Former England footballer and Tottenham Hotspur Club Ambassador, who now regularly aids education initiatives in North London through the team’s charity foundation
As a teenager, what did you want to be when you were older?
I wanted to be a footballer from the age of 7 or 8, so when I got into my teens I was progressing well and still hoping to make the First Team and be a Premier League footballer. At 14 I joined Tottenham, continued to work hard and eventually realised my dream.
How did you succeed?
From continuing to work hard and learning by listening to my coaches. At 14 I was training with some other great young players and learning from top coaches, trying to take it all in. If you do that, you stand a chance to progress, and fortunately I was able to do that and continue to work hard into the First Team.
Is there anything you wish you’d known about a career in top-level sport when you were younger?
The things you don’t know is how difficult it is to be a professional footballer week in, week out, how tough it is, how physical it is, the pressures, the ups and downs...only when you’re actually doing it do you realise how intense it is.
What advice would you give to young people starting out?
To listen, learn and soak up as much knowledge as you can to continue to improve yourself. You never stop learning as a professional, so you must have that mindset from the start.
How much training/education did you need?
Plenty. It’s always important to play as much as you can at an early age, even if it’s by yourself with a ball. I used to have a ball on my own sometimes with no-one to play with, but even by kicking a ball against a wall, you can work on things, such as your weaker foot or heading. It’s important to put the time in, and with that will come improvements. I think it’s great nowadays that a Club like Tottenham does so much work with its young players academically as well, continuing to develop them as people because we realise how difficult it is to make the grade as a professional footballer, so it’s important that people an education to fall back on.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Playing in front of the fans. They pay good money to support and watch you. Without them, it wouldn’t be the same.
What was the best/worst careers advice you received at school?
My PE teacher, Mr Lyons, had a lot of faith in me. He made me realise at a young age that I had something there and if I worked at it, I’d stand a chance. I don’t remember receiving too much negative advice, just constructive criticism. I was able to express my desire to be a professional footballer, which was great, but I could have worked harder academically.