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Chilwell believes Champions League final strengthens England’s hopes

It was always going to happen; a few jokes, maybe to cut through the tension, between the Chelsea and Manchester City players in Gareth Southgate’s England squad. They had previously met on the battlefield of the Champions League final in Porto. Now, after reporting for Euro 2020 duty over the weekend, there was a wholly different vibe.

Ben Chilwell does not want to go into detail over who said or did what to whom, suffice to say that it was the City players – meaning Kyle Walker, John Stones, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden – who “instigated them – a few things, all in lighthearted ways.”

Chilwell, himself, plus Reece James and Mason Mount can take it. They can pretty much take anything after the 1-0 win that etched their names into Chelsea folklore. At such young ages, with Chilwell the elder statesman at just 24, they have become club legends before their time, the enormity of their achievement still a long way from having sunk in.

But here is the thing. Chilwell says that the experience he and his Chelsea teammates shared in Porto with their City counterparts has bonded them and will give England a boost at the Euros.

“It wasn’t awkward in the slightest,” he says of the reunion with the City players. “If anything, and it’s quite weird to say, it’s actually brought us closer. To share a Champions League final, although they were on the losing side – it’s going to be good for us, put us in good stead going into this tournament. It can only be a positive.”

It is easy to wonder whether Chilwell feels like a different player and person after the final on the Saturday before last. Two weeks before that, he had suffered heartbreak when he thought he had forced a last-gasp equaliser against his former club, Leicester, in the FA Cup final. It was ruled out by VAR for a hairline offside and how the victorious Leicester fans crowed at him. But now he is on top of the European club game.

“It obviously gives you confidence,” Chilwell says. “I spoke to Gareth when I first came in – it was me and Mason in the conversation – and we said if you can win the Champions League, you can go on to win the Euros now. There’s always the belief you can do it but to win the Champions League and go on to the next tournament, you have that real belief you can go on to win the Euros, as well.”

Chilwell talks about having lived a “whirlwind” since the Champions League final, taking in the emotion of the post-match party and then, after “three or days” back at his mum’s house, when he tried to unwind and make sense of it all, it was time to join up with England. Back at his mum’s, he was able to go and watch his old cricket team, Flitwick, in a match against Ampthill. Chilwell was an outstanding schoolboy cricketer, a part of the Northants academy set-up, and he once said that he was better at the sport than football. His highest score was an unbeaten 108.

“To go home, walk the dog, go watch the local cricket games. It was nice,” Chilwell says. “It was good to watch Flitwick. I just went and sat on the side with my dog.

“We’ve not really been able to celebrate the Champions League final. The night of the game – all our families were there and the club put on a function. All the family and friends who were out there were together with the rest of the team and staff, which was a really special moment. But that was it, really.”

Chilwell was not able to play in either of England’s warm-up matches last week – the 1-0 wins over Austria and Romania; none of the Chelsea or City players were – and, with only this week’s training sessions before their opening match against Croatia on Sunday, it is stating the obvious to describe his preparations as less than ideal. Chilwell insists there is no problem.

“The manager was very keen for us to have a few days to rest and recover, to refresh our minds, but we are professionals and we’re going into a European Championship in which the majority of our games are in our country,” Chilwell says. “So there’s not much to be said, really, in terms of motivating yourself when that’s what’s up for grabs. A final at Wembley, in your home country, potentially with fans back in the stadium.

“I feel good. Physically, we are all top class athletes. But even if you are tired, it goes out of the window. The adrenaline is going to get you through something like this.”

And so to another intriguing internal dynamic – Chilwell’s fight for the starting left-back spot with Luke Shaw who, like him, is coming off an excellent domestic season.

“There will be competition for places in every position,” Chilwell says. “I have the situation at Chelsea with Marcos [Alonso], I had it with Christian Fuchs at Leicester for two or so years and, in both cases, it made me a better player. It improves you and Luke will have the same mindset, if you asked him. Training will be very competitive.

“Luke and I get on really well and we’re excited. In a weird way, it is quite fun, pushing each other and training to get better. Whoever plays on the day will give their best and the other player will be very supportive.”

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