Jack Cork wasn’t exactly short of inspiration during his time at Stamford Bridge.
The former Chelsea midfielder may have found first team opportunities hard to come by in South West London but the standard of schooling he received was incomparable.
There were innumerable sources of motivation around every corner, career-enhancing mentors, world class players, high-end coaches.
Cork didn’t feature competitively but he was well-educated. In the club’s first game of the 2007 pre-season tour in California, boss Jose Mourinho partnered Cork in a back four with John Terry, Tal Ben Haim and Glen Johnson.
Also playing against Mexican side America at the Stanford Stadium were Claude Makelele, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Andriy Shevchenko and Arjen Robben.
The 29-year-old says that he’ll always be indebted to the Blues for granting him those opportunities.
“I never really got to play for them but they gave me the opportunity to go out on loan and play for some good clubs,” he said. “I owe them for that chance. They gave me the opportunities.
“It was frustrating but it’s one of those things. I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I was just happy to be around the best players and around a team that was positive and winning.
“It was full of British players who were influential in the England team as well. It was really good for me, I never got to play, but I thank them for giving me the chance to be around that.
“If I’d have been at another club I wouldn’t have had the loan opportunities that I got. It was good. I was with them for a long time and I grew up with them.”
Cork, who had loan spells with Bournemouth, Scunthorpe, Southampton, Watford, Coventry and the Clarets, added: “I had a few influences growing up. Brendan [Rodgers] was my youth team manager, Neil Bath was there who runs the academy.
“There were a lot of people there who put time in to help the youth lads come through. We were one of the first youth teams when the money came in and since then it’s been really successful. They’ve got a good way of running things down there.
“They had all the English boys. They had John Terry, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Ashley Cole, and then all the foreign boys like Drogba, Cech, it was just a really good group to be involved in and learn from.
“They had a lot of time for the young lads so it was really special to be a part of that club at that time.”
Cork has been impressed with what he’s seen from Chelsea under Maurizio Sarri and believes they’ll emerge as genuine title contenders this term.
With a wealth of quality in their squad, Cork said: “It looks like they’ll be contenders. At the start of the season people were probably looking towards Man City and Liverpool more but they’ve really started well and had some good performances, good wins.
“They have their own style of play, which is down to the manager coming in, and they’re a good team.
“It probably won’t be too dissimilar to Saturday [against Manchester City]. They pack the midfield with a lot of bodies, they bring the wingers in, they have the quality of Hazard and people like Willian.
“They have the players that run like Kante, Jorginho and Kovacic. It will be a tough afternoon but I think we can bring some of the positives from Saturday into play and get a result.
“We’ve just got to keep a good shape and stay positive. We need to try and play football if we can at times. They’ll probably have more of the ball but we’ve got to be ready to counter and take our chances.”