That was before Sam Hutchinson's career was cruelly cut short last August when his right knee gave up on him and he was forced to retire at 21.
But on Monday night his remarkable journey continued, as Hutchinson puffed out his chest and pulled on the captain's armband to lead out Chelsea's reserves against Aston Villa.
At Stamford Bridge, Hutchinson is known as the kid who refuses to give in. He has a special affinity with the club as one of the few players at Chelsea scouted locally and brought through the ranks, but it has been a difficult road.
Shining light: Sam Hutchinson skippered Chelsea reserves against Aston Villa
The England Under 21 international was groomed for success by Mourinho but his knee gave in and Chelsea confirmed that one of the country's most promising talents had quit.
And he was back where he wants to be: mixing it with Aston Villa's second string, getting stuck into the familiar names of Marc Albrighton and Carlos Cuellar at Hinckley United's De Montfort Park.
His commitment was unquestionable, bursting forward from right back before making lung-bursting runs to resume his defensive duties. He completed the 90 minutes.
Hutchinson's determination has surprised Chelsea's medical staff. They are stunned by his resilience after a year out.
It is too soon to talk of another contract at Chelsea, although Academy director Neil Bath was in the stands, assessing what for Hutchinson is the comeback of all comebacks.
Comeback king: Hutchinson (centre)
Chelsea were good to him, standing by the central defender and offering him a mentoring role with academy recruits last year.
At times the emotions were still raw as he headed to the training ground each day and watched his former team-mates training under Bath's expert guidance.
Hutchinson started a degree in psychology, preparing himself for a career off the field when the pain in his right knee began to subside.
He convinced Bath he could play again, forcing his way back into the reserves in the hope of achieving his long-term goal of a place in the first team.
Bath said: 'We have had to manage the situation very carefully because it was Sam's decision to retire. In August 2010 he was at the pain threshold and his knee couldn't take any more.
'The club looked after him because it was an emotional time for him and his family. At 21, with a place in the first team within touching distance, his career was over.
Refusing to give in: Hutchinson has been praised by Chelsea staff
'He did some coaching, but the trick was to get him away from the training ground to clear his head. He went swimming, played tennis and golf, just to do something else.'
The results were startling, the pain gradually subsiding behind the patella that had been causing him trouble since the age of 12.
He had problems with both knees during adolescence, struggling with the load from his 6ft frame when he started to make strides towards the first team.
The enamel behind his patella began to wear away, a degenerative condition that could not be solved speedily.
It is not an unusual injury, but with four training sessions and two matches a week, Hutchinson had no recovery time.
He did not receive an insurance payout when he was forced out of the game and he is now uninsurable because of his injury. He plays at his own risk but such is his desire that he carries on.
Show of support: John Terry and Hutchinson after the youngster's Premier League debut against Everton in May, 2007
A Chelsea source said: 'The initial reaction from most people to an injury is 'surgery' but that's playing with fire. No-one has found a surgical solution for his problem and it's not always the answer.
'A lot of players have problems with their joints. Some of them don't even experience pain and don't realise the damage they are doing, but with others it is more acute.'
The enforced rest, along with a rehabilitation programme, has produced short-term results. Hutchinson has worked hard in the gym to strengthen the area around his knee.
Although he cannot train with the intensity of some of his team-mates, Chelsea are beginning to believe he could carve out a professional career.
Bath was not convinced when Hutchinson approached him about resuming his career. A year later, Hutchinson is fighting on, determined to prove he can overcome adversity.
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