Curtis Osano’s return has added a new dimension to AFC Wimbledon’s attacking play as it has allowed on-loan Norwich City youngster George Francomb the freedom to express himself further up the right flank.
However, making the grade in the Football League appeared to be a forlorn hope for Curtis when he was left with no club two years ago and had to take the first job he could get. Ironically, Curtis would have signed for Brighton, but for the arrival of Romain Vincelot, who ended up being a thorn in his side once again when he scored the winner for Gillingham against the Dons on Saturday.
We today publish an in-depth interview with Curtis, for those supporters who may have missed it in Saturday’s matchday programme.
Having a frustrating start to his AFC Wimbledon career is nothing compared to what Curtis Osano had to go through two years ago when he was literally dumped on the football scrapheap.
The right-back, who finally put an ankle injury behind him by making his first Wimbledon start at Fleetwood Town last Saturday, was left in limbo when his old club Rushden & Diamonds went to the wall. With no offers from elsewhere, Curtis went down to the job centre and took the first job he could get at a recycling centre near Bagshot.
However, the football skills Curtis developed during his Academy years at Reading, where he was nurtured by current Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, stood him in good stead. The 25-year-old came tantalisingly close to earning a deal at Championship club Brighton and then got his big break back in football with Luton Town.
Curtis said: “After Rushden went to the wall I struggled to find a club. I had to grab a job to pay the bills so I took a job working at a recycling centre. My old manager at Frimley, John McDonnell, put me up in his house. I used to come back from work stinking of all kinds of stuff from the rubbish tip, but I had to make ends meet. But then my agent got me a trial at Brighton. Gus Poyet said he would make a decision after a game and he came up and shook my hand afterwards and told me he would speak to his chairman about a contract. But I got a phone call from him on the Saturday saying that they had signed a player, Romain Vincelot, who they had been after for years. Though I was disappointed by that, it gave me a huge confidence boost - someone like Gus Poyet thought I was good enough. After another trial, at Stevenage, Gary Brabin, who was Luton manager then, offered me a chance and I got a six-month contract.”
His spell at Luton may have ended with play-off heartbreak as York City triumphed at Wembley, but his talents had caught the eye of Terry Brown and he signed for AFC Wimbledon during the summer. Here was his chance to make a name for himself as a professional player in the Football League. Kenyan-born Curtis, who moved to England at the age of nine when his father joined the British Army, didn’t start playing football until he was 13. Curtis was soon picked up by Reading – but when he had the chance to sign for them he initially refused their offer.
“I didn’t start playing football until I was 13, when I was at Collingwood College in Camberley,” he added. “I got involved in athletics, doing the 200 metres, 400 metres and the triple jump. I ended up representing my county in the English Schools Championships and won a silver medal in the triple jump. I needed to make a decision: football or athletics. I chose football and I have never looked back.
“I started playing football at Frimley Town (then Grove Boys). When I was spotted by a Reading scout, I told them I didn’t want to sign for them because I was happy playing for Frimley! But the manager at Frimley, John McDonnell, told me that I had to sign for a professional club. He was a key influence in my career, I am still in touch with him now, and he still comes to watch me play.”
Curtis came through the ranks at Reading under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers, who was then in charge of the Academy, but he was released in 2008 after making just one first-team appearance against West Brom in the League Cup.
“I had a great time at Reading - the people I worked under there were brilliant,” he added. “Brendan Rodgers was my youth team manager and the current Reading manager, Brian McDermott, was in charge of the reserves. I had the best of opportunities to make a living out of football and it was a privilege to work with those people. I was obviously disappointed when Reading let me go, but that’s football. The season after I left the likes of Jem Karacan, Hal Robson-Kanu and a few of the other young lads were getting a chance. I actually saw the Reading lads again just by chance at a service station after our match at Fleetwood. They were coming back from their match at Liverpool. I spoke to the management and players and wished them well for the rest of the season.”
During his final season at Reading, Curtis first linked up with Terry Brown during a loan spell when our former manager was at Aldershot. He also had a brief loan stint at Woking and his first taste of senior football helped him earn a move to Rushden & Diamonds after his release by Reading. He made over 100 appearances for Rushden & Diamonds in the Conference, before the club ran into financial difficulties and folded.
That led to that testing summer for Curtis when his football career was at the crossroads. But his spell at Luton brought him to the attention of Terry Brown once again.
“It took a few days to sink in after I played for Luton at Wembley and we lost in the play-off final,” Curtis added. “But Terry had got onto my agent and said he wanted to sign me. He had watched the play-off final and said that a player who could get up and down the right was just what he wanted. It was an opportunity that I wanted to grab with both hands straight away. I was on Brighton beach with my girlfriend when the phone call came, but I had to cut that short to arrange talks. I owe Terry a hell of a lot and I will always be grateful to him if I go on to do well in my career.
“It was frustrating being injured as I was flying in pre-season, but I got an ankle knock in the match against West Ham and it flared up. Our physio, Mike Rayner, did so well to get me back. I enjoyed my first start against Fleetwood, I felt good, but not as sharp as I can be. I just need more game time now.
“Neal Ardley has added so much to the team in terms of our shape, including when to press and not to press. We were a bit tentative in the first-half at Fleetwood, but at half-time he gave us a team-talk that sunk in straight away. He told us to be brave and that he would not have a go at us for trying to do the right thing. In the second-half we were a completely different team. All the boys were buzzing and we went on and performed well after the break. I just want to help the team now as much as possible.”