Jack Cork exclusive: Chelsea upbringing, learning on loan and why Burnley feels like home

From his upbringing at Chelsea, to learning curves on loan, Jack Cork explains why he now feels at home at Burnley

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After a childhood spent supporting them, and more than a decade on their books, Chelsea will always have a special place in the heart of Burnley midfielder Jack Cork. But home is not where the heart is, home is Turf Moor.

The boyhood Chelsea fan was often seen around the touchline at Stamford Bridge, fulfilling his ball-boy duties as a promising member of the club's academy. Cork would go on to captain the club at youth and reserve level, but that chance to emulate the players he'd sat just feet away from as a child never materialised.

With Frank Lampard, Claude Makélélé, Michael Essien and Michael Ballack - a star-studded list of midfielders at the peak of their powers - ahead of Cork in the pecking order, life on loan beckoned. It's a path many coming through the ranks at Chelsea have, and continue to, experience.

Chelsea's perceived overuse of the loan market as a means of providing game time for the stockpile of young talent on their books often draws criticism. Cork was sent out on eight separate occasions himself before leaving the club without a single minute of first-team football to his name.

jack cork
Image: Cork joined Chelsea's youth system as a nine-year-old

But, as the 30-year-old explains exclusively to Sky Sports, Chelsea's relentless pursuit to secure the very best opportunities for their young players has been priceless in his development.

From his very first loan and taste of senior football with Bournemouth in 2006, to two spells at Burnley that played a key role in his decision to move to the club permanently in 2017, without the loans, he would not be the player, or person, he is today.

"It would have to be the first one," Cork replies, without a moment's hesitation when asked to recall his favourite loan spell. "When I look back at it, and how much fun it was, what a great experience it was.

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"I went with Ryan Bertrand at the time and spent two or three months there [at Bournemouth] when I was 17. I don't think many players would get that opportunity to go and play for clubs at 17.

Jack Cork
Image: Cork spent two spells on loan at Bournemouth in 2006 and 2007

"I remember the first trip we went on. We didn't even train, we went straight to Swansea away, stayed in a hotel and [the manager] Kevin Bond put us straight in the team.

"We didn't win, but it was a great experience playing at the Liberty Stadium. Going from nothing and having played a few reserve games at Aldershot to playing at a big stadium was crazy.

"I couldn't have been at a better club for all the opportunities Chelsea gave me. The clubs I got sent on loan to were unbelievable and I probably wouldn't have got those opportunities if I was at a club lower in the league or that wasn't as fashionable at the time.

"That side of it was unbelievable, I couldn't recommend it any more to young players coming through. There are opportunities available there if you don't make it through to that first team. Going on loan was something I loved doing, it changed who I was as a person and a player."

jack cork
Image: Cork made his Premier League debut while on loan at Burnley in 2010

Cork adds: "I had two unbelievable spells at Burnley. The first year we were in the Premier League, we ended up being relegated but it was a great chance for me to play in the league I'd always dreamed of playing in.

"I got that experience and when the club went down to the Championship, they wanted to sign me again and I really wanted to go back and help get them promoted, I thought they had a good chance, but it didn't work out, unfortunately.

"I had two-and-a-half seasons at Swansea and an offer came in from Burnley. Paul Clement was the manager at the time, he was looking at signing a couple of players and asked if I'd be up for going and I was.

"I spoke to Sean Dyche, he outlined his plans for the club, and it was a no-brainer for me to join again."

The Clarets collective

jack cork
Image: Cork celebrates Burnley's victory at Old Trafford in January

Cork has experienced his fair share of football clubs and philosophies throughout his eight-club career, but what makes Burnley so special?

"Burnley is a bit of a home for me," he explains. "I made my first appearance for this club about 10 years ago, I've got a massive link with the club throughout my career and a big link with all of the fans here.

"I just enjoy being here. Sometimes you go to places and they just feel like home, that is what it feels like at the minute. Everyone at the club, especially this manager and his staff, have been great for me.

"Sometimes in football, you can be involved in dressing rooms where things don't feel right but at Burnley it does. It's nice to go in every day knowing everyone is going to work their hardest, give everything on the pitch and that's it's an honest group."

The fact Cork feels at home at Turf Moor should come as no surprise. The midfielder prides himself on his selfless performances and putting the overall cause ahead of personal acclaim, characteristics which typify the collective atmosphere Dyche continues to cultivate at Burnley.

Jack Cork

"I always put the team in front of myself," he says. "I always try to be consistent, competitive and try to give everything on the pitch.

"I don't get as many goals or assists as I would like to get, but I will always be the one on the pitch trying to get everyone going, making sure they are working their hardest and being that consistent model in the centre."

Cork's qualities and attributes that have come to the fore at Turf Moor were sculpted, in part, to his first-hand exposure, both in a playing and coaching capacity, to one of the greatest midfielders to play the game.

"When I was at Chelsea, there were a lot of good midfielders - Lampard, Essien, Ballack," he says. "I used to play centre-half or in the holding role for Chelsea and, at the time, Claude Makélélé was the one there.

Claude makelele
Image: Claude Makélélé coached Cork during his time as Swansea assistant manager

"Luckily enough, when I was at Swansea, Paul Clement brought in Makélélé as his assistant manager and it was so surreal. When you are in the youth team, you look up to these players but all of a sudden, I went to talking to him every day and he would tell me to do this or that.

"It was great to have that model to look at, he played so many games, won loads of trophies and was this great player that had a role named after him."

'I just want to keep going'

during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Burnley at Stamford Bridge on August 12, 2017 in London, England.
Image: Cork in action for Burnley against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge

Ultimately, Chelsea never reaped the rewards of developing Cork into the Premier League footballer he is today, and his childhood aspiration of walking out at Stamford Bridge in the club's iconic blue kit remains unfulfilled.

It may never come to fruition, but Cork has forged a career that has seen him secure the next best thing on a consistent basis.

"I was gutted I didn't get to play for Chelsea," he adds. "I was a ball boy there since about eight or nine, I used to go to all the games and would have loved to have played for them. But I got the chance to play there eventually with a lot of other clubs and it just as special doing that.

"If you'd have told me at 16 or 17 my career would be like this, I'd have been absolutely over the moon and taken it straight away.

"It's been great so far and I just want to keep going, playing as many games as I can and keep helping Burnley. If the season continues, we're in a good position to try and have a really successful year.

"Two years ago we qualified for Europe in seventh place, maybe this year there will be more places available for Europe. If we can keep pushing, that would be a great aim."

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