Nigel Reo-Coker, who has been without a club since leaving Bolton Wanderers at the end of last season, yesterday joined Ipswich Town for their relegation struggle in the Championship and declared that he still has the ability to play for England.
The former Wimbledon, West Ham and Aston Villa midfielder admits it was a mistake to have left Bolton following their relegation, enduring what he calls "a very long, stressful summer". Family reasons – he has recently married – prompted him to move rather than "just staying there on Premiership wages", but in looking for a new club he claims to have been passed over in favour of inferior foreign players.
"You get a lot of guys come over who know nothing about the League or the club they are signing for and just want the money," he says. "I spoke to clubs this season that decided to gamble on a foreign player with no experience in England over me. I know I am better than a lot of these guys and I played in the Premier League long enough to prove that I can perform at that level."
Named on standby for the 2006 World Cup finals but forced to drop out with a back injury, he insists: "I believe I still have the quality to be an international player." At Ipswich, who are bottom but one in the Championship after 10 games, he hopes to prove it. "It's a fantastic club, very well structured, and a lot of people would say a sleeping giant. I had good conversations with the manager [Paul Jewell], who's a well respected manager, done a lot in the game.
"We're on the same page. So it all fell into place and I just need to get some games under my belt. I don't think you can look at the table after 10 games and think that's how it's going to be. About the same time last year Reading were in the relegation zone and they got promoted."
Voted as Bolton's Player of the Year despite their relegation under now-departed manager Owen Coyle, Reo-Coker, 28, says he is disenchanted with the attitude of many young players today: "I think footballers nowadays get pampered too much. When you look at the young generation now, many of them are so misguided, their principles and mentality are all wrong. They're not thinking about achieving a childhood dream and how fortunate they are, they're basing their careers on money."
He also believes the recent cases of racial abuse in English football prove that the problem has not gone away, and he is dismayed that there are so few non-white managers and coaches. "There are 92 League clubs but only two black managers, and I'm only aware of two black coaches. So racism is beyond just racial slurs, it's also about the mathematics of how many black and ethnic players there are and then how many black managers and coaches there are."