Kevin Wright: Sierra Leone defender on leaving Chelsea and life in Sweden

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Kevin Wright in action for Sierra LeoneKevin Wright featured for Sierra Leone at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year

When Kevin Wright was shown the exit door by Chelsea aged 20, his dreams of a career in professional football could have been over.

After spending 11 years in the club's youth academy, the defender had failed to make a senior appearance for the Premier League side when he left Stamford Bridge in 2016.

However, having become a Sierra Leone international and now playing in Sweden after dropping down to the fourth tier in England, Wright is grateful for his formative years spent with the Blues.

"Even though it was disappointing to leave Chelsea at that stage, I always had faith in my ability," the 26-year-old left-back told BBC Sport Africa.

"To get into the first team at that time was difficult. Many players got released every year as it was such a competitive atmosphere."

Chelsea were a club transformed by Roman Abramovich's takeover in 2003, winning the first of their five Premier League titles in 2005 - the year Wright joined - and their first European Champions League in 2012.

With the likes of Branislav Ivanovic, Cesar Azpilicueta and Filipe Luis ahead of him in the pecking order, Wright faced an uphill battle to break through.

However, Wright, who was born in England, did sign two professional contracts with Chelsea and says his time in west London was "a great experience".

"Chelsea have one of the best academies in the world, and to be in that kind of environment developed me as a player and a person," he added.

Kevin Wright in action for ChelseaWright was a fixture in Chelsea's youth teams but could not break into the first-team picture

"I know so many boys used to come on trial and they didn't get signed. For me it was more enjoying the process, enjoying the journey and working hard and pushing my way as far as I can.

"I was still hungry for more. Unfortunately I didn't get into the first team, but I learnt and experienced a lot."

Wright did occasionally rub shoulders with the big names in the Blues squad, with former England captain John Terry among those who offered advice.

"Most of the senior players were very helpful and the one that did the same journey as the boys in the academy was John," he said.

"He used to tell us the things we need to do - the little things about working hard, being consistent, fighting to try to make it to the first team. I did learn a lot from John, mostly his work rate. He used to say about how he stayed out longer in training doing extra sessions."

Wright is in touch with one current Chelsea player, counting defender Antonio Rudiger - whose parents are from Sierra Leone - as "a mentor".

Making it in Scandinavia

Kevin Wright in action for OrebroWright (left) has played in Sweden since 2018

After leaving Chelsea, Wright had brief spells with League Two's Carlisle United and Norwegian side Fredrikstad in 2017 and the following year he transferred to Sweden, where has been playing ever since.

He started in the second tier with Degerfors before moving to the top flight, where he featured for Orebro for three seasons. Last month, he completed a switch to IK Sirius on a two-year deal.

While he may not have envisaged moving to Sweden, he feels he had to demonstrate his quality on the pitch.

"At Chelsea I knew about Germany and Spain, those kinds of leagues, but Sweden was not really in the picture," he said.

"It turned out quite good for me. I had to go and prove myself, and [show] I can adapt to that style of football. You have to be willing to sometimes take steps back, even if you feel like it's a little bit under your level.

"You need to show it's under your level - to be the best player in that setting. I feel like I did in the second division, and that was how I got bought by a top-division team in Sweden."

Dreams of the Bundesliga or England

Wright has adapted to life in Scandinavia but, given his upbringing at Chelsea, he retains hopes of moving to a bigger European league.

"Sweden is a really nice country and playing abroad I can really focus on football with not much distraction," he said.

"Living in Sweden made me fulfil my potential but my dream is not to end my career in Sweden.

"I want to use Sweden as a stepping stone, a place where I can showcase my abilities. Playing in one of the top five leagues in the world was my dream from a young age. That is still my dream and I think it's a very achievable dream.

"I just need to do my best in the setting I'm in now and be one of the best players. I know from there I can definitely push on and play in a bigger and better league.

"The league I'm aiming to play in is the German Bundesliga, or for a good team in England in the Premier League or the Championship, I think this is an achievable goal and I feel I would have done really well for myself."

Hopes of another Nations Cup with Leone Stars

Kevin Wright (right) in action for Sierra LeoneWright was an ever-present on Sierra Leone's return to the Nations Cup finals earlier this year

Wright decided to play for his parents' homeland Sierra Leone in 2020 and has won six international caps, including all three matches at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon earlier this year.

The West Africans returned to the continent's showpiece for the first time since 1996, but failed to progress from their group despite draws with defending champions Algeria and two-time winners Ivory Coast.

The Leone Stars await the qualifying group draw for the 2023 Nations Cup, which will be held on Tuesday.

"I feel like the Afcon in Cameroon really sparked something in us, in the players and in the country," he said.

"I feel like we show the country that we can compete at the highest level. Sierra Leone was seen in a positive light and that inspired many people to go on and dream and try to do big things.

"As we've played against the best, we've shown that we can compete against the best. We played Nigeria [in qualifying], Algeria and Ivory Coast and we held our own. We played well and I thought we could have even won these games.

"A few years ago playing against these big teams we would go to these matches as underdogs but now we've shown to the world that we can compete at the highest level and we can beat anyone. I'm very confident that we'll be in the next Afcon."

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