Football is all about taking your opportunities, no matter how and when they come, and that is exactly what was in 16-year-old Dan Chesters’ mind on Friday evening.
The midfielder was drafted into the starting XI as a late replacement for Joe Powell for the Premier League 2 Division 1 fixture at Leicester City after the latter was called up to Manuel Pellegrini’s first-team squad for Saturday’s Premier League game against the same opposition.
And playing alongside captain Moses Makasi, the first-year scholar rose to the challenge on what was, overall, a difficult night for the U23s as they went down 3-0 to a Foxes team with greater experience and guile.
Leicester, who boasted the likes of first-team squad members Andy King, Yohan Benalouane and Fousseni Diabate in their own starting XI, raced out of the blocks to go three goals clear inside 21 minutes, before the Hammers slowed their charge and produced an improved performance in the second half.
“It was a good experience, but it was just unfortunate that we lost and didn’t really get in the game, made a slow start and it was virtually over in the first 20 minutes,” said Chesters, who made his U23 debut against Liverpool in February, when he was just 15 years and ten months old.
“It could have been worse, but we stuck at it and held them off for the remainder of the game, which was something.”
I’m a full-time footballer now, so I can’t afford to have any days off, but I enjoy coming in every day and working on my game, so we’ll see where it takes me
Hertfordshire-born Chesters has been with the Academy of Football since he was seven, working his way up the age groups.
Now, working under the guidance of his coach and mentor Jack Collison, he wants to make his mark on the U18s and U23s.
“I play as a central attacking midfield player, but against Leicester I was playing as a central midfielder alongside Moses," he said. "He looks after me, as does Dan Kemp, who is a real inspiration to me.
“Jack works on stuff with me all the time, which is good. He has been there at the highest level, so he knows what it’s like and just tries to help me and guide me.
“I like combination play and running in behind and getting on the end of things, but I need to work on my finishing and getting more assists, my end product.
“I’m a full-time footballer now, so I can’t afford to have any days off, but I enjoy coming in every day and working on my game, so we’ll see where it takes me.”