Date of Birth: May 7th 1990
Place of Birth: Neath, Wales
Previous Club(s): Port Talbot
A young Welshman under the tutelage of former Leeds goalkeeper Mark Beeney, Rhys had experiences at a number of clubs before joining Chelsea, but becoming a Blue at the age of 15 looks to have been a beneficial choice for all parties as he continues to make fantastic progress towards being a top goalkeeper.
He grew up at a time when legendary Welsh goalkeeper Neville Southall was coming to the close of his career and idolised Peter Schmeichel. After time at a few Welsh clubs and a spell at Manchester United, he joined Chelsea and quickly established himself as a very promising goalkeeper in a system that had already produced professional regulars in Lenny Pidgeley and Rhys Evans in recent seasons, as well as developing Belgian giant Yves Makalambay.
He featured in the Northern Ireland Milk Cup as a schoolboy and dominated his first Under 18 season when he played, although he struggled with injury and had to share time with James Russell and Nick Hamann, neither of whom remain at the club. In his second season, having signed professionally, he became the Reserve team’s first choice goalkeeper, despite only starting the season aged 17, but 2007/08 was to be memorable for all mannner of reasons.
He put in some astounding shows at Reserve level, no better than his repeated heroics in vain during a 0-1 loss to Arsenal at Griffin Park. His performances and development weren’t escaping wider attention either, as he was called up to the Wales Under 21 squad at still only 17, playing behind Wayne Hennessey, who would progress to the full squad by the end of the season. High praise came from Wales coach Brian Flynn;
“I will say right here that, over time, Wayne and Rhys will have a right ding-dong battle for the senior Welsh goalkeeping jersey.
“These are two hugely talented individuals who will play right at the top, and for many years to come.
“I can’t recall Wales having two such talented goalkeepers at any one point before.
His season became even more remarkable when Chelsea had their annual goalkeeping crisis and over the winter period he was named as substitute for the Premiership games with Newcastle and Fulham and the FA Cup clash with QPR. He also kept goal in every game of Chelsea’s run to the FA Youth Cup Final.
Over his time at Chelsea he really has become a noticeably better goalkeeper. His kicking is superb, arguably the strongest part of his game. He displays strong and quick reflexes and turns shots away strongly, whilst maintaining good positioning. He’s not exceptionally tall and can be found wanting when coming for aerial balls but it’s not a major problem. Decision making can be refined with mental maturity, and he doesn’t have a real weakness other than a lack of top level experience.
Chelsea are set in goal for some time with Petr Cech, which naturally makes Rhys’ chances at Chelsea a little tougher. However, with Petr’s injury record and Carlo Cudicini and Hilário both getting on, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility for Rhys to end up donning the starting jersey at Chelsea. If it’s not to be at Stamford Bridge, he can be a very good goalie for someone, all the way to international level.
With Carlo Cudicini’s January departure at Chelsea, Rhys has become de-facto third choice goalkeeper at Stamford Bridge, regularly travelling with the first team. He continues to be named in the Welsh Under-21 squad, and received his first senior call-up for a friendly against Georgia. He didn’t get on, but will benefit from the experience.
In Chelsea’s Reserves he’s been backstop to some debatable defensive outings but continued to perform well, whilst suffering from a few niggling injuries, most notably a concussion which kept him out for a month.