This week, The Boot Room had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Tony Barrett, Merseyside football writer at The Times newspaper. Tony is renowned across the industry for his inside expertise concerning the region’s top clubs, with particular emphasis on his knowledge of goings on at Anfield.
In the following Q&A, we talk football journalism, life after Luis Suarez, Liverpool’s Champions League hopes and much, much more. We hope you enjoy!
Why did football journalism appeal so much to you as a career path? And, what advice would you give to younger, aspiring writers looking to break into the industry?
I wanted to be a football journalist from the age of six or seven. My dad was a Guardian reader and I always liked David Lacey’s writing and I was also a big fan of Brian Reade’s, so they were my main influences in terms of wanting to do what they did. I was a football fanatic to a ridiculous degree as a kid, I’d walk my ball up the stairs going to bed and back down again after getting up and every spare minute was spent either watching, playing or reading about football and I knew very early on that I wanted to work in the game in some way. Like 99% of kids, I wasn’t good enough to be a professional footballer, the first division of the Liverpool Sunday League was as good as it got for me, so I focused on writing about the game which to me is the next best thing.
The best advice that was given to me as a young writer was to do speak to people. That seems basic, and in many ways it is, but the only chance you’ve got of informing others is if you’re informed yourself. Pretty much anyone can write, by that I mean most of us can put words down in an order that others can read and come up with arguments that put forward our point of view. But the difference between writing and informed writing is the knowledge you glean from contacts. The best journalists have the best and most wide ranging contacts and it’s that that makes their writing the most informative even if there are others who write with more flair.
Brendan Rodgers didn’t hold back during summer, signing no less than eight first-team players with the money received from Luis Suarez’s departure. But, of all the players brought to the club this season, who has impressed you the most?
I wouldn’t have said this at the start of the season but as the campaign wears on Emre Can is the one who stands out. He really does look a special player. When he first arrived he lacked the stamina to play in his preferred central midfield role but he’s worked on his fitness and Brendan Rodgers came up with a masterstroke by putting him in a back three and his talent is there for all to see. I’ve also been impressed by Alberto Moreno and I’m expecting Lazar Markovic to improve in the months and years to come.
Liverpool have clearly adopted a very different system since the sale of Suarez, with Rodgers now favouring a 3-5-2 set-up. Do you agree that they are now offering far more in their overall performances, with their defensive solidity proving paramount?
Their performances now speak for themselves. I honestly believe there’s a strong argument that this Liverpool side is already a more well rounded team than the one that came so close to winning the league title last season. It is more compact, more solid and has a much stronger mentality. Obviously, there is no Luis Suarez but as a group of eleven players I think this team has a lot more of the qualities that you need to flourish in English football on a long term basis.
Throughout this period of superb form, a number of individuals have upped their game with tremendous effect. We have had a stab at highlighting the club’s biggest improvers since before Christmas – https://tbrfootball.com/five-liverpool-improvers-beginning-impress/ – but for you, who has experienced the biggest surge of form?
Simon Mignolet. I’ve been one of his biggest critics, calling for him to be dropped in the autumn when his form slumped and generally being unimpressed by his overall game since he signed. But since coming back into the side on Boxing Day his entire approach has been transformed. He’s coming for crosses and getting them, taking responsibility for his own penalty area, knocking forwards (and sometimes his own defenders!) about and producing good, solid, all round performances in pretty much every game. His kicking could be better but given the overall improvement that’s just nit picking. Full credit to him for recognising his Liverpool career was on the line and doing something about it.
Considering Jordon Ibe’s rapid rise to first team prominence, and Raheem Sterling before hand, are there any relatively unknown youngsters who you could see making the same impact? Also, in terms of his potential development, how does Ibe compare to Sterling?
I watch a lot of Academy football and to be honest I thought Ibe was ready to become part of the Liverpool squad at the start of this season. Brendan Rodgers clearly knows infinitely more about player development than I do though and his decision to send Ibe out on loan to Derby County has paid dividends as he’s returned to Liverpool a better and more mature player than he left it. In terms of development, I see no reason why Ibe can’t replicate the impact that Sterling has had at Liverpool and with England.
There are quite a few quality young players emerging at Liverpool at the moment and you’ve probably heard of most of them but if I had to pick one I’d go for Adam Phillips. He won’t be next off the production line because the likes of Jordan Rossiter, Jerome Sinclair and Shey Ojo are ahead of him at the moment but he’s a midfielder with a lot of talent and a really good attitude and he’s already caught Rodgers’ eye.
At The Boot Room we have been mightily impressed with the performances of Emre Can, who has excelled despite being played in a less familiar centre-back role. How important will the German be for the Reds going forward, and in which position do you envisage him playing in the long-term?
Going forward, Can will be a central midfielder and a top class one at that. Rodgers described him as “a Rolls Royce” of a footballer and it’s easy to see why. He just glides past players and his composure, for a player of his age, is ridiculous. He looks every inch a future Liverpool captain.
Considering the number of young players already standing out for the Reds (the likes of Coutinho, Sterling, Can), do the club have a realistic chance of competing for the league in the next few years? Or, do they lack that ‘winning mentality’, much like Arsenal this past decade?
I think we’re seeing a winning mentality develop at Liverpool. They are now finding ways to win, be it through the kind of individual brilliance showed by Coutinho against Man City and Bolton Wanderers, or a collective belligerence and refusal to yield that allowed them to beat Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton. The next step is to take it a step further and win a trophy. Should they do that this season, obviously the FA Cup is their only remaining chance, then I expect Liverpool to grow still further next season.
Perhaps the biggest talking point of the season so far has been Steven Gerrard’s decision to leave the club upon expiry of his contract at the end of the season. In your opinion, have the club handled this is the correct manner, or would it have been better to retain his services – even as a squad player – to support the club in an off-field capacity?
For me, both Gerrard and the club have handled his departure as well as they possibly could. The old adage about no one being bigger than the club remains as true now as it ever was but Gerrard is one of those figures of such rare significance that the moment when he decided to leave was always going to be massive. I think it’s right that he’s going at the end of this season, primarily because that’s the way he sees it. Steven Gerrard knows himself better than anyone else and he knows exactly what he wants from the final years of his career so if he believes playing regular football for LA Galaxy is best for him, who are we to argue?
His influence will be missed, though, there is no question about that. I don’t think people outside the club realise the esteem that he’s held in within the club. Almost without exception, players past and present love him. Finding a like for like replacement is impossible. Liverpool may sign a top class footballer who performs brilliantly but I honestly don’t think it’s possible, not in the short term anyway, to find another player who means as much to the club, the players and the supporters as Gerrard does.
With Stevie G’s departure imminent, Jordan Henderson, who has experienced a huge turn around at Anfield, looks set to become the club’s permanent captain from next season onwards. Is the 24-year-old guaranteed this role, or could he still be overlooked by Rodgers for someone more experienced? Furthermore, can you envisage him captaining England one day?
I think Henderson will get the captaincy. Ideally, there would be another more senior player ready to take over from Gerrard but Liverpool are a very young team and Henderson is the outstanding candidate in the current squad. It’s not that I don’t think Henderson will make a good captain because he’s shown enough already to suggest that he will, it’s more that I believe he’s still a developing footballer and the best thing for everyone would be if he was able to focus on himself and his own game for the next couple of years. But as it is, he’s probably the best man for the job and on that basis he should be promoted. As for captaining England, that could follow if he does well in the role for Liverpool.
Does the whole ‘Balotelli penalty debate’ perhaps show a division in the camp between the Italian and Liverpool’s senior players? And, what did you make of the situation? Did Balotelli have the right to take the spot kick considering his incredible record?
I hated the whole Balotelli penalty debate. For me, it should only have become a major issue in the event of him missing. As it was, he took responsibility at a big moment and scored a crucial goal. Obviously, the internal politics and dressing room etiquette added a different dimension to the situation but I think if you would have asked the entire Anfield crowd to vote on who they wanted to take the penalty, Balotelli would have won by a landslide.
On the subject of Balotelli, do you think Daniel Sturridge’s return to action will kick-start his career on Merseyside? We have certainly seen improvements in recent weeks, but Rodgers seems somewhat reluctant to trust him in the starting line-up. Do you think this is the case?
It’s hard to see Balotelli having a future at Liverpool beyond this season. If Liverpool can find a buyer willing to pay a decent price during the summer they will let him go. I don’t buy into the idea that Balotelli is such a bad influence that he can’t be incorporated into a team but he’s yet to really fit in at Liverpool for various reasons and there’s no point keeping him if he isn’t going to play.
Do you believe renovating Anfield is the right step for Liverpool to take, or should Liverpool have built a new stadium like Arsenal did with the Emirates?
To be honest, I couldn’t cope with the idea of leaving Anfield. For me, it’s the only place that should ever be Liverpool’s home ground. I understand the reasons why people would argue for a new ground but I don’t think you give up something as special as Anfield unless you absolutely have to.
Finally, fast-forward to the 1st June. Liverpool’s domestic season is over. Both the FA Cup and Europa League finals are done and dusted. How has Brendan Rodgers’ side fared? Will we be seeing Champions League football at Anfield again next season?
Yes. I’ll be very surprised if Liverpool don’t finish in the top four. With the exception of Chelsea, they have been the best team in the league in this calendar year and although Manchester United and Arsenal both have a slight advantage on them points-wise, I think Liverpool are playing better, more effective football and expect them to qualify for the Champions League again.
We would like to say a huge thank you again to Tony for taking the time out to speak to us.
Steph Houghton on leading, going unbeaten with Manchester City and FA developments
Manchester City and England captain Steph Houghton has grown into her leadership role for both club and country. We caught up with the 29-year-old as she chases a fourth FA Women’s Super League career title…
Captain of club and country. Not many players can claim to have achieved that feat during their careers.
For Manchester City Women’s Football Club defender Steph Houghton this was a dream realised at just 25 years of age, when then-head coach Mark Sampson handed her the England Women’s National Team armband on a full-time basis.
“I have had to work hard to become the leader that I am”, she told The Boot Room, in an exclusive interview. “I was quite a young captain getting the armband for both City and England at the same time. In this environment, I feel like I’ve been able to be myself and really grow as a leader.
“There is more responsibility in terms of ensuring everyone is maintaining high standards and sometimes that can be challenging, but ultimately it’s the proudest honour you could have in the game to captain both Manchester City and England.”
Leadership may not have come naturally to the now-29-year-old but, with over 200 clubs appearances and 100 international caps to her name, it is a trait she has acquired through gaining experience and realising new levels of achievement outside of her comfort zone.
This success has seen Houghton discover unchartered territory with England and Manchester City, leading the Lionesses to a third-place finish in the 2014 World Cup finals and the Blues to the club’s first ever Women’s Super League (WSL) title in 2016/17.
The Lionesses, who have become the pride of the nation, came agonisingly close to the World Cup final in Canada, with only a devastating injury-time own goal preventing them from a shot at the most prestigious prize in the women’s game.
Aside from the exemplary team spirit that the squad possesses, Houghton believes that the improved level of England performances over the years comes down to a tactical awareness that has set them aside from their opponents.
“Over the last four years, we’ve been adaptable in the way we play. We are very competitive. We want to win and we’ve found ways to win.
“When I think back to the World Cup in 2015, we played so many different formations that teams didn’t know what we were doing. That is a credit to the coaching staff and all the players who adapted to those different scenarios to outwit an opponent and most importantly win.”
After reaching a landmark 100 appearances for the Lionesses, Houghton celebrated a City milestone earlier this season, marking her club century against former club Sunderland Ladies.
Her 100th game came with a 3-0 triumph against her hometown side, with whom she spent five years at the beginning of her career before enjoying spells with Leeds United and Arsenal Ladies.
Houghton led Arsenal to an FA Cup and Continental Cup double in 2013 and was twice a Women’s Super League winner with the Gunners prior to joining Manchester City in 2014.
“I loved my time at Arsenal, it was a fantastic club and still is, but on a personal level, I wasn’t flourishing as much as I wanted to,” she said.
“Then Manchester City came in, a brand new team that was giving me the chance to play full time, compete in a fantastic stadium and also be closer to home. It really wasn’t an opportunity I could turn down.
The first few months were difficult, but I think in your career you have to go through those moments to come out even better.
“I know I made the right decision and I’m as happy as I could ever be here at City.”
Since making the move from London to Manchester in 2014, the Lionesses’ skipper has earned a number of titles and accolades, not least of which being awarded an MBE in recognition for her personal achievements and contributions to the game.
The Blues skipper is a respected figure both on and off the pitch and has become a huge inspiration to sportswomen everywhere.
Undoubtedly, reaching 100 games with City was a hugely proud moment for the 29-year-old, who has experienced a number of incredible moments throughout her time with the Manchester outfit.
However, she says the club’s domestic success throughout the 2016/2017 campaign remains the personal highlight among all her achievements.
“It was a massive honour and I never thought when I joined the club that I’d be able to play 100 games, but I was fortunate enough to be able to do so.
“There have been some amazing memories, our first Continental Cup final win, we were the underdogs and the feeling that night was unbelievable.
“But, I think winning the double in 2016 and then the FA Cup in 2017, capturing all three domestic trophies, has to up there because of the way we played.
“We went unbeaten and we only conceded four goals and that was a credit to every player and all the staff.”
Already holders of the WSL title and Continental Tyres (League) Cup, after a season without losing during 2016/17, the Blues claimed the full set with an FA Cup final victory over Birmingham City Ladies in May 2017.
For Manchester City Women’s this marked quite an achievement, having turned fully professional only three years earlier – on the back of the creation of the WSL.
After going full-time, City set about the same dominance their men’s side had enjoyed in the transfer market and the league, the outcome of which saw Houghton appear on the club’s radar, with manager Nick Cushing keen to add strong leaders to his ranks.
Houghton credits Cushing, who was named the club’s full-time head coach just a month before she signed for the Etihad outfit, for the significant role he has played in her development, both as a player and a person.
“He is the best coach I’ve ever played under and for me, and for the rest of the players, he’s really developed us into a team that knows a lot more about the game and are much more tactically aware.
“On a personal level, he has helped my game so much over the last four years. We work every day on the finer details, it’s about being good with the ball and without it.
“I owe a lot to him over the last four years, not only on the coaching side but also managing me as a person, really allowing me to be myself and develop as a leader.”
Cushing’s City side remain in an excellent position to challenge for a second league championship this term, just one point behind current leaders Chelsea Ladies, last season’s runners-up, after 11 games.
Success in the Women’s Super League would have been the main target for the Blues prior to the season, defending the title they worked tirelessly to claim last term. However, the quadruple remains a possibility, with the club still competing on all fronts.
“As a club, we are so far meeting all the objectives we set at the beginning of the season.”
“We’re still competing in the Champions League with the quarterfinals coming up in March. We’re still in the FA Cup and have the Continental Cup final to look forward to, and we’re also challenging for the Women’s Super League.
“Ultimately, we want to keep winning football games and competing in all competitions, so we’re really happy with how the season is going.”
The fabric of a title-winning team comes in its ability to become resolute when the going gets tough and that is exactly what Manchester City showed in their last WSL fixture, against the league leaders.
City’s league hopes looked to be in a perilous position at half-time of their pivotal top-of-the-table clash against the Blues, with the Manchester outfit trailing 2-0 at the break, courtesy of strikes from Millie Bright and Ji So-Yun.
Nonetheless, an excellent second half City performance ensured the points were shared at the Academy Stadium, with goals from Nikita Parris and Georgia Stanway pegging back Chelsea’s first-half advantage.
Defeat would have been a devastating three points lost in the race for the title and, therefore, the eventual draw will be considered a valuable point gained. This game-by-game approach is one that Houghton knows will serve the club well during the run-in.
“This season, we need to take each game as it comes, we know it’s possible and we should be proud of what we’ve achieved, but we’ve still got a long way to go so we’ve got to remain focused if we’re going to achieve success.”
On the continent, City remain unbeaten in the Champions League and will play Swedish champions Linkopings in the quarter-finals in March after reaching the semi-finals of the competition last season.
Houghton and co. were knocked out of Europe by Lyon in 2016/17, and could face the four-time Women’s Champions League winners in the last four if both sides progress from the current round.
“We’ve got to believe. I think we performed well in the Champions League in our debut season, to make it to the semi-finals was an achievement, but we want to build on that.”
Away from the pitch, Houghton acts as an Ambassador for UEFA – a women’s football development role – the purpose of which is to provide models to young females wishing to participate in the sport.
As a leading English female footballer, the City captain holds a strong commitment to accelerating the progress of the women’s game – an objective that has been catalysed by the establishment of the FA WSL in 2010.
Finally committed to developing women’s football, the FA believed creating a viable elite league, which would initially be semi-professional, was to prove vital for the sport’s credibility. This was a decision backed by Houghton.
“The best idea we had was to introduce the FA WSL and having it as a summer league at first allowed clubs to focus on making their teams full time, providing more coaching hours for their players and ultimately drawing in as many crowds as possible, as well as allowing for more tv coverage.”
Initially running over the summer, in July 2016 it was agreed that a calendar shift would take place. This moved the WSL to the winter months, to be played between September and May, in line with other divisions across Europe.
In September 2017 it was announced that the top tier of English women’s football will be only for full-time clubs from 2018-19 after proposed changes to Women’s Super League licences were approved by the FA.
This means that all clubs must re-apply for their places in the division, while new teams could earn licences to join the top tier that will have between eight and 14 teams. In addition, top-flight clubs will be required to run an academy under the new criteria.
This is a significant milestone in the progression of the women’s game and is likely to transform key elements, including the quality of resources and the level of performance on the pitch. Houghton explained the positive impact of such a decision.
“I think it’s the right step now, after making it a winter league, to continue this growth and increase our competitiveness on the international stage.
“There are a lot of big clubs pushing to make it more professional and from an international perspective, that is what you want, everyone training full-time and to be as fit as they possibly can be.
As a club, I think Manchester City have set the standards in terms of the professionalism and ensuring we have access to the same resources as the men’s team, both on and off the pitch.”
A leading figure in the English game, both on the pitch for Manchester City and the Three Lionesses, and as an ambassador for UEFA, Houghton recognises the progress of the women’s game. However, she says there still remains room for improvement.
“I’m happy with how far the game has come.
“To be able to live my dream of being a professional football player and to be at a club like this is unbelievable and I think the games are now more competitive than they ever were, which makes it all that much better.
“The stadium we play in, the pitches we train on, the crowds that we draw in are incredible too, it’s really grown. It’s important that we keep pushing in all those areas.
“You’d like to see regular TV matches every week, which we’re starting to do. I’m optimistic about what the future holds.”
Decisions made regarding the development of the women’s game may largely sit outside of her influence, but on the pitch, Houghton will be hoping to galvanise City’s pursuit of Chelsea at the top of the WSL, while next year’s World Cup in France will be at the forefront of preparations with the Three Lionesses.
Aston Villa’s Albert Adomah on discovering a scoring streak, promotion hopes and his journey to the top
With 13 Sky Bet Championship goals, Albert Adomah is proving to be the catalyst in Aston Villa’s search for promotion. We catch up with the 30-year-old to discuss the season to date..
Few players have come further in football than Aston Villa’s Albert Adomah.
Whilst many of his Villa team-mates came through the ranks training at the world class facilities of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, his footballing career began at amateur side Old Meadonians.
Whilst studying to become a painter and decorator, his career took off as he moved to join seventh tier club Harrow Borough.
14 goals in 69 games for the London club caught the eye of a host of local non-league and lower league clubs.
Barnet was his eventual destination in January 2008.
Ten years later, and after spells at Bristol City and Middlesbrough, Adomah is taking the Sky Bet Championship by storm.
Discussing his journey to the top with The Boot Room, he revealed that he’s achieved more than he could ever have hoped for as an 18-year-old student playing amateur football at the weekend.
“When I first joined Harrow Borough I had a feeling I would progress to the next level with a hope to one day play at the highest – which is the Premier League and international football and I’ve managed to achieve both of those.
“I wanted to work my way up and I’ve managed to achieve that.”
After play-off heartbreak with Middlesbrough in 2015, Adomah was key to earning his side promotion to the top flight, missing only ten league games across three seasons at the Riverside club.
The winger made his Premier League debut in a draw against Stoke on the opening day of the 2016/17 season under Aitor Karanka, but little did he know that his substitute appearance the following week would be his last for the club.
Summer reinforcements to strengthen the squad to first division quality, after Adomah had helped to get the club left there, and a reported fall out with boss Karanka, left him surplus to requirements.
The now 30-year-old says that he was left with no choice but to leave Tyneside.
“It was time to move on and Aston Villa is a big club with great fans and a lot of history, it felt like a huge opportunity for me.”
By moving to Villa Park, he ensured that he was moving to one of the biggest clubs, if not the biggest, in the English Football League.
Boasting some of the highest attendances in the country, even despite relegation in 2016, there is no denying that the sway of the club has an impact on its players.
“It’s a massive club so when you go out onto the pitch you want to perform well and do well for the club and the main objective of the day is to get the points.”
After years of underperformance, the 2017/18 season finally looks to be putting Aston Villa back on the map with a mid-season revival seeing Steve Bruce’s side climb the table and enter contention for promotion.
For Adomah too, it has been a remarkable season.
“So far on a personal level I think I’ve been doing really well, scoring goals and as a team we have been doing great.
“The result at the weekend didn’t go our way but all we can do is learn from it, work harder and aim to put that right.”
By averaging almost a goal every other game, with 14 from 29 in all competitions, to date, he has already far surpassed his personal best of 12 goals in 42 games with Middlesbrough in 2013/14.
Cutting in from out wide, his positioning, pace, power and smart finishing has been crucial to his team’s success, leading the club’s goalscoring charts, ahead of the likes of multi-million pound centre forwards Scott Hogan and Jonathan Kodjia.
His goals and assists have contributed a huge 18 points to Villa’s fight to return to the top flight, and he is not ready to take the foot off the gas just yet.
Despite now being deployed out wide, Adomah feels that his past experience through the middle has been pivotal to his success.
“I used to be a striker so when I’m in that position I always have a good feeling I’ll get a chance to score – it’s all about hitting the target.
“Lately whenever I shoot it seems to go in.”
Boss Steve Bruce has even called upon the number 37 to beat the Championship record of goals from a player who isn’t a striker, a record currently set at 20 by then-Cardiff ace Peter Whittingham.
With the business end of the season still to come, that certainly looks achievable, but Adomah is taking his campaign one step at a time.
“Every season my target is 10 goals and 10 assists and so far I have exceeded one of my targets, my next aim would be 15 goals and if I can do that I’ll aim for 20 goals but I try not to put pressure on myself.”
It has been some turnaround for Adomah too, considering that he started only one of Villa’s first six games in 2017/18.
The signing of Bruce favourite Ahmed Elmohamady and loan deals for West Ham flop Robert Snodgrass and Tottenham starlet Josh Onomah upped the pressure on an already crowded area of the squad, with the likes of Andre Green and Jack Grealish getting better and better.
Having celebrated his 30th birthday this season, it would be logical that Adomah would be the player to make way. Instead, he has taken a step up.
Age is just a number to one of Villa’s more experienced professionals, who insists that it is hard work on the training ground that is seeing him improve as he matures into the twilight years of his career.
“I work hard at the training ground to improve myself and on the pitch you try to avoid making mistakes but if they do happen you look to the next game to put it right and learn from it.”
Bruce has, understandably, spoken of the importance of keeping players like Adomah, who he has described as “a catalyst”, at the club if they are to be taken seriously in their quest to return to their rightful place in the Premier League.
Promotion put an end to Adomah’s time at Middlesbrough, but he insists that he is happy at Villa and wants to commit his long term future to the club.
“If a 10 year contract was put on the table I would sign that today.
“I’m loving my time at Villa, it’s going really well and things are going well for the team.
“My family love living in the Midlands so if I was offered a contract I would sign it.”
Having only played for four clubs since going professional, having played over 100 games for all four, he is a loyal man, and he is ready to reap the rewards of that loyalty in Birmingham.
“Yes staying at one club definitely helps, I think it helps in the long run and it’s good for your family life.
“For me as an individual, I have a family so it’s good to have them settled in one place.”
His goal in the derby in February, a moment he says he will tell his grandchildren about, endeared him even more to the fans at Villa Park.
The club’s rise up the table is not yet complete, though, and Adomah is insistent that his side must have their sights set high for the remaining three months of the season.
The team are leading the chasing pack behind Wolves and their nearest competitors, Cardiff, but Adomah believes that he and his team-mates must be ready to pounce if either side slips up.
“We just need to keep on doing well and chase Wolves as they are doing great.
“If we chase Wolves we will have a great chance of automatic promotion and if Wolves slip up perhaps we could win the league… But everything is down to our performances.”
With that success, Adomah could return to one of his greatest achievements: playing Premier League football.
Capped 15 times by Ghana, scoring two goals, he also fulfilled the other dream by appearing for his nation, Ghana.
Making his debut in 2011 under Goran Stevanovic, he became a regular under Kwesi Appiah, featuring in all but one game as the Black Eagles finished fourth in the African Cup of Nations in 2013.
Adomah even fulfilled a dream that seemed so impossible on the parks of south London only six years previously by taking to the pitch in the 2014 World Cup as a substitute as Ghana were beaten by the USA.
The versatile wideman has only made one appearance since, scoring in a friendly under Avram Grant in 2015, but with Appiah now back at the helm and Adomah in the form of his life, it would be premature to rule out a return to the international scene.
“It was a great achievement to go away with my national team and play on the biggest stage in the world. I managed to play 15 minutes against America but unfortunately we lost that game but it’s wonderful to say I was part of the World Cup.
“Hopefully if they call me again I can do a duty for them, I will continue to play well for my club and hope that I get a call.”
Adomah’s story is one of football’s most inspiring, and earning promotion to the Premier League with one of England’s biggest clubs as the leading man would be a fitting chapter to add to an already incredible tale.
Greg Docherty – Realising a childhood dream with Rangers FC
After completing his dream move to Rangers, midfielder Greg Docherty sat down with The Boot Room to look back at his career to date and the excitement of his time ahead at Ibrox.
Last Saturday, Greg Docherty fulfilled a childhood dream by stepping out at Ibrox.
But this time, unlike his four previous visits to the home of Rangers Football Club, he was stepping out of the tunnel and onto the pitch as a home player following his January switch over to Glasgow.
Docherty’s home debut might not have gone exactly to plan – with Rangers falling to a narrow loss against Hibernian – but nevertheless, it was an afternoon that he is unlikely to forget anytime soon.
His move from Hamilton Academical, a Scottish Premiership side where he had plied his trade since joining their youth academy as nothing more than a nine-year-old with dreams, was perhaps as anticipated as it was justified considering his head-turning performances during the past 18 months.
For lifelong Rangers supporter Docherty it’s been a whirlwind start to 2018, and talking to The Boot Room in an exclusive interview he recounted the moment he discovered the transfer was in motion.
“Believe it or not I was actually on my way to the Hamilton game against Hearts [on January 24] and I received a phone call to say that the deal had been done and that I was now a Rangers player.
“It was all a bit mad. I still wasn’t sure if I was going to be playing that night but after the phone call I quickly had a chat with […] who said obviously you won’t play because we’ve signed all of the forms, and it’s up to Rangers now to do their stuff.”
The confirmation of a completed deal before the end of the transfer window would have come almost as a relief for the 21-year-old, who admitted that he first heard of Rangers’ interest courtesy of speculation across social media platforms.
“To be honest that’s where you first find out most of it, because social media is so popular these days for breaking news. You hear something then ask around a bit to see if it’s true or not but it’s quite funny how you read news about yourself.”
Fortunately for Docherty this proved to be one social media rumour that came to fruition, and little more than three days after being officially announced as a Rangers player he was taking his place in caretaker manager Graeme Murty’s squad, coming off the bench in the 74th minute in a 2-1 win at Ross County.
A winning start in a Gers shirt was undeniably the perfect way for Docherty to settle any lingering nerves following his well-documented winter transfer, and reflecting on his debut he praised the supporters who immediately back him that night.
“It was special. The reaction I got from the crowd was great – it was an incredible following considering the distance from Glasgow – and even when I was warming up the whole stand and a half that Rangers had been allocated were clapping and saying my name.
“It’s something I have dreamt of for a long time and for that to actually happen was incredible.”
But when one door opens, another one has to close, and Docherty’s move to Rangers signalled the end of his 14-year spell at Hamilton.
The Scotland Under-21 international spent the young days of his career working through the ranks at Hamilton’s esteemed academy – an academy that has seen the likes of James McCarthy and James McArthur graduate and switch to the Premier League – before making his first-team bow at just 17.
After getting a feel for first-team football in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, Docherty fully broke into the Hamilton side a year later and it’s fair to say that, from that moment, he never looked back.
He became a stalwart in the Accies’ midfield, going on to make over 100 appearances for them across all competitions, and he insisted that his decision to leave the Club was one that was ultimately made with a heavy heart.
“[I’ll miss] the people. I made a lot of close friends – some of my best friends are still there – and I’ll miss seeing them every day. It was a great place to be, a great place to work, and a great place to play football.
It was a joy for me, it was never a chore or anything like that, and I enjoyed every minute. It gave me a chance. I’ll just miss being in and around the dressing room, because it was a great dressing room, but it was time to move on and push on to the next challenge.”
There’s little doubt that Docherty will always be held in high regard by the home supporters for his efforts during his tenure at the Club, not least for his crucial goal that helped Hamilton edge past Dundee United in the two-legged Scottish Premiership relegation play-off in 2017.
It’s a moment that Docherty himself looks back on with fond memories, too.
“Scoring the goal to keep them in the league, that was it for me.
“Hamilton had shown a lot of faith in me through the years so for me to repay them with that goal to keep them in the league, that was special. Football’s funny sometimes with how it works and for me to score the goal after coming through the youth system was nice for Hamilton.”
It won’t be long before he’s back in familiar territory though, as Docherty and Rangers travel to New Douglas Park on February 18 in a match that’ll be rife with emotion for the academy product.
Football is often known to be an ironic sport at times, and there’s a certain amount of irony about the fact that the youngster from Milngavie all-but sealed the deal when playing against Rangers for Hamilton earlier in the Premiership season.
It was in Hamilton’s 2-0 win at Ibrox back in November – a match that gave the Accies their first victory at Rangers since 1926 – where the youngster excelled, earning an assist and generally catching the eye with a powerful midfield display, and it’s this that could have swayed the board of directors at Rangers into signing on the dotted line.
“In a way I hope so. I wanted to play well because it was against the team I support – it’s funny like that – but I wanted to prove that if I was to play for Rangers then I’d be more then capable.
“After that game I received a lot of nice messages from the fans congratulating me so I knew right away that they had taken to me a little bit. Then once the news came in that Rangers were interested in me the amount of support I received was incredible, and that was another factor in me signing.”
For now, though, Docherty’s time at New Douglas Park is a chapter of the past, and his firm focus remains on pastures new at Rangers – and more predominantly, getting them back to the very top.
Their return to the summit of Scottish football last season after four years of climbing back up the ladder has seen the club back where it belongs, and considering the plight that they have been recovering from since entering into administration in 2012, a third-place finish was an impressive feat on their return to Premiership football last season.
And whilst it seems that Celtic are once again set to reign supreme come the end of the 2017-18 campaign, Docherty is confident that Rangers will be right back on their heels again before too long.
At just 21 years of age Docherty has arguably already reached the pinnacle of the Scottish game by virtue of playing for one of the two notorious Glaswegian giants, and he admitted that he could already see himself spending the majority of his footballing career at Ibrox, aiding the club’s revival.
“You never know. If that was to be the case then I wouldn’t be disheartened by that at all.
“Rangers need to get back to the top, and one of my aims is to get them back there and competing at the highest level – and I’m sure the Rangers fans do too. There’s every chance of that happening over the next few years, I don’t see why not, you’ve just got to believe.
“If I was to stay here for the rest of my career then that would be brilliant but you never know in football and you want to play at the highest level possible.”
After achieving his dream move by the time he even turns 22 it’s clear to see that there’s a long and successful career there for the taking should Docherty avoid serious injury, and there is already growing talks that he could be in contention for a berth in the Scotland squad as the year progresses.
It is a testing time for the Scotland national squad at present, currently without a manager and with friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary looming in March, but with three Under-21 caps to his name – and with a big move under his belt – Docherty is well-placed to push for a first senior call-up.
Asked about his national team aspirations, Docherty replied:
“Absolutely, I don’t see why not.
“Obviously I’ll take each game as they come but I think that if I start off playing well for Rangers I can’t see why I can’t push into the international team. I’ve already completed one of my targets to get signed by Rangers – but first and foremost I need to establish myself in the Rangers team.”
And this could begin with a first start in a Rangers jersey when they travel to Scottish League One outfit Ayr United in the fifth-round of the Scottish Cup on Sunday, with a quarter-final spot at stake.
It would be a full debut that would no doubt be received well by Rangers fans if social media talk is anything to go by, with Gers supporters urging their new signing to be given the chance to impress in midfield.
If anything, that shows just how highly-rated Docherty is – he’s something of a hot commodity right now.
But he insisted that he’s aware of the competition for places and strength in depth at Ibrox, adding that he feels he is at the right club in order to develop as a young footballer.
“I feel like I need to score more goals, and I need to contribute more. I need to be a more all-round box-to-box midfielder. I think I’ve got the fitness and the strength to do it but I just need to be a bit more aware when I’m on the ball and speed up the play.
“I think that’ll come at Rangers though and I think that’s something they are good at – they’re a very fast-flowing team – and that’s why I’m excited to be playing with them and see what it’s like to play in a game with such high intensity.
“It’s always been difficult to play against Rangers. The movement is always good and they’re always very switched on with what they do – that was another factor in joining, as I wanted to be a part of that. They’re a great side that are building momentum at the moment.”
It is this concept of building momentum that couldn’t be truer on the blue side of Glasgow at this moment in time, with their current position a far cry from the desperate predicament of late 2012.
With Docherty and fellow midfielder Sean Goss arriving in January there’s real potential for a partnership to be grown – one that could be the backbone of this Rangers side for years to come.
The signs are good for the Gers as they strive to compete for a 54th league title, combining energy and youth with some seasoned heads that lends itself to some pleasing football.
As for the immediate future, it may just take another few games for the enormity of the move to fully sink in for boyhood fan Docherty, but it is a scenario that just goes to prove the old-school cliché that dreams can be achieved if you are prepared to work hard enough for them.
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