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First team

Mepham on Euros, Chelsea & mental strength

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Chris Mepham impressed for Wales during Euro 2020 this summer, displaying his high level of inner strength to swiftly regroup and come back from a difficult end to last season with the Cherries.

The centre-back’s dismissal in the play-off semi-final second leg at Brentford in May provided a challenge the 23-year-old had no choice but to confront head on and quickly move beyond.

Within days of the setback for his club he was linking up with his country and just 21 days later he was lining up for his international tournament debut against Switzerland in Baku, with three million pairs of expectant Welsh eyes resting upon him and his team-mates.

Forming a robust partnership with Joe Rodon in the centre of the Dragons’ defence, Mepham started three of the country’s four games as they made it to the second round, memorably beating Turkey 2-0 before succumbing to semi-finalists Denmark.

Reflecting on a busy summer, Mepham told afcb.co.uk about some of the highest moments of his career to date.

“It was amazing, a great experience for me,” he said. “Firstly, being away with the team at a major tournament was one thing and then playing the majority of the games was another, something I will always hold in my memory. It was a really proud month for me and my family.

“The Turkey game was amazing, it felt like an away game because they had a lot of fans there in Baku. We were going into a hostile environment against a good team, a team who’d recently beaten Holland.

“We’d analysed them and they had some really good players, we knew it was going to be a good test but from minute one we controlled the game.

"As a defender I didn’t ever really think that they were going to score, everything went well for us and it was the game that secured the last-16 for us, an amazing game.

“I thought I had a good tournament, in any tournament or game there are always things that you can improve. I didn’t have a great run of games going into it and hadn’t played consistently.

“I was pleased with how I did though and as a defensive unit I thought we were strong up until the Denmark game, only conceding two goals in the first three games. I can take a lot away from it, probably the best experience I’ve had in my footballing career so far.”

That best experience came just days after one of the most difficult for the young defender, a red card at Brentford in the play-offs steepening the route for the Cherries as they were ultimately unable to summit in their promotion bid.

Mepham spoke candidly about facing the situation: “For me it was always going to be a test going away to the Euros on the back end of that.

“It’s not how I’d have wanted to go into it with that Brentford game still in my system. I knew that the Euros would test me mentally, that it would be a good test of my character.

“Mistakes are always going to happen in football, it’s about how you come back from them and react. I was looking to do that.

“I wanted to find the inner strength to overcome it. There will always be setbacks with injuries, performances, being out of the team, but ultimately you need to find that bit within yourself to overcome it.

“I didn’t want to seek help or assurances from elsewhere, I just wanted to focus on myself and make sure I got up to speed, got my fitness levels up and controlled everything I could control – being at peace knowing that I’d done everything I could possibly do to get where I wanted to get to.

“I think I’ve overcome that game and I went to the Euros confident, hopefully I can now bring those performances back into this new season.”

Now back in the fold with the squad at Vitality Stadium, Mepham is out to show incoming head coach Scott Parker how he’s put his recent experiences positively towards his development as a player.

“It’s good to be back,” he said. “It always is to see some familiar faces and some new ones. With the new coaching staff there’s a lot to look forward to, I’ve only been back for a few days but everything seems really good and the lads are really positive.

“Around the place they’ve said the training’s been tough but good. There’s a lot to look forward to, we’ve got a good mix of youth and experience in the team and hopefully we’ll hit the ground running.”

Tuesday evening’s friendly with Chelsea brings a club Mepham knows well from his youth career to his current home.

The defender reflected on his time with the Blues and gave his thoughts ahead of the final pre-season fixture before the action becomes competitive this coming weekend.

“It’s where it all started for me,” he said of Chelsea. “They gave me the platform to go on, all the training techniques and the understanding of the game that I needed to push on.

“It’s a period of my life I really enjoyed. I made some strong friendships there, Dominic Solanke being one of them who’s now here. I came through all the age groups with him, unfortunately I got let go at under-14s – he was good enough to kick on!

“We’ve always had a good relationship and look at us playing together now, it’s an amazing story really. I came through with Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount was in the year below and I know him. There were a few I know, the Chelsea academy always produces quality players.

“There’s no better opportunity for us as a group to come up against the European Champions; they’re that for a reason and since their new manager’s come in they look a really good team.

“They can compete with any club in the world and that makes it a good test, one that hopefully we can stand up to.”

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