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Conor Gallagher wants to make the most of his surprise spot in England’s World Cup squad after admitting he is fortunate to be in Qatar.
A product of the Chelsea youth system, the talented 22-year-old was farmed out to Charlton, Swansea and West Brom before joining Crystal Palace on loan last season.
Gallagher flourished in south London and was named the Eagles’ player of the year by supporters, but life since returning to Chelsea has been less straightforward for the four-cap midfielder.
A lack of minutes saw him drop back into the England Under-21s squad in September, adding to his sense of surprise when he got a message on the physio bed last Thursday that he was in Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad.
“I didn’t really expect it, but obviously I was hoping there was a chance,” Gallagher said.
“I kept hope and when I got the text I was so proud and honoured.
“I told my dad first. Always. He’d always be the first person I’d tell that amazing news to because he’s my biggest fan, and my biggest inspiration.”
Asked if he feels a bit lucky to be in the squad given the competition, he said: “Yeah, like I said, I was a little bit surprised.
“I’ve not played consistent football with Chelsea and as a team Chelsea have not played great this season – we’ve definitely got a lot to improve and I am sure we will.
“But I am very grateful and honoured that the England manager has showed his belief in me and saw what I can do when I’ve played for Chelsea this season and obviously last season as well.”
Gallagher has played 18 times in all competitions for Chelsea this season but has only made eight starts in a challenging campaign for a club that replaced manager Thomas Tuchel with Graham Potter.
Restricted opportunities were always likely in west London given the quality of midfield competition at Stamford Bridge – something he was always aware could hamper his World Cup hopes.
“A lot of people would have said that if I didn’t go back to Chelsea and I was at a team where I’d play week in, week out I would have had more of a chance,” Gallagher said.
“Maybe I haven’t played as much football as I’d like, but I am at Chelsea, my dream club, the team I always wanted to play for, and I am trying to prove myself there and impress the manager as much as I can.
“Lucky enough to be called up for the World Cup. It’s a great feeling, but all focus now is on here and training as hard as we can to get ready for the games.”
Gallagher’s mindset and drive is among the reasons Southgate selected him for the World Cup, with his reaction to dropping down to the Under-21s earning praise from the England boss upon his recall.
“I thought about it and you’ve got to think if I didn’t go and do my job properly and go and play with 21s games, then I probably would not be here now,” he said.
“Gareth said in his press conference how impressed he was with that.
“It’s just about doing things right and always training as hard as I can and playing as well as I can when possible.
“Back then, playing in them two games for the Under-21s was a big factor.”
Gallagher is now hoping to translate his success in England’s youth set-up to senior level, having been part of the triumphant Under-17s World Cup side in 2017 with Phil Foden.
“I’ve got amazing memories with every age group from Under-17s to Under-21s,” he added.
“Obviously, the Under-17s World Cup was a special memory and occasion for us and the country as well.
“I think it’s just me and Phil who were in that team who are in the squad now, so that’s special for us. Hopefully we can do it again.”