The FA Cup some have said is a leveller and often full of upsets. Chesterfield midfielder Manny Oyeleke travels to his youth club European champions Chelsea in the third round of the FA Cup on Saturday.
Oyeleke has regained his foothold in football after his ‘rock bottom’ and is in love with the game again
Oyeleke’s mega-wealthy opponents on Saturday were the first club to give him a shot in the football world in 2002, a move that was simply ‘pure joy’ for the die-hard fan.
A few years into his time at Chelsea, players like Frank Lampard and John Terry watched his youth games from the sidelines, but his experience at the top didn’t go any further and he was sacked in 2008.
“It was really sad,” he recalls. “My mother was probably more emotional than I was. When I got to Under-10, Roman Abramovich took over and it became very different because players were coming from all over the world now. The competition was really fierce.’
“I developed my height and muscle quite late,” adds the now 5ft 9-inch midfielder. “I was quite small until about 15 or 16. If Chelsea had waited another year, it would have been good.
“They were concerned that I was coping with the physical challenges so that I wouldn’t get a new contract. I remember telling my mom to go to Argos and get some 100kg weights, but there were only 12 available.
“I just started hitting what I could. Push-ups, core workouts, dumbbells. Fortunately I was not told that I am no longer physical.’
Now the Chelsea megastars will see him attempt to inflict a ‘cupset’ on them at Stamford Bridge. But despite there being 90 places between the champions of Europe and Chesterfield in the English football pyramid, there is a case where the non-League side is also to be feared.
The Spireites top England’s fifth tier, losing just once in all competitions this season. The Derbyshire club also currently have the longest unbeaten run of anyone in the top five in England. It has been 14 games since they last lost a draw.
The 24-year-old striker has scored 18 goals in 20 league appearances this season and 80 goals since the start of the 2018-19 season more than any player in England’s top six, including Liverpool’s Mo Salah. Can he shock Chelsea today?