Zidane: Hi Tai, thanks for taking time to speak to us. I guess we start the interview with your early days. How was a 15 year old from Brixton, London attracted to the Walsall FC’s youth team set up, presumably over other offers?
Tai: My mother’s job meant we moved a lot, we lived in between London and Leamington which is a town in Warwickshire. I was playing in a Sunday league team when Walsall had seen me. When I came to Walsall I was instantly impressed with the coaching and the passion which they showed in every training session.
While at Walsall you had a series of loan spells away from the club, Nuneaton, Rochdale, Chester, Kidderminster and Darlington how did you feel these affected your development as a player? How did the loan spells come about, we’re you looking for the spells away to gain the experience or were they offered/dictated to you?
Its not easy going out on loan but its an opportunity to play first team football and show what you can do. The gaffa does ask you if you want to go. When Ian Rush asks for you its a real honor to play for one of the best players of that era. The loan which really gave me something to build from was my five months at Rochdale because it was a really good environment for me to play in and found alot of confidence there. The coach would encourage me to play with pride and the system also brought out the best in me. The fans were always supporting the team so football was enjoyable which made it easy to play and improve.
I guess when you broke through at Walsall it was mainly under the management of Paul Merson? How would you assess his reign at the club and his management and guidance of yourself as a player? Do you look back at your time at the club fondly and do you feel you given an opportunity to show your worth?
It was a real pleasure to play and learn from a great player like Paul Merson, not everyone can say they’ve played with one of the best players to come out of the English game. I’m also an Arsenal fan so I always respected Merson. Being a manager is not an easy job and credit to Paul because he gave it a shot and I believe that trying says more about someone’s character than failing.
Do you still keep in contact with any of the players who were at the club when you were? What are your favourite memories at Bescot?
Yeah i still speak with some of the lads, facebook is a global thing now so i talk with Jullian Bennett and Matty Fryatt.
The season after you left, Walsall were under the new management in Richard Money. When leaving did you feel there was any indication of the amazing title winning season we were about to have?
I always knew that the players we had where more than capable of doing great things but everyone under achieved. It didn’t surprise me that Walsall came straight back up. I was pleased for the lads.
Mick Halsall left Walsall a few months back and has gone to Wolves where he has taken up a similar Head of Youth Development role, will Walsall still be able to continue to produce the conveyor belt of youth talent we have been treated to in the past 10 years in his abscence? Obviously you’ve been through our system, how important was he to the success of producing first team player after first team player?
Mick Halsall is nothing short of an inspiration; my whole career has been based upon his passion for the game. Training with Mick was infectious because when someone shares there love, passion and desire for the game it inspires you to feel the same way. I work one day share that passion with Kids that I coach. But Mick is still the best coach I’ve worked with and I still regard him as a great example. His service to Walsall means they’ve only gained something from his rein and hopefully they can build on that.
After leaving Walsall you had a few non-contract games at Dagenham before coming back to the Midlands with Tamworth. How was the stability of your first full season, regularly playing for the first team? Did you notice your game benefit as a result of your regular involvement in first team action?
I really enjoyed my first full season because I was given much responsibility and it gave the belief that I could add something to the team. I improved my mental side of football at Tamworth because I was hungry to prove I was good enough to play higher. And even though the disappointment of relegation is something which is hard to take, I still have to look at the positives and scoring 13 goals in league play and 2 in the F.A. Cup was a good building block for me to really push on and show what I could do.
After leaving Tamworth you made a big move to the United States and Puerto Rico Islanders. How did such a move come about?
Well I was always keen to move to the states at one point in my life, and I just thought why not now? I’m young i don’t have any commitments that would stop me from making a big move like that so I just decided to take the challenge, and its been a roller coaster ever since. But I’m grateful to my agent for providing me the opportunity to change my life.
It seems like this move has seen your playing career really step up a level. How was the experience of playing CONCACAF Champions League? Wasn’t it your goal that ensured qualification?
When you play against International players it very different to the hustle and bustle of the English game, the pace is much slower and you have to be more patient because everyone wants to pass the ball. I did find this frustrating because my game had always been to battle with defenders and hold up the ball. So the experience gave me the opportunity to think about ways to add to my game in this new environment. And I did become more of an attacking threat and even surprised myself at times. And when I scored the wining goal against one of the best teams in Central and North America I was very pleased because throughout the game I had many chances but I stayed focused and took my opportunity.
How would you say United Soccer League compares to the English Football League? In terms of the style, standard, coverage, support and player education etc?
England has a very strong football environment like no other where as America is still developing there love for the game. Both leagues are competitive but England is more turned into the game because of the strong grass roots game. There are many football fanatics in USA but there are also more sports to compete with so Football can be put on the shelf sometimes which is hard for people who love the game to believe because the rest of the world see’s the game as a way of life. Football is a game but it’s also a way of life, which is not always the case in USA.
I have heard you have appeared in a couple of adverts while being in America, how does it feel to see yourself around town? Has it been easy to adapt to American life?
It’s good to rewarded for your achievements but I just want to continue to enjoy playing and be able to win something in the game. There are many distractions in USA because of the way people live, but for me being able to share my education of the game in the way I play or maybe one day I become a coach. I just want to continue learning this great game and helping others to enjoy it also. That’s what’s important.
Obviously being a footballer in the US you’ve seen the ‘Beckham factor’ first hand. How do you see his presence in the country? Is it a good or bad thing for the American Soccer, given questioned commitment because of his England national side ambitions?
I think Beckham has done exactly what the MLS wanted from him was to boost the profile of the league. People expected a lot but when they realized one man cannot make a team they were disappointed. And this is where Soccer can’t compete with the other sports because in Basketball Football and baseball, one man can be the team. And Americans want to idolize an individual and the media does not cover enough Soccer for people to find a individual player they can relate to or aspire to.
We read on the Walsall FC official website at the beginning of the 2009 you were called up to the Kenyan national side. How does it feel to represent your country for the first time? Does the African style of football differ to what you have experienced, are there differences in footballing ‘culture’? Has it been easy to settle into?
It was always a dream of my fathers that I play for Kenya one day, unfortunately he died just before the call up. Kenya is a wonderful place and people really love the game. African football is very fast!! And it’s taken me a long time to adapt to the pace, but I feel like I’ve benefited from the experience and can offer more in my game. Traveling over 15 thousnad miles has been a challenge in its self but I am motivated by the prospect of playing in front of 70thousand fans which has been a dream come true.
Looking into the international calendar and with you being based in America, I bet you must always be on the road (or in the air probably!!?). Your football must have taken you to some amazing places? Which are the most memorable for football reasons, and for the places you were visiting?
Yeah its become strange for me to be going to all these different places, I feel blessed to see places because of Football. Every place I’ve been has had a special thing about it. If I had to choose a place it would be Kenya because the love for football there is amassing and its infectious to be around it.
At 24 years of age, you hopefully have a long footballing career left ahead of you. What ambitions would you like to achieve, and do you think you may return to the English game at sometime or do you see your future in American Soccer?
I would like to win a championship that’s always been a goal for me, wining the league with Puerto Rico was special. But in USA they consider the play-offs as the championship not the league. I’d like to play in till I’m 40 I don’t think my enthusiasm will burn out, and if I’m not playing I want to have my own academy coaching kids in Kenya and America. I’m not sure if I’d play in UK again.
Finally do you still follow the fortunes of ‘The Saddlers’? How do you think we will fair this season?
I always look up Walsall results and see how the team is doing, I hope they can make the play-offs and return to the championship. Walsall is a great club and it gave me my love for Football I’m always wishing them the best.
Thanks ever so much for you time Tai, great interview, really appreciate it. Good luck for Club and Country, I’ll look forward to watching your progress.
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