Danny Drinkwater says he is relieved his Chelsea nightmare is finally over after admitting he wasted some of what could have been his best years as a footballer.
The 32-year-old, who was a key figure in Leicester City’s title-winning side during the 2015/16 season, moved to Chelsea in 2017 for £35m, signing a five-year contract at Stamford Bridge.
However, the move did not work out for Drinkwater, who was left on the sidelines for much of his time at Chelsea and saw his career stall, making just 23 appearances for the club, scoring just a single goal.
Those difficulties are now over for Drinkwater, who was released by Chelsea this summer, and speaking exclusively to Sky SportsNewsthe former England international is just pleased he can now look forward as he looks to get his career back on track.
“I’m relieved, because it’s clear it wasn’t a situation that was good for me or the club,” Drinkwater replied, when asked about his Chelsea exit.
“I’m angry because of how it’s gone and how I was treated – not bitter though, what ifs. It was a long time coming.”
I can’t blame the club. And to a point I can’t even blame myself. There’s more I could’ve done, but there’s a lot of ifs. I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault.
Drinkwater, Sarri clash on Deadline Day
Drinkwater’s tumultuous time at Stamford Bridge was perhaps best typified by an exchange with then Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri at the 11th hour of the 2018 summer transfer window.
Speaking through an acting translator, and assistant manager, Gianfranco Zola, Sarri somewhat unceremoniously told the midfielder he did not form part of his plans, leaving Drinkwater with an hour to find a new club.
“It got to the last hour of the transfer window and [I] got pulled into the office, not expected at all,” Drinkwater explains. “‘Don’t think you’re going to be in our plans’. This is Sarri, being translated by Gianfranco. And I was like ‘what?’
“Sarri and I got on like a house on fire off the pitch. On the pitch, we were like chalk and cheese. I was like – ‘why are you telling me now? An hour before the window closes? I need time’. He replied, ‘No, no, we’ve got clubs abroad you can look at…’
“My reaction was – ‘No, I’ve got my young son. He is my priority’. So I decided to stay until January.”
When asked if he feels like he’s wasted the best five years of his career, Drinkwater added: “Yeah, it feels like ‘what have you thrown those five years away?’
“If you’d stayed at Leicester, if you didn’t get injured and if the club treated you differently. They’re all ifs. It’s frustrating, 100 per cent. Don’t think I’m still not burning about how it’s gone. I still kick myself for it. But on the other side, am I going to keep kicking myself, because I can’t change it.
“Can I help myself going forward? That’s why I went on loan, why I went to Aston Villa and Burnley on loan, which didn’t work, and going to Turkey at the age of 30 – I never thought I’d do that It’s also the reason I dropped down to the Championship. I’ve been trying to do the right things. As I’ve tried doing them, something’s gone wrong.”
‘I was lost’ – Drinkwater on mental health struggles
In what was a difficult time for Drinkwater at Chelsea, the midfielder has admitted he struggled with his mental health, especially when accusations of an easy life and that he was happy to not play were thrown his way.
Was he happy ‘living the life’? What was the reality? With his issues on the pitch coupled with a number of issues off it, Drinkwater revealed he was lost.
“That’s not true,” he said. “‘Living the life’ lasts about two weeks. You figure out you’re not involved in games, only training, so I could go out with the lads, I’m single, it’s great, I can do all this. I was loving it, but in the background, there’s always things that burn away.
“And as a person, if you’re not open enough to speak to the right people, it chews away at you. I didn’t learn that until further down the line. I was always like ‘I’m a big strong bloke , I can deal with this’.
“I was [suffering with mental health issues in 2019]. Nan passed, grandad passed, dad got diagnosed with Leukemia, I lost my dog and was drinking driving, which is just not me. I made a big mistake. I was also fighting for my son, which was going on constantly and takes its toll.
“I think when someone has too much to juggle, it can hit you. And it did hit me. And I was like ‘wow’, is this what it’s come to? And I was lost.”
He added: “When football is going well, everything else seems easier to deal with, but when this isn’t going so well, everything seems so heavy. I definitely think that’s the lowest I’d been.”
When asked if he received help, he said: “I didn’t think I was depressed, but I saw the sports psychologist and if I hadn’t, I definitely think it could’ve gone that way because I was just fighting and fighting , and it wasn’t helping anybody.”
Drinkwater focusing on the future
Despite the problems faced by Drinkwater following his Chelsea exit, he can now start to look to the future.
The midfielder spent last season in the Sky Bet Championship with Reading where he played 32 games, and it was a loan spell that helped Drinkwater regain his confidence and start to enjoy his football again.
“I joined Reading, and I expected to be flying after eight games, but after 20 games, I was like – what’s happening here? I still didn’t feel properly fit and I can’t get my sharpness. I felt like I wasn’t ‘t really benefitting the team…and I was like ‘Wow, has it gone? What’s happened?’
“Then you get a feeling back. The last part of last season, it was good. A new gaffer came in, and it was good. He helped me, and I felt I was helping the team. That’s probably the first time I’ d enjoyed football for years.”
What about next season? Where will Drinkwater be playing his football?
“There are a few offers flying about,” he said. “It’s a weird time for football, especially when you’re free to the market.
“That last season helped me massively, getting all those games under my belt, and hopefully the second half of the season showed I’ve still got the ability and hunger to push myself.
“There are options, it’s just about the decision. I love winning, so it’s a difficult thing to let go at this age.”