It was only a few weeks after Conor Gallagher had bumped into Thomas Tuchel while out with his family in a Cobham pub, but this time he knew exactly what he wanted to say to the Chelsea manager.
“I was trying to hide,” chuckles Gallagher at the memory of their first, accidental meeting. “It was funny because I saw him through the window and whispered to my girlfriend, mum and dad: ‘God, it’s Thomas Tuchel.’ He walked in and sat on the table right next to us so he couldn’t miss me.”
Tuchel later revealed he had apologised to Gallagher for ruling him out of Crystal Palace’s FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea under the terms of his loan, although it was the 22-year-old who took charge of the conversation when they spoke again on the phone at the end of the season.
“I said to him: ‘I think I’m ready to play for Chelsea,’” Gallagher recalls. “I said: ‘You know that’s what I want to do.’ I’ve got some older brothers that have told me if you’ve got something you want to say or ask then just ask because managers aren’t scary. They want to talk to their players and they want to know what your thoughts are. I told him what I thought and he said what he thought and I think that was the best way to do it.”
That Gallagher possesses such self-confidence will not come as a surprise to anyone who saw him play for Crystal Palace last season. Eight goals in 39 energetic appearances for Patrick Vieira’s side earned him a first England cap against San Marino last November and convinced Chelsea to finally place their trust in a player who joined their academy as an eight-year-old but is yet to make a first-team appearance.
Gallagher acknowledges he will face a fight to establish himself in Tuchel’s midfield after three successive seasons on loan but is typically positive when it is suggested that he has taken a gamble given that there is a World Cup around the corner.
“You can say it’s a gamble but I feel like I’m ready for a step up,” he says. “If there is a chance to be a part of the squad at Chelsea and part of the team then I can’t turn it down. I feel like I’ve got to have belief in myself that I can help improve this team and I can show the fans and the boss what I can do.”
Gallagher admits Tuchel has asked him to prove himself in pre-season, starting with Chelsea’s three friendlies on their tour of the US “I have got a lot of work to do and I have got to be confident in myself,” he says.
Palace were very keen to retain Gallagher, who is full of praise for the freedom he was allowed on the pitch. “I feel like the way the club was and the way Patrick Vieira was with me really helped,” he says. “He had full belief in me and gave me a lot of confidence from the first day. I was playing every game and I had licence to do what I do best.”
Whether Tuchel will be so accommodating remains to be seen but Gallagher insists he can play in several positions. “He knows what I’m good at and what I maybe need to work on. He knows where is the best place to put me. I’m quite versatile as well. Anywhere in midfield I feel like I should be comfortable.”
That could work to his advantage when it comes to World Cup selection, as could the growing England contingent at Stamford Bridge after Raheem Sterling’s arrival from Manchester City. Gallagher insists Sterling will become an instant dressing room leader.
“He’s a massive signing. The experience he has in the Premier League is massive and very important for Chelsea. I feel like what he has achieved already in his career is kind of natural to turn him into a little bit of a leader, with all the experience and advice he can give to young players. At England he speaks to the younger boys like me and a couple of the others and he is great. He makes you feel welcome. So to have him in the Chelsea team is great and is going to benefit us.”
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Gallagher also played in the same Chelsea youth teams as Reece James and Mason Mount and wants to emulate their first-team success.
“The fans love them,” he says. “Obviously everyone knows they are world-class players but it makes more special if they have come through the academy. I grew up with them and I feel like I’m able to do that. But it makes it even more special that me and my family have always been Chelsea fans, and it will be a dream come true to play regularly for Chelsea and perform on the pitch.”