AT CHELSEA Dominic Solanke became one of the hottest young talents in world football.
Now, six years after his controversial exit from Stamford Bridge, the Bournemouth striker intends to show the Blues what they are missing at the Vitality Stadium today.
Dominic Solanke was a hot property as a Chelsea youngsterCredit: Getty Images – Getty
And Solanke’s former academy coach Adi Viveash is delighted.
Viveash, now assistant to Coventry boss Mark Robins, said: “When I look back on my decade at Chelsea, I’m still extremely disappointed that players who, in my opinion, were definitely good enough, didn’t come through — and he is one of them.
“At youth level, he was world class, phenomenal. I’m delighted to see what he’s doing now, because his talent should be at the highest level.
“I’m sure he looks back with a lot of pride on his time at Chelsea.
“I know he holds no grudges and respects the years of commitment from a tremendous academy.
“But he will want to score and do well in this game.”
Viveash drove a seven-year-old Solanke from Basingstoke to training and later was coach of Chelsea youth teams the forward spearheaded to domestic and European glory.
In 2014, Solanke scored two late goals in the second leg of the FA Youth Cup final against Fulham to earn a 7-6 aggregate win. Viveash said: “In the first leg we lost 3-2 and he didn’t have a sniff.
“We had another couple of good strikers on the bench.
“But he had always done it in the big games, I trusted my gut, and he was always the go-to player for me.”
Then-Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho claimed if Solanke and team-mates Izzy Brown and Lewis Baker didn’t become Blues and England stars, the Special One would be to blame.
Weeks later Solanke finished joint top scorer at the European Under-17 Championship, grabbing goals in the semi-final and final as John Peacock’s team lifted the trophy.
The following season, Solanke helped Chelsea retain the Youth Cup and contributed 12 goals in their Uefa Youth League title triumph.
Viveash said: “He destroyed teams at that level, even the best in Europe. For somebody so young to be doing that against players three or four years older was remarkable.”
Solanke made his first-team debut as a sub in a 6-0 Champions League win over Maribor in October 2014.
But after spending 2015-16 on loan at Vitesse Arnhem — during which Mourinho was sacked — things turned sour.
Jose Mourinho tipped Solanke for the topCredit: Corbis
Solanke was frozen out in a stand-off over a new contract and Viveash said: “He was portrayed really badly through that period but that certainly wasn’t him.
“When you can’t see pathways and you’re that good as a young player, you feel your future lies elsewhere.
“All this rubbish around money was unfair on him and his family.
“Players of that level demand a certain level of contract, he’s no different to anyone else.”
If that row and his impending move to Liverpool were preying on Solanke’s mind, he didn’t show it.
He scored four times as England won the 2017 Fifa Under-20 World Cup and earned the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player, a gong previously given to Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and Paul Pogba.
Andy Edwards, now an assistant coach of Three Lions youth teams, said: “His goals and performances across the tournament were top end.
“He was quiet but I always felt he had real self-belief.
A former Chelsea youth coach believes Mauricio Pochettino would have got the best out of SolankeCredit: News Group Newspapers Ltd
“There was a confidence in the way he carried himself.”
But those qualities have been tested since. Things did not work out at Liverpool and he did not set the world alight as his first 18 months at Bournemouth ended in relegation to the Championship. But he rediscovered his form, with 29 goals in the Cherries’ 2021-22 promotion campaign.
After playing his part in the club’s survival last season, Solanke has started this campaign with two goals and an assist in four games.
Viveash said: “His exit from Chelsea would have been difficult for anybody to handle.
“He has come through mentally stronger and rebuilt himself.
“Bournemouth deserve great credit. He is their go-to man, like he was for me at youth level.”
Despite spending more than £1billion on players in just over a year, Solanke’s old team Chelsea go into today’s game struggling for goals under Mauricio Pochettino.
Solanke has found his feet at BournemouthCredit: Rex
Viveash (below) said: “An English striker, of his age, with those Premier League games under his belt — looking at the teams Mr Pochettino picks, I’m sure he would quite like him.
“I would love to see Dom score and get a positive result — just for him, not any other reason.
“He is only where he should be, with the talent he has.
“He’s still not hit his prime.”