Nortei Nortey Exclusive: Learning at Chelsea, Thriving in America and Playing for Petrol Expenses

Nathan Ake, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen were among Nortei Nortey’s teammates during his Chelsea days, as the young Blues tasted FA Youth Cup glory in the club’s Champions League-winning 2011-12 season. The 29-year-old is now settling in at USL League One side Union Omaha, having been a standout performer in the United States since his first move there in January 2022. 


The members of that Youth Cup squad, captained by Nathaniel Chalobah, have enjoyed a mixed bag of careers – but despite Nortey being forced to build from the ground up after his time at Cobham was curtailed by injury, his views on his time there haven’t been blighted. He said: “I’m probably going to sound biased, but that academy? There was probably a five-year span where I don’t think there were many better.



“I’m a big football guy and I don’t normally do that type of stuff, but some of the boys that I played with… top, top level. Some have gone on to do great things, some maybe haven’t reached the heights that they were expected to, but it was a great team.”


Chelsea’s academy is firmly established among the best in the world, having been a key aspect of the club’s transformation under the ownership of Roman Abramovich. Particularly since the 2010s, it has produced a consistent pipeline of international players. 


Nortey, who spent five years at Cobham from 2008 to 2013, was particularly influenced by the values he was taught during his academy years, learning his trade under coaches such as Adi Viveash and Frank O’Brien.



“Being in the academy at Chelsea, they teach you so much morals,” he said. “I carry a lot of things today that I learned from being in the academy. You might be too stubborn to realise it when you’re young, but as you mature, you realise ‘this is right from wrong, this is how you manage yourself on a day-to-day basis, this is how you treat others…’ they were really big on that, respect was a big thing.


“I had some decent moments, but overshadowed by some really bad injuries which probably slowed my career down, because I was stuck and couldn’t quite get over it. The motto from when we were a young age was that you’ll either get released because you’re not good enough, go on loan and they’ll sell you, or you’re one out of 100 that makes it into the first team.”


After leaving one of the biggest clubs in the world at the age of 19, Nortey was a free agent for over a year, trialling in various countries before accepting an offer from Welling United in the National League.


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“It was a crazy, crazy period. I had to learn pretty quickly once I dropped down the National League that it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from, because in my first season playing there, I played for free. I hadn’t played for 18 months and they didn’t have any budget left, but I wanted to play football.


They said, ‘we can give you expenses,’ and I was like, ‘Jeez, that’s it!?’ And I was like, ‘You know what? If you’re gonna give me a contract, and I’m gonna have an opportunity to play on the weekend, I’ll take it.’ And that’s what I did – I played the whole year for petrol expenses.”



Featuring regularly in his first senior season having fostered strong relationships with Loui Fazakerley and Dean Frost, Nortey would go onto make further strides in the English lower leagues with Wrexham, Solihull Moors, Dover and Chorley.


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A first experience in Scotland arrived via Queen of the South in 2020, but after more injuries led to a stop-start season, the time arrived for the Hammersmith-born midfielder to make the move across the pond. Nortey swapped Scotland for the States in 2022, establishing himself as an ever-present for USL League One outfit Northern Colorado Hailstorm. It was a big decision, but he has been reaping the benefits of it, captaining the Hailstorm on numerous occasions before his move to Omaha.


“It’s one of the best things that’s happened to me in football,” he said. “I missed a lot of that year in Scotland, but for me it was like, ‘clean start, just go and enjoy your football.’ To go and play football consistently and prove my fitness, not only to other people but to myself too, that I can stay fit for a whole year and play to a certain level and progress at the same time.”


It’s been quite the change of surroundings both on and off the pitch, with the move bringing experiences of a new culture – particularly when it comes to interactions with fans, players and coaches.


Nortey said: “It’s more relaxed. When you make a mistake in England and Scotland, with the characters there, you’re going to hear about it. But over here, you don’t get so many players like that. I personally do miss how it is back home, playing at home and the pressures you get with fans and opposition fans, but when you come here, it is very relaxed in that sense.



“You can gain a consistency. You can enjoy your game, play more relaxed, you know that you’re going into a team where the manager knows that you’re a really important piece for him.”


The move to Omaha earlier this year was a reflection of Nortey’s form for the Hailstorm, with his performances catching the eye of the club who finished top of the regular season last year. The Owls still missed out on promotion however, falling to defeat in the semi-final of the playoffs, the same fate suffered by his former club. The focus is on correcting that in this campaign under English head coach Dominic Casciato.


“If I’m honest, the gaffer is the reason I’m here,” Nortey said. “When I spoke to him, he made it clear to me how he sees me as a player, and he made the decision very easy for me. There was a few options at the time, but this was the one which stood out to me, especially because of how well they’ve done at this level – they’ve had a couple of decent cup runs as well, so it didn’t take much after speaking to the coach.”


Omaha play in the USL League One, the third tier of professional men’s soccer in the USA – but with MLS known for its franchise model with no promotion and relegation, the pyramid is a unique one. It’s quite the change from how things work in England, where the FA oversee a huge pyramid from grassroots to the Premier League, where any club can (in theory) make it to the top.


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On the US Soccer landscape, Nortey said: “As a player that’s come from a system of promotion and relegation, it’s interesting – imagine telling an owner who’s just invested millions into an MLS franchise that we’re suddenly introducing relegation!


“I think it needs a bit of time. Football/soccer in America has so much potential, and it could become the biggest sport in the country. The amount of sports fans – NBA, NHL, NFL – in the population is ridiculous. Some of the kids here don’t go into it because it’s so expensive, so if you can get more teams and academies in certain areas, maybe they wouldn’t have to pay so much. I wouldn’t be surprised if, ten to fifteen years from now, it’s up there. There’s such a big market here, its big as it is, but give it some time and it could really take off.”


By: Martin Crawford / @crawford7martin

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Mark Scates – SNS Group