The youngster insists he is not in Venice for a holiday, as he takes an unusual step to make an impact in the competitive world of football
Harvey St Clair became the latest in a growing number of players leaving English football to ply their trade overseas, accepting a four-year deal to join Serie B side Venezia this summer rather than becoming yet another part of Chelsea’s loan army.
It remains far from an exodus in the British game, but St Clair joined the likes of Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund), Noni Madueke (PSV), Jonathan Panzo (Monaco), Liam Henderson (Hellas Verona) and Ryan Nolan (Internazionale) in making the decision to develop overseas.
Gareth Southgate has advised English footballers to take chances that arise at foreign clubs, while success at youth level has put talent into the shop window.
St Clair is a Scotland Under-21 winger whose impressive outings at the Toulon Tournament this summer helped show off his abilities as a threatening left winger.
With a choice to make about his future, the 19-year-old was advised by the likes of Malky Mackay and Scot Gemmill at his country’s FA about whether to risk moving to the Italian second tier.
Ultimately, the teenager chose to leave the club that he joined when he was just eight years old. St Clair feels content with his decision to try Italian football after making his first senior appearance against Südtirol in the Coppa Italia last month.
“I wasn’t going to go to Zenit St Petersburg or Watford. It was only Chelsea or Venezia, so I just felt that the best thing for my football development was Venezia,” St Clair told Goal. “The opportunity arose and I liked the fact that it was a new challenge. Everything about the move made it seem like a no-brainer to me and I just thought, ‘Let’s go for it’.
“I think that British players are just looking for opportunities and I think in the English game that level in the Premier League is so high that it is more difficult for young players nowadays. I think I probably would have gone on loan had I stayed.
“I just felt like at this moment in time that the best moment for me was to come here and have a new challenge. Obviously Venice is a beautiful city but I didn’t come here for a holiday. I am here to develop as a player and play first-team football.
“I came here for a new challenge and opportunities to play senior football. It was an unbelievable experience to make my debut and one that I will never forget. The fans in Italy are very passionate and it was amazing to play in front of the home crowd and to make my professional debut was a proud moment for me.
“I watched a lot of Italian football when I was younger. There are the great teams in Italy, I remember watching the Champions League when Inter beat Barcelona. It seems like a great place to play football. The fans are great, so that helped me decide to come here.”
St Clair has found friendships already in the dressing room with team-mates Francesco Cernuto and Alex Geijo helping him adapt to his new surroundings.
He arrived at a Venezia side aiming to go one better than last season, having narrowly being beaten in the play-off semi-final against Palermo. St Clair admits promotion to Serie A is the aim for the club, while he hopes to establish himself as a regular in his first senior season.
“The aim is for me is to play as many games as possible,” St Clair added. “To try to help the team as much as possible. Every day I want to improve to become the best possible version I can be of myself. I just want to try and do as well as possible.”
He may be in the second tier of Italian football, but St Clair has been impressed by the quality he’s encountered.
“It is very surprising how good they are.” St Clair said. “We have a few veterans in the team. We have a lot of experience, it is nothing like being around teenagers anymore. These are grown men who are very strong. We have a lot of technical players here as well.
“On the tactical side of things, they do quite a lot of video work. The manager will say what we are going to do. We look back on the last game and analyse the positives and negatives.
“Lots of stuff on corners, throw-ins, free-kicks and that side of thing is a bit different. As the level goes up, the detail goes up.”
St Clair has no hard feelings after choosing to part ways with his club of the past 12 years. He still counts himself a Chelsea supporter and has many friendships within the talented dressing room he used to occupy.
Former team-mates like Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham are hoping to make the decisive breakthrough in the first team in the coming years, while St Clair is appreciative of the guidance he received while starting on the same path.
“Joe Edwards is definitely one who I’d like to thank. Last season he showed a lot of faith in me and he gave me a lot of game time. He is a really good guy and a great coach. Michael Bill also, he always encouraged players to play with freedom which I like to do. There were a lot of great coaches at Chelsea who I could have named, but those two stand out to me.”
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