By Chris Slavin
Since joining Wimbledon on loan, Harry Forrester believes he's shown glimpses of the talent that once had Dutch masters Ajax chasing his signature.
For those supporters who may have missed the recent interview with Harry in the Southend programme, it is republished in full below.
At 26 years of age, attacking midfielder Harry Forrester has played in the Scottish Premier League with Rangers and in the Championship with Doncaster Rovers, but he believes he still has plenty to prove.
"I've not played as much as I've wanted to at my age," said Harry. "I enjoy playing a lot – it's the high of the week. The fans pay money to watch you, and if you score a goal, you can see how much it means to them. That's what you work hard for. The toughest thing for me has been nailing down a position in a team for a substantial amount of time. That's my aim here this season, and I want to be playing regular football for seasons to come.
"I'm very hungry, and I've got to a point where I know I can kick on if I keep playing. I'm still only 26, and hopefully I'm coming into my prime. It's up to me to stay in the team and make an impression on everyone here. I wouldn't say I've hit the heights here yet, but I think I've shown glimpses of what I can do. It was nice to get a goal at Bristol Rovers, but then we had a bit of a tough spell. It was a sign of what I can do, and hopefully there's more of that to come."
Harry has no regrets about opting to turn down Ajax, Holland's most famous club, who offered him a deal after his time at Aston Villa came to an end in 2011.
"Just before I left Villa at the age of 20, I played in a tournament in Hong Kong and got chatting to a youth-team coach who liked how I played. I explained to him that I was leaving Villa in the summer – and he was quite shocked, to be honest. He invited me over to Holland and I scored a hat-trick for the Ajax reserves. Ronald de Boer was the manager at the time, and Dennis Bergkamp was a coach there. I was offered a two-year contract, but at that stage of my career I'd been playing reserve-team football and I wanted to play at first-team level. That was the question mark about me back then.
"When Brentford showed interest in me, I felt it was right to go there. They're obviously not as big a club as Ajax, but it was for my own personal development. The plan was to get into the Championship in two years. Though it didn't quite work out in terms of promotion with Brentford, I did go on to play in the Championship with Doncaster."
Harry is happy to be back down south for now after leaving Rangers to join the Dons on loan, and he says that playing regularly for Wimbledon is exactly what he needs right now.
"It's amazing to play for Rangers, and I got on really well with the fans there. It's an experience I'll never forget. I have next year up there as well, so maybe I'll get another chance. I know that football is all about opinions, so I'll have to wait and see. It's an institution – every time you go into work you are representing a huge football club. I have a young daughter in Birmingham, so that aspect was tough, being so far away from home, but it was an experience I couldn't turn down.
"Wimbledon is a club on a high with Plough Lane being approved, and it's a good time to be here. We just have to keep plugging away until the end of the season. We want to give the club the best platform to kick on in the way that the fans deserve. The fans here have had tough times in the past. I think they are starting to see a decent squad forming, and hopefully we can show them the form we're capable of.
"I get on well with everyone here. I was saying to someone recently that there are no bad eggs in the dressing room. We're all hungry to achieve, and we come in to do our work every day. I enjoy coming in every day, which is a big part of everyday life. It becomes difficult if you're not enjoying your football.
"I think we're in a false position, but it is up to us to turn it around. We have enough talent to have more points on the board than we have at the moment. As an attacker, I have to work harder, and so do all the other forwards, to put defences more on the back foot. Likewise, the defenders have to be more ruthless. We have more than enough to be further up the table, but we have to show it."
Harry's life has been dominated by football ever since he was a young boy. Signed up by Northampton Town's academy at the age of just seven, he wasn't there long before Watford paid the Cobblers a compensation fee to sign him. He is still very grateful for the guidance given to him by Watford academy coach Chris Cummins before he made the move to Aston Villa at the age of 16. Then a Premier League club, Villa paid £250,000 – potentially rising to over £1 million with first-team appearances – for Harry's services to beat off other clubs for his signature, and he admits that this brought with it a degree of pressure.
"It was a bit of a shock at that age. You go from being a kid just enjoying his football to doing it as a job, and people are throwing all sorts at you to go and join them. I wanted to play in the Premier League – it was something I'd always aspired to. Moving to Birmingham at such a young age was tough, and it was a huge price tag too. There was certainly pressure to produce, because people have invested money in you as a player and that can get to you in different ways. You feel you should be performing at a level they deem acceptable for that price tag.
"With the world's best players, people expect them to play like they're worth £100 million. There's pressure too when you're a young player bought for a lot of money. It didn't go as well at Villa as I'd wanted it to, but it was a good learning experience. I didn't make any first-team appearances, but I learned a lot. I moved away from home at a young age and played with some good players. We had a great youth team, but I wasn't able to make the breakthrough."
But Harry certainly did that at Brentford, and he looks on Mark Warburton, as the biggest influence on his career.
"I had a great time at Brentford. But we didn't go up on the final day of the 2012/13 season and I felt it was time for me to test myself in the Championship, so that's why I left. Mark Warburton took me to Brentford at a key time in my career and showed me the plan there. I would never have signed for Brentford without him being there. I had Ajax interested in me, but because of Mark's plans I decided to join Brentford. He also took me up to Rangers when he became manager up there. He was very good to work for, very thoughtful and meticulous. Mark helped the players out a lot. He liked to play out from the back and had his own way of doing things, but he is a very clever guy."
If Harry can rediscover some of the form that made him such a hot property earlier in his career, Wimbledon supporters will certainly not be complaining.