players, you'd go back after a good season on loan, be all optimistic that you're going to be a part of it and play – but it doesn't work like that because there's still all these world-class players in front of you. It's very frustrating."

Sinclair was brave enough to spell out his exasperation to Mourinho. "I asked him if I was going to get a chance," said Sinclair. "He told me I'd play in all the Carling Cup games; we had an agreement. But then a new manager came in for the next season and he didn't really have time to be interested. He had to settle in and establish himself by winning some trophies before he started thinking about the young players."

Of course, Luiz Felipe Scolarinever did get the trophies – or the time. And for Sinclair the clock began ticking, too. "When you get to 21, you want to be playing for your own club week-in-week-out," he said.

So when Rodgers came calling, with the offer of joining him at his new club in South Wales, Sinclair took the leap. Downwards.

"It was in my mentality that one day I knew I'd be back in the Premier League, no matter how and no matter when," said Sinclair. "I just needed to go and play regularly. Yeah, I had to take a lower wage, but I backed my ability. I knew I'd have no regrets."

In fact, Sinclair doesn't look back in anguish at one yard of his career path. He bears no grudge to Chelsea and this afternoon he only wants to show how far he has travelled. "I suppose you could say I've got a point to prove on that score, but there's no bitterness whatsoever," he said.

"The way I look at it, if you're a talented young player and you're given the opportunity, you don't go to a mediocre team – you go and train with the best players and the best coaches. That can only lead on to better things.

"I learnt a hell of a lot at Chelsea and being around all that success gives you a feeling of what it's like and makes you even more motivated to achieve it and feel it for yourself. By coming from Chelsea, you sort of have that confidence to get the best out of yourself and know to do it."

The Liberty was the ideal place to allow this expression free rein. "It's so good to be under a manager like Brendan who believes in me," he said.

"When we won the play-off final at Wembley that was the best day of my career – because I was a part of it. I'd played a full season, scored goals, played in the final and was fully involved in the promotion."

Many in Swansea will claim Sinclair was more than merely "involved" – he was the catalyst. Chelsea would be well advised to keep an eye on their ex who, despite only tasting 74 minutes of Premier League action in five years there, says "there'll always be a part of me which loves the Bridge".

They may also keep an ear out for the chant the Swans sing to the tune of "Sloop John B". Sinclair's partner is Helen Flanagan, the Coronation Street siren, and the following has been edited on the grounds of good taste. "He's Scotty Sinclair, He's Scotty Sinclair. He's with Rosie Webster. And Sally don't care."

What happened to Chelsea's class of 2005-07?

Scott Sinclair is one of the young players signed between 2005-07 by Chelsea in the belief they would graduate to the first team. The policy produced John Obi Mikel – though at £16m he was hardly a gamble – but has otherwise largely failed to date. Maybe the likes of Ryan Bertrand and Gaël Kakuta will have better luck.

*Nuno Morais (from FC Penafiel, 2004) Left Chelsea in 2007. Now 27 years old and at APOEL Nicosia.

*Fabio Ferreira (Sporting Lisbon, 2004) Left in 2007. Now 22, at Esmoriz.

*Morten Nielsen (KB, 2005) Left in 2009. Now 21, at AZ Alkmaar.

*Ricardo Fernandes (Sporting Lisbon, 2005) Left in 2009. Now 22, at Pombal.

*Ryan Bertrand (Gillingham, 2005) Now 22, still at Chelsea.

*Jonas Elmer (Grasshopper, 2005) Left in 2007. Now 23, at FC Sion.

*Ben Sahar (Hapoel Tel Aviv, 2006) Left in 2009. Now 22, at Espanyol.

*Sergio Tejera (Gillingham, 2006) Left in 2009. Now 21, at Mallorca.

*Tom Taiwo (Leeds, 2006) Left last year. Now 21, at Carlisle.

*Miroslav Stoch (Nitra, 2006) Left last year. Now 21, at Fenerbahce.

*Michael Woods (Leeds, 2006) Left this year. Now 21, unattached.

*John Obi Mikel (Lyn Oslo, 2006) Now 24, still at Chelsea.

*Jeffrey Bruma (Feyenoord, 2007) Now 19, still at Chelsea.

*Jacob Mellis (Sheffield United, 2007) Now 20, still at Chelsea.

*Fabio Borini (Bologna, 2007) Left this year. Now 20, at Parma.

*Patrick van Aanholt (PSV, 2007) Now 21, still at Chelsea but the full-back is loan at Wigan.

*Carl Magnay (Leeds, 2007) Now 22, still at Chelsea.

*Jacopo Sala (Atlanta, 2007) Left this year. Now 19, at Hamburg.

*Gaël Kakuta (Lens, 2007) Now 20, the striker is still at Chelsea. Currently on loan at Bolton.

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