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05th Aug 2019

“I could’ve gone to Liverpool… if I was advising a young player now, I’d do the same”

Conan Doherty

Whatever regrets Kevin Kilbane may or may not have about his career, playing time or progression was not one of them.

540 football league appearances, 110 international caps and a path that took the teenage Preston product to Everton – as though it was all meticulously pre-planned – make his 17 years of professional football a big job very well done.

But a lot of careers are made and broken in the decisions.

Luck comes into so many footballers’ lives, you need the luck to get your chance but, as Kilbane would say, if you’re lucky enough to get that chance, then it’s up to you.

Those chances might be more scarce under different managers, with different players at a different club and the Republic of Ireland manager always knew how important it was to make the right move at the right time.

That’s why, when he was leaving West Brom in 1999, he chose Sunderland over Liverpool after a conversation with Peter Reid.

“He sold me the idea, ‘look, you’re going to come in, you’re part of my side, you’re immediately into the first 11, you’re going to be part of the team until the end of the season’ and when a manager is saying that to you when you’re moving into the Premier League, that’s what sold it for me.

“I could’ve gone to Liverpool instead of Sunderland. Gerard Houllier was the manager at the time and the message I was getting from Gerard Houllier was ‘you’re going to come in and you’re going to be around the reserve team for a year’.

“I felt, at the time, I was playing international football, I had played over 150 league games and I wanted to play football. That was how it was.

“I could’ve gone to bigger clubs in terms of stature and trophies they had won historically but I wanted to go and play first team football and Peter Reid gave me all the messages that I was going to do that.”

Coming through the Preston academy offered more opportunities for a young Kilbane who knows the lure of the big club but thinks, unless you’re very, very fortunate, you won’t get many chances.

“Around lower league football, where I was, everyone who was around 16 or 17 were almost automatically put into reserve team football with a view to playing first team football,” Kilbane was speaking at the launch of Virgin Media’s €55-a-month ‘Endless Football’, Superfast Broadband and TV package. 

“We only had a squad of around 18 players.

“So you’re almost on the verge of first team football at 16 and once you’re given that opportunity it’s up to yourself to progress and go on from there.

“The difference is that youth teams have 35 players, first team squads have 40 players, the knock-on effect is that it’s so much more difficult for lads to get a chance and get into that first team.

“Also, when it’s Division 2 or Division 3 football, you’re given that chance because of the standard of football that you’re at. The lads who are going into the top level when they’re going over to Premier League clubs, the reality is that you’ve no chance of actually progressing into the first team or I think the stats are 0.003% or something stupid like that.

“That’s the reality of going to a Premier League club. Yes, you get great facilities and great coaching and much better players around you but, in terms of actually getting into first team football, the reality is you’ve got zero chance of actually making it.

“It’s about your next move – that’s more important because that’s where you’ve to go to actually play your games.”

There’s an argument both ways.

If you drop out of a Premier League academy, you’re still sought-after but if you drop out of a lower league team, it could be the end of your time in England for that spell.

“The fall-away is a lot harsher than progressing your way up through the leagues where you get to go and be a man in many respects when you get to play in that competitive environment.

“When a youngster now is going into a Premier League, it’s almost too far to get to. At least when you’re at a lower league club, you can see it – there’s almost a light you can see where you’re going to get your chance to play first team football. Then when you do get the chance, it’s up to you then.

“Personally, if I was advising a young player now, I’d tell them to go and play lower league football to go and get game time. But the reality is, if you don’t make it there, where do you fall back on?”

You can check out Virgin Media’s Sizzling Summer package that offers the best value for Irish soccer fans on all the big competitions here.


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Kevin Kilbane