Brentford's Josh McEachran: I turned down Real Madrid for Chelsea dream
Brentford midfielder Josh McEachran has revealed he turned down the chance to join Real Madrid when he was a highly regarded youth prospect on the cusp of a senior breakthrough at Chelsea.
Saturday's FA Cup fourth round sees McEachran, 23, return to Stamford Bridge as a player for the first time since leaving Chelsea for Brentford in a £500,000 deal last summer, having become disillusioned with a series of underwhelming loan spells and a lack of first-team opportunities.
In interviews with the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, McEachran recalled being coveted by some of the world's biggest clubs as he prepared to make his first-team debut at Chelsea under Carlo Ancelotti.
"Real Madrid and Manchester United came in when I was 16," McEachran said. "I could not believe it when my agent said 'Real Madrid want you.' Unbelievable, isn't it? Madrid had the contract waiting for me and they wanted all my family to fly over to sign a five-year contract, but I said, 'No, I want to stay at Chelsea.'
"I believed that I was going to make it [at Chelsea]. When I made my debut I thought, 'Ah, that was a good choice for me to say no to Real Madrid,' but looking back now maybe I should have [gone]."
McEachran made 17 Chelsea appearances in all competitions as a 17-year-old under Ancelotti, but was given just five more following the Italian's dismissal in May 2011, and then laboured on a succession of loans at Swansea City, Middlesbrough, Watford, Wigan Athletic and Vitesse Arnhem before joining Brentford.
He believes he could have fulfilled his potential at Stamford Bridge if the managers who succeeded Ancelotti had shown faith in him, but understands that the expectations at Chelsea make youth development more difficult.
"It's hard, isn't it? Terry is still the last one who has come through and played consecutive seasons [for the first team]," he said.
"Managers are under so much pressure, so to chuck a young English lad in, it's not easy. Or you sign a foreign player with experience. At 17 or 18, I was good enough to play for Chelsea. I still think I could play for Chelsea. It's just about the opportunity. You need confidence, I had that with Carlo.
"I do think the club wants to see a young English lad break through. They are desperate for it. Nathaniel Chalobah is getting another chance. He has always been a top player. I am hoping he does."
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.