Growing up in the south London borough of Lewisham, football was just a hobby for Marc Guehi. Something to enjoy on the weekends, not anything he envisaged making a career from.
At home, education and faith came first. That was the message from Guehi’s parents, who brought him to London aged one from the Ivory Coast. They were unwavering, even after he was scouted by Chelsea at U8 level, playing for local Bromley-based club Cray Wanderers.
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It is these values which have helped to keep Guehi grounded in a year that has seen him become a Premier League regular with Crystal Palace and an England international.
“There’s a priority in life,” Guehi exclusively tells Sky Sports ahead of Crystal Palace’s Monday Night Football encounter against Liverpool, “you’ve got your family, you’ve got your morals as well.
It hurt a lot just because I was there for such a long time. It’s such a different feeling leaving there and not going back to where you’ve been for so long. But in order to grow, sometimes you have to take the hard choice and take the hard path sometimes. Marc Guehi on leaving Chelsea
“For my parents when they said put education first, that was really important because we didn’t know how far football could take us, or if it was the right avenue for us to take at the time.”
It was not until later on, at around 15 years old, that Guehi realised he could make something from football. “I just listened to my parents and did what I had to do,” he says, “and then things happen in life where you take your own path and end up playing for Chelsea and going right the way through.”
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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s win against Crystal Palace in the Premier League.
Guehi’s modesty shines through as he speaks to Sky Sports at Crystal Palace’s sun-soaked south London training ground. “I don’t remember being better than anybody”, he says of his time at Cray Wanderers as a youngster.
He showed enough to convince Chelsea he was worth the investment, though.
Overcoming doubt to succeed at Chelsea
Image: Guehi was picked up by Chelsea at U8 level
Guehi was part of Chelsea’s record-breaking U18 team coached by Jody Morris that won a quadruple of trophies in 2018. Also in that side were Reece James, Conor Gallagher and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
A year prior, he had lifted the World Cup with England’s U17s in India, scoring the Young Lions’ fourth goal of the final as they came from behind to beat Spain 5-2.
However, with all of these successes came moments of uncertainty for Guehi. “I wouldn’t say it was smooth”, he says of his pathway through the ranks at Cobham.
“There were times when I definitely felt like I shouldn’t be here. Sometimes you have doubts in your head. Thankfully, I had a supportive family, good people around me to help me to keep going and keep enjoying what I do.”
Image: Guehi faced Man Utd in his final Chelsea appearance
Guehi was handed two starts in the Carabao Cup by Frank Lampard in 2019, but they would prove to be his only senior appearances in the blue of Chelsea.
A loan move to Swansea – and a reunion with former England U17 head coach Steve Cooper – materialised at the start of 2020. Guehi’s two spells in south Wales were ultimately the catalyst for his eventual departure from Chelsea.
‘Taking the hard path’ out of Chelsea
Image: Guehi had two loan spells at Championship side Swansea
A taste of professional football had given Guehi clarity over his future.
“It’s great to go through the ranks at the youth team and play those games,” he said, “but when you go out there, and you’re playing for something, playing for fans, playing for three points and it’s really important.”
Guehi made his intentions clear to Chelsea and an £18m move to Palace was sanctioned in the summer of 2021. The boy from Lewisham was returning to south London.
He was also leaving the place he had called home for 14 years.
“It hurt a lot just because I was there for such a long time,” he said. “It’s such a different feeling leaving there and not going back to where you’ve been for so long. But in order to grow, sometimes you have to take the hard choice and take the hard path sometimes.”
Image: Guehi has become one of the most impressive passers from deep in the Premier League
Chelsea may have been willing to let Guehi go, but they knew his value. The deal for the centre-back included future sell-on incentives and a matching clause. There was no doubting his potential.
Finding the ‘right place’ at Palace
Image: Patrick Vieira’s exciting project at Palace enticed Guehi to return to south London last year
Making the decision to leave Chelsea was tough. Picking Palace, though, proved a more straightforward task for Guehi.
“I felt, coming off the back of playing so many games at Swansea, I just wanted to carry on my development,” he says. “I felt like Crystal Palace was the best place for me to go and do that.
“They’re offering Premier League football, and I’m coming to a club that’s so stable within the Premier League.”
He would arrive as head coach Patrick Vieira’s third signing of the summer, as he began to overhaul the ageing squad he had inherited from Roy Hodgson with promising youngsters.
“Obviously, with the manager coming in and so many changes happening at the club, I felt it was the right place for me to come to,” adds Guehi.
The defender’s first season at Selhurst Park would show just how right he was.
Adapting to the Premier League
Vieira had no apprehension about throwing Guehi straight in to the first-team – even without Premier League experience.
He quickly became an integral part of a Palace side that comfortably finished 12th and reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup, forming a solid partnership with Denmark international Joachim Andersen at centre-back.
Guehi was ever-present for Palace, starting in all but two of their 44 matches last season. He also established himself as one of the division’s best distributors, ranking in the top 10 for forward passes and passes completed.
Asked how he rated his first season in the Premier League, Guehi’s modesty was evident once again.
“I thought my individual performances were okay,” Guehi said. “I don’t want to – I don’t like going overboard, but I thought they were okay.”
Few can boast a temperament so measured at 22 years of age, Guehi is clearly just getting started.
Living a quiet life away from social mediaImage: Guehi made his mark at Palace in his first season
Adapting to the life of a Premier League footballer can be tough for the best of players. The increased scrutiny, fame and workload is enough to overwhelm anyone.
Guehi has not been drawn to the life of stardom, though. He keeps his head down and tries to drown out the noise.
“I’m living a quiet life,” he says. “I just come to train, play and try and do the best I can. I think I’m dealing with it quite well.
“I’m not on social media, so I don’t really see anything anyone says about me.”
Asked to explain, he adds: “I had it before when I was a bit younger. I did it because I wanted to be more productive around the house, and stuff like that.”
Few young footballers share Guehi’s maturity. It is a quality which has not gone unnoticed by Palace boss Vieira, who has no problem entrusting the young defender with the captain’s armband.
Being a natural leader: ‘I just try to be myself’Image: Guehi reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup with Palace last season
It was Guehi who led Palace out on the opening night of the Premier League against Arsenal last Fridayin the absence of Luka Milivojevic. “It’s a privilege to have that responsibility at such a young age,” he said.
Guehi was also named captain of England’s U21s in September by head coach Lee Carsley.
Leadership comes naturally to Guehi. But what kind of leader is he?
“I don’t try to be this leader or a massive figure,” says Guehi. “I just try to be myself, and I think that’s where it comes from.
“I try to do what’s important for me first and make sure what I’m doing is right. I think if people follow that, that’s really good.
“But I’d say I’m quite personable. I try to check up on people and see if they’re okay, and stuff like that.”
Guehi is showing all the characteristics that England manager Gareth Southgate is looking for.
England and the World CupImage: Guehi has three England caps so far
Guehi has been picked for the two latest England squads. A good sign for the defender and his chances of going to the World Cup in Qatar in November. He knows exactly what is required.
“It’s clear when you are there, what they are looking for,” says Guehi. “You know they’re looking for players to be playing at a high level and consistently week in week out. I guess it then makes their decisions a lot easier.”
There has been no conversation with Southgate about the World Cup, according to Guehi. He’s focused on the things within his control. “The most important is Palace,” he said.
But even the mention of going to the World Cup with England is enough to make him light up.
“It would be the best feeling ever,” Guehi said. “Not many people get to say that they’ve done something like that, and so it would be a massive achievement and massive privilege to represent my country.”
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