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Every professional footballer has sacrificed on the way to making their Premier League debut. Missed birthdays, weddings, funerals, the list goes on. They're bumps in the road and hundreds of athletes across the country have done it. What very few have done, however, is have that dream ripped away from them and battle to get a second chance. Sam Hutchinson's road was the bumpiest of all.
Back in 2007, then Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho had academy prospect Hutchinson in his sights. A local lad who gave his all for the club, Hutchinson was also a supremely talented football for his age.
There were some in the Blues hierarchy who saw the defender as a natural successor to John Terry. Certainly a big compliment considering Chelsea were the best team in England at the time and in the early years of the Roman Abramovich era.
Not many kids made the transition from Cobham to the first-team at that time.
Hutchinson was handed his debut against Everton in May 2007 and would sign a new contract in August 2007. This is when the first bump occurs. He'd play just three more times under that initial contract. In one of those games, he managed to provide an assist for Frank Lampard in a 7-0 thrashing of Stoke City. That just shows the promise he had.
The England youth international developed a chondral defect on his right knee. Chondral defects are usually caused by heavy blows and in essence, create a hole in your cartilage.
Mourinho would be gone by September 2007 but Chelsea weren't ready to give up on Hutchinson. Every manager that came and went knew they had a gem on their hands and would wait for him to get fit. Carlo Ancelotti even brought him on pre-season tour in the United States, despite most of his time Stateside being on the treatment table.
In August 2010, Hutchinson announced his retirement from professional football at the age of 21. He decided to stay and work with the academy while studying sports science at university.
Among those who paid tribute were Ancelotti and Terry, the man 'Hutch' had been compared to almost all his life. Terry said in a match programme soon after the announcement: "Sam will be top quality in whatever he does within football, you can just see that in him."
Naturally, a life-altering event like that will take its toll on your mental health. Hutchinson admitted himself to the Priory Clinic while trying to find a new life for himself.
"It wasn’t a big call [to retire] at the time because I hated it," he candidly told The Guardian in 2017. "I just wanted to stop the pain and stop everything. I never wanted to come back. I didn’t want to play for Chelsea either because I blamed them for it, even though it wasn’t [their fault], it was just what happened."
Not many would've predicted that'd be back on the pitch. Even fewer would've predicted he'd do it with Chelsea.
It took 16 months for Hutchinson to convince doctors he was able to take part in a game again. By then, longtime admirer Ancelotti had gone and Andre Villas-Boas was in the dugout. It was yet another manager to impress. He did just that.
Hutchinson had got the treatment he required in his knee and he came back with a point to prove.
The day he'd been waiting for came on April 29, 2012. Chelsea welcomed QPR to Stamford Bridge and Jose Bosingwa was filling in at centre back in place of the missing David Luiz. With nine minutes to go, interim manager Roberto Di Matteo looked to his number 27 and gave him a nod. The second debut was here.
Chelsea won the game 6-1 and what was noticeable throughout was Terry's almost paternal protection of Hutchinson. A warm embrace as he entered the game coupled with frequent chats throughout. It was a comeback story any fan could get behind, if they were a Blue or not.
Sometimes the journey outweighs the destination though. It was Hutchinson's final game in a Chelsea shirt and he went on loan to Championship side Nottingham Forest as well as Dutch outfit Vitesse... you knew they had to make an appearance somewhere!
Hutchinson's injury issues were still present, but he sealed a move to Sheffield Wednesday in 2014 after a successful loan spell. It was here he enjoyed most success as a professional, making over 100 appearances and hitting the 20 appearance mark in five of his initial seven seasons. During this time, Hutchinson had developed his game and was able to play in defensive midfield.
After being released via text message in 2020, Hutchinson swapped England for Cyprus and joined Pafos, who had only been formed six years prior.
He'd play just five games for Pafos before sensationally terminating his contract in December 2020.
By the end of January, he was back at Hillsborough and trying to keep Wednesday in the Championship. It was mission impossible though and they went down in last place despite taking the relegation battle to the final day.
It would've been easy for Hutchinson to walk away and think he's above League One. Any other player might've done, for a better offer elsewhere. But Hutchinson was determined to help the club that helped him all those years ago.
He signed on for another year and helped Wednesday to the playoffs and a semi-final clash with Sunderland.
The Black Cats would end up winning the tie thanks to a late Patrick Roberts goal and it meant Wednesday would remain in the third tier.
At the age of 32, Hutchinson decided to walk away for perhaps the final time in his career. He's currently a free agent and it's unknown if he'll have a club to start next season with.
One thing is for certain. He's overcome tougher battles before.
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