Conor Gallagher’s debut at Crystal Palace on loan earned him his first call in England, but his return to Chelsea this season and his fight for his place in a deeper pool of talent have threatened to turn his nascent international career upside down. After being a part of every team since his debut, he was suddenly demoted to the Under-21 category in September. The chance to play in the 2022 World Cup has come further than at any point in the past year.
And yet, despite only making eight starts since returning to Stamford Bridge and Chelsea’s wider tackles, he’s made the cut. When asked to give a percentage probability of being on a Qatari flight in a pre-squad statement, Gallagher turns down the opportunity – “I’m not very good at math” – but admits they’re weak.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect it,” she admits. “I was on the physio bench to prepare for the training. It was 11 o’clock and we were training at 12. I got a message and I was just buzzing. I am so honored to receive this message and show the manager’s faith in me and I cannot thank him enough.”
In a way, Gallagher’s relegation to the Under-21 category may have made all the difference. Gareth Southgate values character as well as talent, and he and his team were impressed by the 22-year-old’s response to this setback. Gallagher had no kicks or tantrums, just two mature and professional performances, including the goal he scored in their 3-1 win over Germany.
“I thought about it and if I didn’t go and do my job properly and go play with the 21s, then I probably wouldn’t be here now,” he says. “It’s about doing things right and always working as hard as I can and playing as well as possible. Playing in those two games was a big factor for the U-21 back then.”
Gallagher has every right to think he was right in his decision, given concerns that staying at Chelsea could affect his World Cup prospects, but his international prospects were just one of several factors he should have taken into account.
“It was a small factor. It wasn’t a big factor because I had to think wisely and look at the whole season and my future,” he says. I am lucky.”
He also knows that this will only prove to be the right choice if he can hold on to a normal starting point. For now, he’s still a very extreme player.
“This is football. The road will never go up, there are always bumps in the road. I’m not saying I’m in a big bump just because I’m at Chelsea right now and I’ve been in and out of the team. I try to impress the manager as much as I can and play the best I can, so it’s all about continuing to believe in myself and keep playing the best I can, as I’ve done in my entire career so far. ”
Making an impact at a World Cup doesn’t hurt its purpose. Gallagher is fifth in England midfield after Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, Kalvin Phillips and Jordan Henderson, but Southgate believes his diverse skills mean he can open up new horizons by replacing any of these players. line-up that is not open to other members of the roster.
“I feel like I can bring energy forward and defensively as well,” he says. “Whatever position the manager plays me in, I will do my best to play right and be as effective as I can on the pitch. Whether it’s scoring a goal or trying to get the ball back, that’s what I can do.”
Gallagher profiles as the archetypal box-to-box, all-action English midfielder of yesteryear – the type of player who was ten cents twenty years ago but has been pushed aside by modern tactical trends. A style of play that can ask different questions to opponents and endear it to fans.
“Teams always have a few of these players and of course if I’m given a chance I will do my best to do it,” he says. “I always do my best to impress the whole country and the world.”
Still, he’ll need to be patient and make the most of the minutes that come his way.
Accepting and reconciling this is always a difficult but necessary thing for players in his position. Gallagher has already shown that he understands the value of knowing your place and working hard to develop it, thanks to his determination to succeed at Chelsea and his maturity when he fell into England’s age groups.
There are 26 players who want to play and only 11 can be on the field. “More than half of the kids will not start and people will be clearly disappointed, but they immediately got it into our heads that that would be the case,” she says. “If you’re on the bench, starting out, whatever, you have to stand by each other and help each other, because that’s how we’re going to win a tournament. That’s how important it is.”