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Interview with Republic of Ireland international Kieran Sadlier: Young players should not enter the professional system till they are 13/14

Kieran Sadlier now plays for Sligo Rovers in Ireland.

Kieran Sadlier
Sadlier during his time with West Ham United (Image courtesy: RTE.ie)

Kieran Sadlier is a name that won’t be known to too many outside football circles at this stage, but it won’t be too long before this ex-West Ham academy graduate is the name on everyone’s lips.

Currently at Irish side Sligo Rovers, Kieran harbours ambitions to make it at the top level in England and it’s a move which could come sooner rather than later....

Q: How difficult did you find the transition from ‘Sunday league’ football to Academy level, when you were a youngster? Or was it that the grassroots game was actually holding you back and your ability was more suited to Academy level?

Tell me some more about that time in your childhood – who you played for, what position etc?

I never played Sunday league football really, well not long enough to get a taste for it anyway. I only got involved in local football due to my parents – we were all staying with my grandparents in Bromley for six months, whilst we were waiting to move into our new house in Chislehurst and so to give them a bit of a break and get outside more, I joined a local football club called Sydenham Sports.

I had never played in a team situation before and I loved it. From there, Millwall scouted me and asked me to join their feeder club, Glebe FC, for a period until they could sign me as an U9, which I did. 

Q: You joined West Ham United in 2004/05 as I recall and at that point in time you were living near Cambridge. How did you manage with school life on top of what was a demanding schedule football wise even at 10/11 years of age?

It was tough, with long days and nights on the road, although I was fortunate that my parents were available to drive me there and back each week, sometimes 3 or 4 times a week, then on Saturday morning and Sundays for matches. But I love football, the training matches, gym. I never minded the distance, so for me it was great.

My school were very supportive and helped me juggle work and football and allowed me time to leave school early. When I was 14, I spent half the week down at West Ham  and then at 16 years old, after my GCSE’s, I moved permanently down and lived in the house with other scholars and young professionals.

Q: After impressing at the Hammers over a period, you were one of just a handful who signed a long contract, in Academy terms, on the pitch at Upton Park. Looking back now, do you think the ‘interest’ that would’ve resulted from this maybe saddled you with extra pressure?

Thank you, but not really no, my focus was only ever doing well at West Ham and through that the opportunity came, of course, to play for the Republic of Ireland at Youth level, otherwise it was all about West Ham United.

I remember that day signing on the pitch very well. I had my parents, my manager from a local club that I played for and my grandfather with me. I was more nervous about the result that day, than signing my 4 year school boy contract on the pitch. It was the last home game of the season and West Ham needed to beat Bolton, to stay in the Premiership.

It was the same season as Tevez and Mascherano were at the club. Thankfully West Ham were 3-0 up at half time, so the crowd were in good spirits as we walked down the tunnel and out onto the pitch, to be introduced to the crowd at half-time.

Me, my parents and my grandfather Joe, who had never been to a professional football match in his 85 years, had to walk onto the pitch in front of 35,000 people clapping his grandson! It was a great feeling to be there and to then have Mark Noble formally introduce me to the team in the bar afterwards, where I stood for a good while speaking with Tevez – through an interpreter of course!

Q: What did you learn over the next few years at ‘The Academy of Football,’ and are there things now that you may have done differently?

I learned that every day you have to perform and that you can’t just sit back and coast through. It’s a huge commitment mentally and physically. You never know who is watching and so you have to be ready to take your opportunity, all the time.

Sometimes you may not agree with what your being told to do, but you have to see the bigger picture and learn as much as you can.  If I could change anything it perhaps would have been to have been a bigger person on the pitch physically, but I think I am more of a late developer and am only now growing into my body.

Technically, I was fine, but the physical side of the game has taken me longer to master.

Q: As I know only too well, Academy directors will say anything to sweet talk parents and indeed scholars into thinking that they’re the bees knees, in order to ‘protect their investment,’ but then drop them like a stone when they’re no longer interested.

How hard did it, therefore, hit you when you were released from West Ham and did the club have valid reasons to dispense with your playing services at that time?

Leaving any long standing club is hard –  I was sad to leave, the staff (well most of them) & above all the lads that I had made friends with over the years. I am still in contact with a lot of them even now and sometimes go away on holiday with them when time permits.

It’s fun to keep an eye on each other’s progress in the game and interesting now to see some of them getting good moves, permanent and loan moves to other clubs.

But after 10 years at West Ham, with the last 2.5 years as a professional, I was at the point where I needed to be playing first team football, so when it was clear to me that I was not the sort of player that the Manager, at the time, wanted to push through, I decided to ask to be released from my contract early, to take up an opportunity that had come in, to play in the Scottish Premiership, for the remainder of that season.

So although I was leaving a club that I had been at for a long time, it was my decision and I felt sad, but also excited about the future.

Q: Could you have done anything at all to get the club to change their minds?

I was just in the right place at the wrong time. Having been at West Ham since the age of 11, earnt a scholarship and then a 3-year professional contract, it was just unfortunate that my time there coincided with a manager, who looked for different things in a player. Sam Allardyce likes his players to be big, strong and direct, whereas I was slight, technical and still growing into my body.

Q: Peterborough was your next port of call which, with the greatest of respect, was probably a step-down or at least sideways, in footballing terms. What can you tell me about your time there, and did you not have any other offers from Premier League academies upon your release from West Ham?

I left West Hame before the end of my 3-year contract, when I knew the gaffer, Sam Allardyce, was not likely to renew it, due to me not being his type of player. Cambridge United had wanted to take me on loan, but United  wanted them to cover my salary, which they couldn’t do, so that fell away, but St Mirren had also come in and wanted to sign me permanently.

Within 24 hours of receiving that call, I had been into West Ham, signed my release paperwork and flown up to Glasgow, to meet Gary Teale, the manager at St Mirren. I felt it was more important for me to get first team experience on my CV, than to sit in the U21’s of an Academy club.

I had had the opportunity to join Brighton U21’s and in fact spent a few weeks with them, before the St Mirren offer, but it turned out that the manager at the time, Sammy Hypia, was playing a system that didn’t include wingers, which ruled me out as a regular player at that time!!! I also went up to Hibernians in the Scottish Championship for a week, and it was that club that recommended St Mirren to come in for me.

I made my full league debut for St Mirren against Celtic, live on TV, and went on to play 11 matches, scoring in one. St Mirren offered me a new contract for the following season, but I decided I wanted to come back nearer to home, as it was quite a lonely existence in Scotland, being that most of the players were older and had families to go home to, so were not around much after training. I took a chance and decided to see if I could get other opportunities.

My link with Jack Collison, from West Ham, allowed me the opportunity to join Peterborough United, after impressing them in pre-season. The club was a good move for me as I was near to home and I got on very well with the manager Dave Robertson and Grant McCann, the assistant manager (who is now the Manager this season) and the players, but early on into the season, the manager was replaced by Graham Westly and things changed again. I still feel I have unfinished business at Peterborough.

Q: You’re what I would term a ‘throwback’ footballer. What I mean by that is, you’re an old school winger who likes to get on the ball, take on your marker and deliver, whether that’s with a killer pass or a goal.

The type of player, in fact, that gets people off of their seats. Did you find that with Peterborough you had more or less time on the ball with which to play your natural game? Did you find that perhaps you’d have to dig in a little bit more for the team, because of the nature of the game at a slightly lower level?

No, not at all – if anything I felt that I had more time on the ball, as I had better players around me, than when I was playing at St Mirren.

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