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  • Billy Wooldridge

Junior Tchamadeu: From being released at 16 to becoming Colchester United’s youngest ever starter

For many young, aspiring footballers, the threat of being released preys on the mind, and if the fears become a reality many see it as the end of a potential career in the game.

However 18-year-old Junior Tchamadeu is evidence that being released is not necessarily the end of the road.

“Everybody needs to understand in football that if it doesn’t happen in one place a door can open easily somewhere else. One team's decision isn’t going to be the same for all the others.” When Tchamadeu was released from Charlton Athletic in 2019, not even he would have predicted that a year later he would become Colchester United’s youngest ever starting player aged just 16 years and 349 days.

Growing up in Barking, East London, Tchamadeu remembers where it all started for his footballing career. “I started playing football when I was seven years old, my first grassroots club was Dagenham United, a local team. I was there for maybe two years until Under 9’s level when I went to Royal Falcons in a higher league.”

It was from grassroots football where he was scouted by Charlton Athletic, before signing for them at Under 11 level. “I think it (grassroots) deserves a lot of credit because sometimes you find hidden gems in players, it’s where you first find your love for football.”

The majority of footballers scouted in England are found when playing at grassroots level, showing just how important the amateur game is in the footballing pyramid, providing young, exciting talents a chance to express their ability in front of anyone.

It was when Tchamadeu signed for Charlton’s academy that the thought of making football a realistic future first came into his head. “That’s when you really think, ok you’ve now got the opportunity to go all the way.”

“I learned a lot from all of the coaches, they taught me a lot of what I know now. It really built my foundation to progress, so when it was time to move on I was able to take that knowledge from there to wherever I was going next and show everyone what I can do.”

Tchamadeu’s time to move on from Charlton came in late 2019. “At the end of the Under 16 season I wasn’t offered a scholarship, and obviously that was hard to take. But I didn’t have a lot of time to dwell on it, I had to move on from it and luckily Colchester United contacted my dad and offered me a trial.”

“I knew that just because I got released, it didn’t mean I couldn’t sign for a new club. I had that in my head and I just knew that I had to keep working hard and wait for my opportunity to come and when it did come, I had to take it, which is what I did.”

Tchamadeu certainly took his opportunity as Colchester offered him a scholarship to play for their academy. However it required the right back to move away from his home in London and into a host family. “It was a big change; I have to live with another family. There are little things, like I’m not eating the food I would’ve been eating at home. But it’s what you’ve got to get through to get where you want to be, it’s all about sacrifices in the end.”

The sacrifices have certainly been worth it for the 18-year-old who has already played 37 games for the Colchester first team and is now a match day squad regular for Wayne Browns’ League Two side.

The first team experience began just five months after Tchamadeu penned a deal with The U’s. He played the full 90 minutes in December 2020 in a 2-1 victory at home to Grimsby Town (the first game back with fans since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic) to become Colchester's youngest ever starter.

“It was definitely unexpected. In the long term my aim was to get in the first team, that’s what everybody’s aim is in the long term. I didn’t really expect it to come so soon within the first 6 months. It was a very big moment for me, with what I went through in terms of being released it was a huge relief.”

After the match, the Colchester manager at the time Steve Ball claimed that he didn’t tell Tchamadeu he would be starting until a few hours before the game so that he would have a nerve free sleep the night before.

However the nerves come on strong when the right back discovered he would be playing. “I was shaking a bit because it was something I didn’t expect at all. When he did tell me I was starting I was shocked, the players around me helped me calm down quickly as the game was in an hour or so, I didn’t really have time to be shaken up.”

“We had 1,000 fans at that game, so there was even more pressure to have a good performance. In the end I feel as though I had a very good performance.”

His good performance was rewarded in pre-season as Tchamadeu signed a new contract for Colchester, this time a 3-year professional one which he believes is his proudest moment in football as “it’s something I’ve been working towards since I started playing football. To be able to sign my first pro contract was just a great moment for me.”

Into the current season, Tchamadeu has played 19 times for The U’s who are currently looking to secure another season in League Two. “That’s the main goal, to make sure we’re safe for next season. With the squad we have, it isn’t what we should be fighting for but we’re in this position now so we can only deal with what’s happening now.” Colchester currently sit 20th; three places and eight points clear of the drop.

Colchester and Tchamadeu are next in action on Monday evening as they host top of the league Forest Green Rovers. On paper it would look like a very difficult challenge for Brown’s side, but with The Rovers winless in their last seven, the 18-year-old is confident his side can come away with all three points.

“We go into every game confident that we can get points and we know they’re not really on good form. Our performances over the last few games have been much better so even though we’re coming off the back of a defeat, the performance was still positive. We know what we’re capable of doing, so we go into the game knowing we can win and get something out of it.”

From being released by Charlton to just over two years later being 13 games away from reaching 50 appearances for Colchester, the future certainly looks bright for Tchamadeu who is showing that being released at a young age is not always the end of the story.

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