To say there’s goalkeeping depth at Chelsea is an understatement. With three first team squad goalkeepers, three reserve, and two Under-18 with an England Under-17 international still in the schoolboy ranks AND Matej Delac to join some time in the next two years, there’s a lot of competition for places both now and for the future. Sam Walker, who turned 18 earlier this month, is one impressing more than most.

Sam joined Chelsea just over two years ago from Millwall, at a time when the South London club were being pillaged by Premier League clubs North and South for their best talents. Then a 15 year-old, he played briefly in the Under-16 team with the occasional Under-18 outing, but he was still quite raw and inexperienced and it showed. Last season was his first full-time scholarship year (his early season birthday meant that he spent much of his 16th year on schoolboy terms) but with Aldi Haxhia, Niclas Heimann and Jan Sebek all demanding playing time, he played as an overager in the Under-16s again, just to get football.

Then came the turn of the year into 2009, when things really started going his way. With Carlo Cudicini’s departure to Tottenham and Rhys Taylor’s early year concussion, there was a need for a third goalkeeper on first team matchdays, and an opening in the Reserve team. With Heimann and Sebek filling these almost on a rotation basis, it gave Sam the chance to make the Under-18 starting berth his own. He did just that, and although his performances were improving, there was still the question of the team conceding far too many goals, with their first and only clean sheet of the season coming three games from the end of the campaign.

During pre-season Sam signed a professional contract and with last year’s competitiors (Haxhia aside) now overage, the starting job in the academy team was most definitely his. Friendly action showed him to be in decent form but the team continued to leak goals. When the real competition started though, we saw a different team, and a different Sam. So far this season he has kept two clean sheets and only conceded nine in seven games. Those statistics are made even more impressive when you note that Dermot Drummy’s defence has often been makeshift and featured attacking midfielders at full-back quite often.

It’s not just the statistics though, it’s the performances. Sam has been outstanding all season and has made world class saves in the majority of games. Drummy used that term for the Coventry away fixture but they can also be applied to the Bristol City, Fulham and Watford fixtures. Catch highlights of the academy fixtures on Chelsea TV’s ‘Inside the Academy’ and you’ll see first hand.

In an interview with the official Chelsea magazine this month he spoke of his development, particularly his communication with his defenders. This season it is far more noticeable how loud and confident he is, and it’s just another area of his game which is improving. He’s even growing physically – whilst he was a tall lad when he joined, he is now a gigantic 6’5″ (199cm) and may still grow, whilst his frame is filling out into an adult body too. He’s an imposing figure and a very good goalkeeper at academy level.

The next step for him is to progress to Reserve football, where there is much competition, but his performances so far suggest he will get there. It may not be this season, for he has a suspected broken foot having been seen on crutches with a foot brace, and that is a shame because he has been one of the team’s very best players this season. Sam has shown that he is progressing well and is displaying signs that he can be a top class goalkeeper one day. If there’s a position at Chelsea which is well set for the future it’s definitely in goal, and Walker is leading the way.

Read CFCnet tomorrow for a look at another of this season’s key performers so far.