From the Handbook: Ethan Ampadu
This profile was originally published in the Scouted Football Handbook 2018, almost exactly two years ago. A lot has happened since, but this profile still gives an in-depth snapshot of the player and his skillset. You can download the digital version for free, here.
CAREER IN REVIEW
Ethan Ampadu’s year was one of dramatic change and brand new experiences. He started the year as an unused substitute in a League Two fixture. He ended the year as an unused substitute in a Premier League fixture. So much was crammed into the 358 days which separated those two moments. A brief synopsis of the year Ampadu experienced could read as follows: 10 senior domestic appearances, two senior international caps, and a permanent move from England’s fourth-tier to Europe’s top tier—oh, do not forget a 17th birthday in early September.
ETHAN AMPADU WAS THE FIRST 2000-BORN PLAYER TO REPRESENT CHELSEA IN ANY COMPETITION AND THIRD YOUNGEST WALES DEBUTANT OF ALL TIME: 17 YEARS AND 56 DAYS OLD
The 17-year-old was, and remains, a trailblazer. Only one Exeter City academy graduate had been capped at international level prior to Ampadu’s debut, against France, in November. He became Wales’ third-youngest international player in the process. His performance in his next international game, against Panama, suggested that the 17-year-old possibly possesses the potential to play a role of even greater tactical and technical responsibility. He leads by example, providing a subtle yet pivotal contribution to a collective performance in a manner which rarely seen from a teenager. At Chelsea, the 17-year-old has demonstrated leadership qualities of a more obvious nature: leading his defensive unit from a central position, communicating extensively with much older team-mates, with poise.
He became Chelsea’s first millennial Premier League player in December, subbed on by Antonio Conte in the final 10 minutes against Huddersfield Town. While he was scribing his name into trivia books, he was also starting games for three different Chelsea age groups in a plethora of youth and senior competitions.
It is hard to shake the lingering fear that this has all come too soon for a teenager who could very well have been preparing for an end of term school exam, rather than a second-leg of a UEFA Champions League knock-out tie against FC Barcelona. But that does not take into account the teenager nor the talent.
The Welshman is extremely mature; his talent is dynamic. Ampadu is a defensive-minded player that emphasises the impact a seemingly unflappable mindset can have on performances, be it across an entire 90 minutes, during a prolonged period of significant defensive entrenchment, or in a five second passage of play which appears insignificant, but could have been anything but.
STYLE OF PLAY
Ampadu has played most of his senior domestic career at centre-back, while his senior international career has been exclusively played in midfield. What is consistent in every senior appearance Ampadu has made to date is what his roles are responsible for within the collective structure: defensive phase, build-up phase, and an element of leadership. By acknowledging that Ampadu has only played 22 senior games, definitively predicting his future position is difficult and disingenuous. A plethora of factors play a part – coaching, physical development, opportunity, team requirements – and all are inherently hard to predict. His stand-out trait is his exceptional mentality. He carries himself as if he has played, at the very least, 10 times the tally he has. Nothing ever seems to faze, surprise or scare him. Ampadu translates that general approach into solving in-game situations of varying complexity and importance; this is where possessing such a mentality is of tremendous benefit.
His current physical profile means he has to have an extra something to compensate for the physical disparities which often manifest themselves within his outings – in his mental capacity, he has that. Ampadu does not even reach six-foot in height and his physique is what you would expect of a 17-year-old athlete: quite bony, a little gangly and, as yet, under-developed. His best physical attribute, at this time, is his change of pace over different distances. Needless to say, he has plenty of time to develop and fulfil his physical potential.
Chelsea are a well-drilled defensive unit. Players are aware of their roles and responsibilities which is a result of Antonio Conte’s intense coaching methods. Whenever he comes into the side to typically take up the central centre-back role in the trademark five-man defence, Ampadu is no different. As well as coaching, it underlines Ampadu’s tactical aptitude. Some of his traits are raw, as one would expect of someone with such deficit in top level experience, but they are compensated for by Chelsea’s systemic characteristics and his aforementioned mental maturity. He calmly manoeuvres himself within Chelsea’s compact defensive structures and usually takes up positions which give him and his team-mates the best opportunity to defend certain situations. His timing of interventions, whether it be a tackle, interception or an aerial duel, are accomplished and pragmatic. His methods are not flawless, but mistakes will expedite Ampadu’s learning process—especially in conjunction with Conte.
Ampadu’s good understanding of the game is evident in defensive and build-up phases across two positions. The way in which he uses the ball differs depending on his position, but what does not differ is his exceptional composure and technical competence. He wants to touch the ball whenever he can which is a great mannerism for a defensive-minded player. What also impresses regardless of his position is his capability to escape from precarious situations unflustered. Creating continuations and progressions from unlikely opportunities adds another dimension to the build-up phase. There are a couple of instances for Chelsea where Ampadu’s composure trumps an awkward situation, then enables him or team-mates to exploit a transitional situation that they otherwise likely could not. His roles when he plays in midfield are more diverse, as exhibited by his excellent full international debut against Panama last November.
The 17-year-old was adept at positioning himself in areas where he could make a difference in the way Wales progressed the ball from deep zones, utilising an impressive range of intelligent, purposeful passing. In defensive and transitional phases, he covered ground effectively as he tried to impact the ball; that was where his fluid mobility comes into its own. Combine that with his remarkable sense of serenity and it produced a performance only Joe Allen could replicate within the Wales squad.
FORECAST FOR THE FUTURE
It is ironic that the teenager finally receiving regular opportunities with Chelsea’s first-team is not even a product of their world-class set-up. It says a lot about Ethan Ampadu that he is the player Conte trusts, even possibly appreciates, the most. Those first-team opportunities will likely subside as the season approaches its terminal last knockings, but over 400 first-team minutes as a 17-year-old is a tally that should not be baulked at—especially once when you consider Chelsea, and Conte’s, inherent inclinations when it comes to integrating young players.
Welsh football has not produced talents of Ben Woodburn and Ethan Ampadu’s ilk in sometime, not since Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale at least. Following in the footsteps of two of Wales’ best ever players is an unfathomably difficult task, but, by some, it is what will be expected of Ampadu. Managing those expectations should be para-mount for the people he is surrounded by. Modern football is a hurricane which can engulf and destroy even the most imperturbable of young talents.