Ross Turnbull will complete a long and unlikely journey today when he starts his first Premier League game for Chelsea in their London derby with West Ham United.
The 25-year-old former Middlesbrough No 3 is also in line for Tuesday's Champions League encounter with Internazionale, unless either Petr Cech, who has a calf injury, or Henrique Hilario, who is struggling with an injured groin, make an unexpectedly swift recovery.
The story of Turnbull's arrival in the Chelsea team at such a key moment in the season is one that will give hope and encouragement to thousands of young footballers struggling to make the grade in the lower reaches of the English game. Whether the story has a happy ending, only time will tell.
Turnbull gets his chance despite having only been on nodding acquaintance with top-flight football during his career. He was full of potential on signing for Middlesbrough in 2002 but then was sent out on loan to Darlington, Barnsley (twice), Bradford, Crewe Alexandra and Cardiff City in a quest to play more games. In all he played 67 games on loan. He was handed a chance last season at Middlesbrough when Mark Schwarzer signed for Fulham, but lost out to the Australian Brad Jones.
Turnbull did not believe his agent when he heard Chelsea were keen to sign him as a free agent last summer. The former England Under-20 international said in July: "When my agent called I said to him, 'Are you sure this isn't a wind-up?'"
Chelsea's interest in Turnbull was initiated by their goalkeeping coach, Christophe Lollichon, who vouched for him on the basis of his warm-up before Chelsea's 2-0 victory over Boro last season. Lollichon has been working hard on Turnbull's technique for three months, and today's opportunity will be as much a test of the coach's judgement and methods as an examination of the goalkeeper's character.
Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea manager, yesterday stated his confidence in Turnbull, not that you would expect him to do otherwise as the only other option is 19-year-old Welshman Rhys Taylor, who has yet to appear in the first team. Turnbull can trump that, having started once, a meaningless Champions League group game with APOEL Nicosia in December.
Ancelotti said: "It's a big test, for sure. I think that he doesn't have a problem, though. He's a very quiet man. It's a good opportunity for him to show his quality. It's very, very difficult. I understand this. Ross understands this, too. But he has the quality to do well. Really, I'm not worried about this. He is a good goalkeeper, he has good quality. He won't be worried. He's very calm."
Ancelotti also claimed he is unworried about the ongoing contract dispute with Joe Cole, which seems certain to continue beyond the end of the season. Cole, 28, is out of contract in the summer and, despite his recent injury problems, wants a pay rise on his current £80,000-a-week deal, which Chelsea are refusing to sanction. Asked what the chances were of Cole being at the club next season, Ancelotti said: "100 per cent. The contract is not my concern, but he's told me he wants to stay here. Yes."Reuse content