Armando Broja: The Ronaldo-inspired youngster who is soaring at Southampton

By Gary RoseBBC Sport
Armando Broja
Armando Broja has scored five Premier League goals this season - as many as Chelsea's £97.5m signing Romelu Lukaku

Chelsea's signing of £97.5m striker Romelu Lukaku in the summer was supposed to be the final piece in the Blues' title-winning jigsaw.

But Lukaku has struggled to make the expected impact, scoring five goals in an injury-affected season, and Thomas Tuchel's side now find themselves 10 points adrift of leaders Manchester City, having played a game more.

The Belgian is still the club's highest-scoring forward this season but they do have another attacker on their books who has hit the back of the net as often as Lukaku.

Instead of impressing at Stamford Bridge, however, he is catching the eye on the south coast.

A product of the Blues' famed academy, English-born Armando Broja is enjoying an excellent loan spell at Southampton.

The 20-year-old has five goals in 18 appearances - the youngest player to reach that tally in the current Premier League campaign - with the 6ft 2ins striker reaping the rewards of a decision to spend this term on loan at the Saints.

Football-mad from when he was a child watching clips of Brazil legend Ronaldo, Broja is living his dream on the big stage after emerging as one of the standout talents of the season.

Focused and driven from the moment he kicked a ball

Born in Slough to Albanian parents, football has been a part of Broja's life from as a long as he can remember.

He'd play regularly with his cousins, mum and aunt in the park as a toddler, and while he was part of the youth teams of professional clubs his dad would take him for extra one-on-one training sessions after he had finished work.

Broja was incredibly driven even as a child and at the age of six he had ambitions of playing for the best of the best.

"I went on a few trials with Reading," he said in an interview in 2019.external-link "It went well there and I enjoyed it but at the time I was searching for a bigger club."

A short spell in Fulham's academy followed before a key moment in his early development came when he was spotted by a Tottenham scout playing in a tournament with his local side Burnham Juniors.

"He [the scout] actually came to watch another player in my team but I ended up winning player of the tournament and he took me on instead, so I went to Tottenham and signed for them," Broja said.

But even at Spurs, that desire shone through. A huge Chelsea fan, he would do all he could to catch the eye of the opposition dugout whenever the two London clubs played each other.

"We played Chelsea a lot and they really liked me as a player, and that's when I joined the academy," he added.

Inspired by Ronaldo, aided by Flo

Ronaldo and Tore Andre Flo
Armando Broja watched clips of Brazil legend Ronaldo while growing up and was later mentored by ex-Chelsea striker Tore Andre Flo

Like most budding players, Broja has drawn inspiration from a number of players he watched growing up.

One of his earliest Chelsea memories was seeing Didier Drogba score, while his dad would play videos of Brazil legend Ronaldo when he was a child.

"He was just an unbelievable player," Broja said. "I watched so many of his clips. He was strong, fast, two-footed, he had everything. That's who I aspire to be like."

Broja joined Chelsea in 2009 and spent the next 11 years progressing through the club's ranks.

After scoring 18 goals in 30 appearances at youth level in the 2019-20 season, he was handed his first professional contract in February 2020 and followed that up soon after with his senior debut on 8 March, then boss Frank Lampard sending the 18-year-old on for the final four minutes of a 4-0 win against Everton.

Like many before him, Broja was then sent to gain more first-team experience with a season-long loan at Dutch side Vitesse, with former Chelsea striker Tore Andre Flo assigned as his mentor during his time abroad.

The two would converse regularly while Broja was in the Netherlands, with Flo providing feedback and guidance after each game he played.

The move proved a successful one as he scored 11 goals in 34 appearances, making him one of the top-scoring teenagers in Europe's top leagues.

Armando Broja
Armando Broja impressed during a loan spell at Vitesse in 2020-21

Albania over England

Broja has spent his entire life in England, but with both his parents and most of his extended family from Albania he chose to represent them when the opportunity arose.

His decision may also have been influenced by having not received any interestexternal-link from England at youth level, so in May 2019 he was called up for Albania's under-19s squad.

Broja scored on his debut - the third in a 3-1 friendly win over Kosovo - and barely a month later he was moved up to the under-21s, again making an immediate impression with a double on his debut at that level in a 2-1 win against Wales after coming on as a substitute at half time.

The youngster's international progress has continued to be as impressive as it was fast. He now has 10 caps at senior level and scored three goals during World Cup qualifying, including the winners in 1-0 victories against two-time World Cup finalists Hungary.

Soaring at the Saints

After enjoying a full season of senior football Broja was ready for more, but with a place in the Chelsea first team still unlikely he took the opportunity to join Southampton on a season-long loan in August to gain more minutes at Premier League level.

Given Ralph Hasenhuttl's willingness to give youth a chance - he's handed several teenagers their Premier League debuts in his three years as Saints boss - it has proven the correct move as Broja, along with ex-Chelsea youngster Tino Livramento - has flourished at the Saints.

How Broja compares to Chelsea's forwards
PlayerPremier League gamesGoals
Armando Broja 185
Romelu Lukaku165
Timo Werner111

After a slow start, Broja has really come alive and has an impressive 10 goals in 25 appearances for club and country, and his form at one stage led to some Chelsea fans calling for him to be recalled to challenge Lukaku and Timo Werner for a starting spot in attack.

He impressed against Manchester City on Saturday, showing his finishing skills with a fine strike before seeing his effort ruled out for offside.

As transfer deadline day approaches, Southampton are keen to sign the youngster permanently but such a move, at least in the short term, would see the life-long Chelsea fan have to put to one side his dream of making a name for himself at his beloved Stamford Bridge.

The next few days could be huge in Broja's fledgling career.

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