This article was originally published on the website of the Chelsea Supporters Sweden, on the 17th of December 2018, and was later translated in to English by the author Daniel Joannou of Chelsea Supporters Sweden. Today Lewis Baker joined Reading and we wish him all the best.
The Story of Lewis Baker
His career needed just a tiny lift to take it to the next level. A bit of tuning. A bit of sharpening. Experience in English football was the missing piece. He would be ready after that, they said. But the tributes are fading and the curtain is slowly closing. This is the story of Lewis Baker.
Lewis Baker is a True Blue. One of our own. His Chelsea career started as a nine-year old and his talent could be spotted from miles away at an early stage. With the dream of taking a regular place in the heart of the Chelsea midfield one day, Baker made his mark right away. He went through the ranks of the youth teams in Chelsea in impressive fashion. There was something about his movement on the pitch that caught the eye, with a majestic and composed way of playing football and with the ability to use both feet.
He was a vital part of the academy team of 2012 that won the FA Youth Cup by destroying Blackburn in the final game. Notable names in that squad were Nathaniel Chalobah, Nathan Ake and Andreas Christensen. And Lewis Baker, of course. He really stood out. With his way of taking set pieces with right and left foot and juggling the ball on his way to the spot to take a penalty, he made an impact on the Chelsea supporters. There was a new kid in town and he became a favourite among the youngsters to route for.
The following year was even more successful for young Mr Baker. The academy team impressed in the tournament called the NextGen where all the greatest youth teams participated. Chelsea eased through the group stage and on their way to the semi-finals giants such as Juventus and Barcelona were beaten. Baker played out of his skin and was crowned man of the match when single handed he sunk Arsenal in the semi-finals by scoring twice from midfield. A defeat in the finals wouldn’t stop him from being named the player of the tournament.
The fairy-tale didn’t end there. Baker made his first team debut and won the Youth Premier League in the coming season. Manchester United waited in the final game of the season, the game that could secure the title, and the reds took the lead. But Baker stole the headlines, once again, by scoring the decisive goal. A sweeping finish into the far corner was executed to perfection to give Chelsea the trophy. Baker was later that season also rewarded at the yearly ceremony when he took home the prize for the Chelsea Youth Player of the Year as well as for the Goal of the Season.
England’s finest talent became too big for academy football and a loan season was on the agenda. After short spells at Sheffield Wednesday and MK Dons, his big international break awaited. Baker was loaned out to Vitesse in the season of 15/16 and it didn’t take long before Baker had established himself in the starting eleven. Since beautiful goals are his cup of tea, he was again awarded for scoring the Goal of the Season with a long-range effort against De Grasschat.
Baker carried on in Holland the season that followed, scoring 15 goals from midfield and helping Vitesse win the Dutch cup – their first trophy ever.
Our youngster also made his mark in the English national teams, levels U17-U21. His biggest claim was scoring four goals in the Toulon Tournament under Gareth Southgate’s management – a tournament England won and that echoed around the world.
Lewis Baker was a rising star. His talent had taken him to the big stage, and he didn’t fail to impress. They were on their knees in Vitesse, begging him to stay another year, but Baker wanted more. It was time to raise the bar yet again, and he wanted to achieve his childhood dream by making it in Chelsea, the team in his heart. To play in midfield, in the best league in the world, right in the brightest spotlight at Stamford Bridge. And the dream wasn’t that far away. We, the fans, were cheering. One of our own was finally about to make an impact in our great club.
Baker returned to Chelsea but after meeting Antonio Conte, it was decided that further loan spells was the right way to go. In England, though. That was the missing piece. A bit more experience in England. After that, he would be ready. Hold your horses!
It didn’t turn out that way. Things started to go from good to bad in Middlesbrough. Garry Monks 4-3-3 system was new for Baker, and he was often forced out on the wing. He did alright when he played down the middle but it still resulted in less and less game time. And then came the injuries. And the sudden change of manager. Tony Pulis didn’t put any faith in Baker and when the season came to an end Baker had only participated in 13 games.
He returned to Chelsea, bruised but not broken. No headlines, tributes or awards this time. Time to regroup son. One step back, two steps forward.
So Leeds became his next destination and Marcelo Bielsa his new manager. Pep Guardiola has praised the legendary Bielsa, with his pragmatic ways, as one of the best in the business. And he goes his own way. “El Loco” does what he wants. Bielsa starts the season by leaving Pontus Jansson, arguably the best defender in Leeds the year before, on the bench. And for Baker? Well, lets put it this way — El Loco is not impressed.
Since it is hard to catch games, I’m keeping an eye on his development with a constant eye on the Live Score-app on my Iphone. I don’t like what I see. Baker gets a couple of minutes here and there, mostly towards the end of games. When he finally gets the chance to impress in the starting line up, in a game against Reading, he gets substituted at half time.
So it was back to the substitutes bench for Baker who really struggled. Things were looking gloomy but last weekend Baker finally got the nod again. A red-hot Leeds United sits on top of the Championship and now Bolton stands in their way.
Baker starts the game.
Only his second start in the league.
The score is 0-0 at half time but when the players enter the field for the second half, there is one man missing. Number 34, Lewis Baker, has been substituted. Again.
Leeds wins the game. Patrick Bamford, another former Chelsea youngster, entered in second half and scored the winner. A great result for Leeds. A horrible outcome for Baker.
I didn’t see the game but certain reports tell me that Baker in fact was terrible. Leeds Live rated him 4/10, and he was absolutely slaughtered on Twitter. A lot of the Leeds supporters want to send him back to Chelsea and the dream of playing in midfield at Stamford Bridge, the dream that was within reach just moments ago, seems to fade.
I’m sending a text to highly regarded Swedish football journalist Olof Lund, who also happens to be a Leeds supporter. He replies: ”Two starts this season. Substituted at half time on both occasions and hasn’t shown anything that calls for more game time.”
”Is it over?” I’m asking.
”Dont know. But the kid has got problems.”
What’s going on? A lack of confidence? A stagnation of his development? Is he just unlucky? Can Lewis Baker turn this around?
Time will tell. But alarm bells are ringing. We have seen them come and go. Michael Mancienne has turned 30 and is now playing in USA and Josh McEachran is doing what he can in the Championship. Dominik Solanke having sat freezing at the stands at Anfield has now moved to Bournemouth and Ruben Loftus Cheek has a habit of getting injured. But for Baker – I really believed in him…
Lewis Baker turns 24 in a couple of months and can hardly be regarded as a top youth prospect much longer. England’s finest talent needed just a tiny lift to take it to the next level but now the valley is both dark and deep. The tributes are fading and the curtain slowly closing.
The possibility of him facing the same fate as so many before him gets bigger day by day:
To do perfectly alright.
Preform at a decent level.
But beyond the brightest spotlight.