Nineteen-year-old midfielder Ossama Ashley has extra incentive to come back stronger from serious injury after he signed a professional contract at AFC Wimbledon.
The Dons academy product, who had been impressing for the Under-23s this season, suffered an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury recently, but he’s regarded as a bright prospect for the future. His progress is regarded as a ‘really good success story’ by Academy Manager Jeremy Sauer as Ashley was still playing college football until just a couple of years ago.
“Ashley came to us at 16/17 years of age,” said Jeremy. “We would call that a late developer in the industry, I suppose. He came through a college programme that Fulham were running, which is rare, as normally players have been seen in the system by that point already. They have often spent years in an academy, but that wasn’t Ashley’s journey. Credit to Mark Robinson and his assistant James Oliver-Pearce, they spotted Ashley’s potential and worked with him for one or two years to get him to a point when we were confident that he could become a professional player, which he’s managed to do.
“This season he has been playing Under-23 football because it’s been right for him and he’s been thriving in that environment, so it was really only a matter of time until this day came. We are all really excited. He’s an all round midfielder with great athletic potential and a great range of passing. He scores goals and gets box to box to make tackles, so he has a bit of an all round profile. We certainly think he has a lot of potential so we are really excited.”
Ashley added that it’s a dream come true to be offered a chance to make it in the professional game, especially as he had to do it the hard way.
“It’s the best day of my life,” said Ashley. “Since a young age I’ve always wanted to be a professional footballer. I had been offered trials here and there and I always tried my best, but I always got told that I wasn’t good enough. It just goes to show that you shouldn’t give up, and you can follow your dreams.
“I was always in Sunday League Football from a young age, but I was getting to that age when it looked like I might have to do something else. After leaving school at 16 I decided to go to college, that’s when I found the Fulham sports programme, which included physiotherapy and stuff like that. I did really well there and luckily for me AFC Wimbledon needed someone to make up the numbers for a match prep session, ahead of the FA Youth Cup match against Hull. That was when I got my chance to show what I could do.
“The injury actually happened in a game against Banstead. I went to go and kick the ball and one of their guys stepped across me, so I hyper-extended my knee. At the time, it didn’t really feel like a serious injury. I did go down, but it was only for a few seconds. I played on for another 20 minutes, but the pain was too much so I had to ask Reevsey to come off. The next day it swelled up and I couldn’t really walk. It was unfortunate.
“When I get back into football I will be striving to get into the first-team. That’s the reason why I’m here, I’m not here to doss around. My job is to try and be better than everyone else in that team and give my all to the team if I do get that chance.”
Ashley will have a knee operation in four weeks' time, before starting his recuperation back to full fitness.
Academy Head of Football Mark Robinson said: “His technique was what caught the eye, but what was different for Ashley is that it was all a bit new for him, the intensity of it all. I think he agrees that the thing he has to work on is the mental aspect of it all and believing in himself. He has to be believe in how much ability he has got. It was the technical stuff that caught my eye. I was going back to Jeremy and saying, ‘there’s this lad who is helping me with match prep, he looks like he could be a bit of a player'. There isn’t a lot he can’t do: he is athletic, can play with both feet, he has a great range of passing, and he’s good in the air. It’s more about him believing in himself, that’s the thing he has to work on, and he has to believe that he can actually do it.”
Click on the link below to watch a full interview with Ashley, Jeremy, and Mark.