This interview was first conducted by Rowan Farnham-Long in January 2009. This is the first time it has appeared on the web.
It’s been a funny season so far for Michael Mancienne. The 21-year-old defender returned to Chelsea in January following a loan spell at Wolves and a highly-publicised trip to Berlin with the full England squad, which had many pundits scratching their heads and questioning his credentials. But anyone who has seen Mancienne on the pitch will know that he is the real deal, and luckily for us, he is back at the Bridge and eager for action. In his own words: “It’s good to be back with the boys.”
Born in Isleworth, West London in January 1988, Mancienne seemed almost destined for a footballing future. His father, Michael Mancienne Senior, is widely regarded as one of the best players of all time in his native Seychelles and the younger Mancienne swiftly followed in his footsteps, albeit at a smaller stage to begin with.
Spotted by Chelsea aged just eight years old, Mancienne joined the club he supported as a boy and is now regarded as one of the best young prospects at the club, if not English football as a whole.
But fast-forward to the present day and Mancienne has not yet made a first-team debut for the Blues. Two loan spells at Queens Park Rangers in previous campaigns as well as this season’s stint at Wolverhampton Wanderers have temporarily quenched the centre-back’s thirst for football, and while Mancienne waits for his chance on the big stage, he acknowledges the practicality of the short-term moves.
“Obviously it’s good to be at Chelsea,” he explains, “but I want to be playing week-in, week-out.”
In late October, having only featured for Chelsea this season in three games as an unused sub, Mancienne was alerted to interest from Wolves’ manager Mick McCarthy, and the Blues’ number 42 was happy to hear what the former Republic of Ireland boss had to say.
Mancienne said: “I think Mick had been after me for a while and Chelsea finally agreed to it.
“I was meant to be going to Bristol City first, I went there and stayed in a hotel for one night basically, but I got called back because of injuries at Chelsea and after that I went to Wolves.
“I gained more confidence playing week-in, week-out and they are a good passing team at the top of the table so it was a good experience. It is good to have that pressure on to win games every single week.”
And while Wolves helped Mancienne further his footballing education, the benefits were reciprocal, with the Midlands outfit winning six games out of eight when the defender played. In fact, Mick McCarthy was so impressed, he allegedly compared Mancienne to German legend Franz Beckenbauer.
Mancienne’s calm, ball-playing style was also noticed by someone other than McCarthy, and in mid-November Mancienne was called up to the full England squad by national team manager Fabio Capello. Remarkably, Mancienne was invited to join the side in Germany, the home of Beckenbauer, and a potential place in the matchday squad against England’s old rivals. With defensive withdrawals leaving Capello short, he turned to Mancienne having watched the starlet in action for Wolves, and although it sent shockwaves across English football, the fact that the Italian was willing to gamble on Mancienne says a lot about the youngster’s ability. The call-up was still a bolt from the blue for the boy from the Blues however.
“It was a big surprise to me,” Mancienne said. “I got a call from Scotty [Sinclair] saying it but I did not believe it. He said he had heard rumours but I just thought he was talking rubbish!
“But an hour later I got calls from Frank Arnesen and people like that saying the same thing and that is how I found out. [My Dad] was absolutely buzzing, he was over the moon. He didn’t believe it; he thought I was joking around.
“It was really good; good just to be there to be honest. It is a similar kind of standard [to Chelsea] because there are so many international players here as well but it was just wicked to be there, a really good experience.
“It’s what you work towards as a footballer, to play for your country. It definitely helped being at Wolves because I was playing games and I was playing well, and that is why I was picked.”
Although he was an unused substitute in England’s 2-1 win over Germany – featuring a winning goal from the one and only John Terry – Mancienne returned to Wolves with positive feedback from Capello and an invaluable experience under his belt.
But when January rolled around, Mancienne was recalled by Chelsea despite talk of an extension to his loan at the Championship outfit. With the FA Cup kicking-off a busy month for the Blues who suffered untimely injuries to first-choice defenders Ricardo Carvalho and John Terry, it seemed that Mancienne would finally get his chance in the starting line-up. But one month on, and he’s still waiting.
Alex and Branislav Ivanovic have been preferred in the absence of Terry and Carvalho, leaving Mancienne as essentially the fifth-choice centre-back at the club. Nonetheless, Mancienne is diplomatic about his squad status, and is patient enough to wait for his chance to come along.
He said: “It has been my dream since I was a little boy, since I have been here, to play for Chelsea but obviously there are some top-quality centre-halves in front of me so it will be difficult.
“It is a good feeling to be back with such a strong squad, such a great squad as well, watching players like JT, Carvalho, and training with those kind of players who I can learn so much from.
“If I’m not sure about something then JT is really easy to approach, and I can go up to him and ask him what to do. Him answering helps anyway, but watching training and games, you learn enough from that.
“[Scolari] has spoken to me and given me a lot of positive feedback, he has said I have done well and he wants me in and around the squad. He has said he wants me in his plans for the future so that is good news.”
Chelsea’s determination to blood more home-grown talent in the near future coupled with Mancienne’s huge potential seems to hint that a debut is not far off. But Mancienne cannot wait forever, and with a contract which only runs until summer 2010 plus international ambitions, he is raring to go whenever Scolari makes the call.
“Every game that I sit on the bench I picture myself playing in it, so that I will be ready if I come on,” he points out.
“I strive under pressure, I welcome it. I just hope that they give me my chance because I believe in myself. I am happy to stay here, but you do have to play games though.
“I have just got to make sure that I take my chance. I have just got to see what happens.”
Enthusiastic, committed, extremely talented; Mancienne is undoubtedly one to watch. In fact, he sounds a lot like our last real home-grown defender, a certain John Terry. The indestructible man lining up alongside the infallible Mancienne in the near future could very well be worth the wait. It could even prove to be the future of Chelsea, but for now the composed Mancienne is willing to take one step at a time, starting with his first-team debut which he has strived towards since joining the Blues as a schoolboy. Hopefully he won’t be kept waiting much longer.