What makes Bournemouth signing Chris Mepham special?
By Dan Long
Last Updated: 24/01/19 5:36pm
It's easy to forget Chris Mepham is just 21 years-old. With the majority of his peers yet to break into first-team football, the defender has bucked the trend and, since his debut in January 2017, made almost 50 appearances for Brentford.
Not only that, around the same time, he was fast-tracked through the youth ranks of the Welsh national team, making a total of five appearances for the under-20s and under-21s, and is now a fully-fledged member of Ryan Giggs' squad.
Cherries boss Eddie Howe is a long-term admirer and was forced to cool his interest in the summer after seeing a £10m bid swiftly batted away by the Bees. It was the second time the Premier League side's advances were rejected, following a £5.5m offer tabled in last year's January transfer window.
The fact Howe has stuck to his guns and reignited interest for a third time has clearly struck a chord with Mepham - who signed for Bournemouth on Tuesday afternoon - so just why did the centre-back gain such attention? And does he have what it takes to play at the highest level? We take a look...
Style of play
Standing at 6ft3, the towering centre-back has been the focal point - alongside highly-rated partner Ezri Konsa, also 21 - of a youthful Brentford defence for much of this season. It is a defence, however, that has faced its fair share of challenges, notably shipping 20 goals in the first 10 games after Dean Smith left to take over at Aston Villa.
Having bulked up significantly since his first taste of senior action, Mepham carries himself well and tends to confidently stride out of defence with the ball. He's disciplined in the tackle and his height makes him an obvious threat from set-pieces, though he has just one goal to his name so far.
Though the pair never played in the same side, Harlee Dean's departure to Birmingham proved a catalyst for Mepham's emergence, while he also acted as something of a mentor behind the scenes. His influence seems to have rubbed off, too, with the Welshman often seen in advanced positions in the later stages of games.
B Team poster boy
Mepham was one of the few survivors when the club made the rogue decision to close their academy in the summer of 2016. A standout performer in youth squads since he joined from Chelsea in 2012, his infectious hunger to succeed was rewarded with a professional contract a few months prior to the shock announcement and he became part of the inaugural B Team set up in its place.
Not only that, Mepham became the team's first success story, when he was promoted to the first-team squad and signed a five-year contract in August 2017.
Speaking to Sky Sports late last year, Mepham explained how the "pathway" to the first team was clear from day one.
He said: "In my first year as a pro, I was training, I was seeing what I had to do to get there and that was good to see. Luckily, having been more in and around it, I got offered a first-team contract. Having that pathway helped a lot and, for the lads coming through the B Team now to see that there's been boys that have gone on to make first-team debuts, it's reassuring to see.
"Now it's good for me to be that role model for the likes of Mads [Bech Sorensen] and the players coming through because I realised how much it helped me, so I'd like to pass that on to the younger players."
What they said
Ex-Brentford boss Dean Smith (speaking in September 2018): "He deserves everything that's coming his way at the moment because of his attitude and the way he is every day on the training ground.
"He's pushed himself to them heights and he has earned that recognition and he's earned his place in our team at the moment and he's earned his place in the Welsh team. He's a shining light to younger players in the club of how you can go and progress and become an international."
Brentford co-director of football Phil Giles: "The B team is a long term project, but the ultimate objective is for those players to establish themselves in the first team squad and then eventually start regularly for the first XI. We are sure that Chris has the potential to achieve that goal."
Chris Mepham (speaking to Sky Sports last year): "It's been amazing and I have to pinch myself sometimes to see how far I've come, but I always say that it seems to have happened so quickly that I haven't had time to properly process it.
"That's been good because, in a way, you don't want to look back and say it's been amazing, you want to go on to the next step and the next one. It's been a crazy couple of years but I've loved every minute of it and hopefully I can go on playing well and seeing what my future holds."