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Interviews

Michael turned down a club hero to join Wimbledon

Interview with on-loan Watford striker

14 March 2019

Michael Folivi is enjoying playing a part in AFC Wimbledon's recent revival and we got to learn a bit more about his career during an interview for our match day programme.

If you missed this article in Tuesday's programme for the Peterborough match, it is reproduced in full below.

Michael Folivi turned down the chance to play for an AFC Wimbledon favourite in January, and after making a bright start to his loan spell here he’s certainly not regretting that decision. The Watford forward enjoyed a very positive loan stint at Luke Garrard’s Boreham Wood last season, which included scoring the goal that took them to Wembley and within 90 minutes of the Football League. Luke, who is still fondly remembered here for playing an important part in Wimbledon’s rise through non-league, wanted to take Michael back for a second spell at the National League club.

“Luke’s a bubbly character, a great man,” Michael said. “I had a really good relationship with him. I spoke to him before I came here because that was another option for me. I was in contact with Luke throughout the transfer window, and I could have gone back to Boreham Wood, but I decided to come to Wimbledon. Even so, Luke wished me the best of luck here. He’s a young manager and has played to a high level himself, so I have a lot of respect for him.

“I felt I played well last season and almost helped Boreham Wood get into the Football League, but I wanted to test myself at a higher level. I knew I could play at a higher level. My loan at Coventry didn’t go well. I got injured and I didn’t play as many games as I wanted, but Luke took a chance on me and it worked out well.

“It was a different experience for me at Boreham Wood. Going from a Premier League club to playing in the National League could be viewed as a backward move, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I matured a lot as a player. I found out how to deal with the mental side of things better. For example, when you get left out of the team, you have to work hard to get back into the manager’s thoughts. I scored the goal in the semi-finals to get us to Wembley. It was a great time at Boreham Wood, as we won the majority of our matches after I joined and there was a good spirit about the place.

“I have nothing but good feelings about Luke and Boreham Wood, so I’m very grateful to them for giving me the opportunity. I have good memories of my time there, and it helped to bring me here. I showed I could do it there and now I’ve been given my chance here to build on that.”

As a young striker learning his trade, Michael has been eager to seek advice, and Watford captain Troy Deeney has been a big influence on his career. Though Troy’s path towards becoming a professional footballer was completely different to his, as Troy worked as a bricklayer during his teenage years, the captain’s work ethic to reach the top has provided a fine example for Michael to follow.

“His story is a bit different to mine because I’ve been at Watford since I was a young boy, but I can learn from the way he’s got where he is. I’m a young striker, and Troy understands that I’ve come through quite quickly, being given contracts at Watford often a year or two before my team-mates at youth level.

“My first experience of going to Wembley was watching Watford against Palace in the play-offs, but we lost that one. It was a good build-up to get there as I remember Troy scoring a last-minute winner against Leicester in the semi-final.

“I’ve been at Watford a long time and I’ve trained with the first team a lot. Troy has often talked to me after training sessions about what I can improve in my game. Obviously, he knows that I’m in competition for his position, but he’ll still take time out to talk to me. The one thing I’d say about Troy is that he’s a realist. Whether you’ll like it or not, he’ll tell it like it is – he speaks honestly to you. At the end of the day he’s the skipper, so you want to stay on his good side! He’s been through it all, and his wise words can help me in my career.

“I’ve seen see how hard Troy works in training and in the gym. Success doesn’t come overnight – he’s obviously worked very hard for it and he deserves to be at the top. The path to success is very rarely straightforward. I’ve seen Watford go from mid-table in the Championship to establishing themselves in the Premier League. Even with every new manager who comes in, I feel they’ve recognised that I have good potential.”

Michael travelled with the first-team squad for a Premier League match at Liverpool in November 2016 when he was just 17 years old. He says his initiation song – “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz – went down a storm! It certainly didn’t do him any harm, as he made his Premier League debut shortly afterwards, at Stoke City, and earned himself a long-term contract with Watford.

Michael feels that he’s made a promising start to his loan spell at Wimbledon, but he’s far from resting on his laurels, particularly with the club desperate for League One points in the battle to stay up.

“I’ve had a bit of everything since I’ve been here. I got to travel away with the boys to Sunderland on my first trip. I didn’t make the squad for that first game, so I had to deal with that disappointment and support the team. It was good to see how the boys prepare for a game and to be part of it all. I did the warm-up with the squad and I was involved in everything, but I just didn’t play. It was good to get a feel for it.

“I had to impress during training in the next week. I stuck the ball in the net a few times and I worked very hard. It’s my job, but I always aim to enjoy it. I wanted to impress the manager, and I got myself on the bench for the match against Burton. I showed the fans a little bit of what I could do as a sub, and since then the gaffer has trusted me.

“I come in every day and work hard. The best thing I can do is score goals and try to keep myself in the team. I want to help this club stay up. First and foremost, we are in a fight to stay in the division and I have to prove that I’m ready for the battle. At the moment I’m doing that and keeping a smile on my face. I’m a bubbly character and I get on with everyone here. I try not to be a problem for the coaching staff and to do my job.

“Sometimes you need a bit of luck as a striker. You need the ball to bounce in the right place or for a defender not to block your shot. The goal I scored against Charlton helped boost my confidence, and I’m building relationships with people on the pitch. They’re getting to understand my game, and I’m getting myself in better positions to score. That can only help me do better for the team, and hopefully I can start putting the ball in the back of the net more.”

Michael appreciates the support he’s received from Wimbledon fans since signing here on January transfer deadline day.

“I’m here to do a job and that’s to try and keep the club up, whether that’s starting every game or making a contribution as a substitute. The first-team match day is a lot different to playing U23s football. You get to see the fans before a match. That’s where it starts really, it gives you that excitement. I’ve been buzzing with the support we’ve received from the fans away from home. There hasn’t been one match where they’ve not been in good spirits. Most of the time they’ve been louder than the home fans! I’m loving that, and the support we receive at home too. Wimbledon have great fans and I’m proud to play here. It’s a great club with a great history, so hopefully I can help to keep us up. Since I’ve been in the team, we’ve only really had one bad result, and that was against Charlton. I’m happy to be here and I want to keep on making a positive contribution.”

Brought up in Rayners Lane, Michael signed for Watford’s academy at the age of just 10, and he is grateful that he had the right people around him to help him avoid other distractions during his teenage years.

“I was grateful to my parents as they always made sure I knuckled down. They knew I had to avoid certain situations and sacrifice things to have a good career. Just before I signed my pro deal, there were things I had to separate myself from. When you’re a teenager you have a lot of distractions. Friends hear that you’re at a professional club, and you have to conduct yourself in the right way.

“I come from a good home and a good background. My parents were quite strict, and though I grew up on an estate in Rayners Lane my mum was a community person and we were well known locally. I’d often climb through the window to go out and play football, but my parents made sure I behaved myself! Growing up on an estate, there was a bit of crime and it would have been easy to have become involved in that.”

Michael’s big break came when he was spotted playing football in Rayners Lane by Watford, and he has been with the Hornets ever since.

“I used to play with my friends at a local community centre near where I lived in Rayners Lane, and luckily we got introduced to the Kicks programme, which was like a development centre for Watford FC. All the boys from the local community would go to play football there on a Monday and a Friday – we’d all look forward to that after school. I was eight or nine when I was playing there, and banging in the goals – they’d stick me up top and I’d do the rest!

“I was spotted by a local community officer who was also chairman of a Sunday League team called LNER. He was involved in the Kicks programme and I also played for LNER. I had a few good seasons there, scoring a lot of goals and winning trophies. With the local connections to Watford, a scout watched me play and after that I got invited to join Watford’s academy. I was there for two weeks before I got offered a contract. That was back in 2008, and I’ve been there ever since.”

It could be a much shorter stint for Michael at Wimbledon, but no-one here will be complaining if the goals continue to flow from now until May.


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