Levi Colwill is the archetypal modern-day defender. Don’t ruin him, Chelsea…

John Nicholson
Levi Colwill on his England debut.
Levi Colwill made his England debut against Australia.

Levi Colwill made the first of what Johnny Nic reckons will be many England starts on Friday night. Here’s ‘What’s So Great About…’ the Chelsea defender…

Who’s this then?
Levi Lemar Samuels Colwill is a 6’2” Southampton-born central defender for Chelsea, aged just 20 who made his full England debut this week after winning the Euros with the England Under-21 team last summer without conceding a single goal.

In 2011, while he was just eight years old, he joined Chelsea’s academy, eventually making his full debut for the club this season, 12 years later.

He was sent out on loan (who isn’t at Chelsea?) in 2021-22 to Huddersfield to get some game time. He played 32 times for the Terriers and scored a couple too, helping them to the Championship play-off final, which they lost to Nottingham Forest 1-0. He missed games through ankle, knee and hip knackage and the following season, the Blues sent him on loan to Brighton in the Premier League.

His debut was the opening day 2-1 win at Old Trafford and he quickly developed a good working relationship with Lewis Dunk, helping the club to their highest ever league finish of sixth, impressing everyone with the quality and nature of their football. He only played 22 times due to injuries but impressed highly. Playing for England U-21 and winning the Euros alerted him to the football world more widely, the fact they didn’t concede a single goal in the tournament only added to his reputation.

Brighton wanted to sign him up and offered the Blues £30million. This made Chelsea, who were busy running around with their head up their own arse, realise that actually they had an excellent player on their books and considering they had finished 12th, 18 points behind Brighton, they should probably keep him and actually play him. So they gave him a new six-year contract and he’s made 10 appearances for them so far, turning out for his first full cap against Australia on Thursday.

Levi Colwill in action for Chelsea against Burnley.

Why the love?
You don’t get to play in Roberto De Zerbi teams unless you’re comfortable on the ball and Levi certainly is. At 20, he’s a thoroughly modern defender, charged not only with the traditional skills of heading crosses and booting it away from the goal, but also being an attack starter. While he’s played the majority of games as a central defender, he can play on the left as well, which is useful if you want to play a back three. He played at left-back for England and didn’t look as comfortable as he does centrally which probably reflects he doesn’t always play there.

He has yet to play a full 38-game season for anyone and that must be his next big test. It’s one thing to look really good in a couple of dozen games, it’s another to do it season in and season out. At 20 he’s obviously got his best days ahead of him but safe to say he’s been on the ‘yeah he’s a classy defender’ radar for a couple of years already.

The other week I featured Lewis Dunk in this column and like him, Levi is exactly the sort of defender that a modern progressive team needs. Someone who is not frightened of the ball, plays facing away from his own goal and can spot a move-starting pass as well as being a physically imposing figure.

I don’t know how this works, but you can just spot a player – in this case, a defender – who looks comfortable on the ball and gives you a sense that they are in control. It’s a metaphysical thing, but some players look like the ball is alien to them, while others like Colwill look like the ball is their friend. This makes him ideal for the ‘playing it out from the back’ method of play that is so fashionable. Like his partner last season Dunk, this is a role he’s been coached and grown into and it’s a fascinating progression to see someone who, let’s face it, was probably picked as a defender in youth football because he was tall, become a far more complete player.  At just 20 he’s got years to develop his game even more.

 

Three great moments
Ignore the YouTube hyperbole. He wasn’t AMAZING, but he did look very in control…

His season at Brighton had a lot of highlights…

It’s been a good start to his Chelsea playing career…

 

Future days?
Given he’s already missed 23 games in his short career with torn muscles, ankle and knee knack, he needs to establish himself in the Chelsea defence and play a full season. Given he’s on a Todd-tastic six-year deal, he can assume, possibly rightly, possibly wrongly, that he’s part of their long-term plans now that they’ve realised he’s any good. That said, Chelsea do give the impression of being barely managed chaos and it’s to be hoped their fluctuating form doesn’t drag him down, and that’s not entirely impossible.

Despite not having a stellar game, and picking up a yellow card, he didn’t look especially out of place playing for England, though placed at left-back and thus not in his best position. And he’s definitely the sort of defender that Gareth Southgate likes. Whether he can establish himself a regular starting slot will largely depend on his club form and who Southgate’s successor is.

It seems likely that his upward curve will continue. He has picked up 12 yellow cards in his 113 appearances, though none has turned red to date. That might be an area he’d like to improve on. It did, for a moment, look as though he could be wound up when he picked up a yellow against Australia for a bit of the old laughing-not-laughing shovey-shovey. Likewise his three goals and six assists could be radically increased. But we are talking about a young player here who has almost his whole career ahead of him. Already marked out as ‘one for the future’ it seems almost certain that in a couple of years time, he will be an England regular.