Paul Osew has certainly moved on swiftly after being let go by Brentford, but a potential career in Athletics was never an option that he wanted to pursue.
For those that may have missed it in Saturday’s match day programme, the full interview with our 19-year-old left-back is reproduced in full below.
Having played at Brentford’s academy and had trials with Chelsea as a teenage striker, Paul Osew admits he was far from happy with Mark Robinson’s idea to play him at full-back. As a youngster blessed with blinding pace, Paul could have made a name for himself in athletics as a 100m runner, but he felt that utilising his speed as a striker would enable him to carve out a career in football. But that all changed when Mark, who was then the U18s manager, asked him to switch positions. And that was clearly a good move, because this season Paul has been filling the left-back slot with distinction for the first team.
“Robbo was toying with me a bit,” Paul recalled when we spoke with him this week. “When I joined Wimbledon I just wanted to attack, attack, attack! I was playing as a striker and a winger, scoring in every game, but then Robbo started pulling me further back. At first, I was thinking, ‘I don’t think so!’ In the first game I played at left-back I was running out of position and not staying where I was meant to play. I was ignoring my defensive responsibilities a fair bit, and I was all over the place.
“When I was younger I used to watch forward players like Ronaldo all the time, but now I look at Benjamin Mendy and Jordi Alba. To anyone who’s been moved from one position to another, I’d say that they shouldn’t feel too down about it. It can make you a versatile player. I feel I can still play as a winger or a striker, but now I can also play at left-back. If a trialist comes here as a left-winger and that position is taken, they can always play in a different position and adapt to that. I think it makes you a better all-round player.”
Though watching Usain Bolt’s 100m prowess in the Olympics was inspirational for Paul, he had no ambitions to chase that dream, even though his speed is what caught the eye at school.
“I knew that football was all I wanted to do, even if I was getting A-stars in my exams! I was OK in my studies, and I had that as a back-up, but football was my main priority. Every time we had sports day I used to do the 100m. I always got asked to represent the borough. When I was at secondary school I was one of the best at 100m in the borough, but I didn’t really want to take it any further. I was neck and neck with the best athlete in the borough for the 100m and I did beat him, which was when they offered me a chance to represent the borough. I started watching Usain Bolt, and I thought I might be able to take things from him into my football, but it’s obviously different because you have to take the ball with you!”
When Paul first joined AFC Wimbledon, the club’s young talents were making impressive progress in the FA Youth Cup, reaching the last 16 of the national competition. At that time, Paul became close friends with Emmanuel Mensah, known as “Manni”, who was a key member of that successful team as an all-action right-back. It was a friendship that Paul says really helped his development – and his awareness of the unique AFC Wimbledon story. He had also previously played with current Dons centre-back Paul Kalambayi during his time in Brentford’s academy.
“Paul Kalambayi was at Brentford when I was there, so I’ve known him for a number of years now. Manni was at Wimbledon playing in the FA Youth Cup and he used to help me through. He told me what to expect when I came here, including having to run on and off the ball, but he also told me about the journey of the club and how far it had come since it started again. He mentioned to me that the fans are the owners of the club. When I heard about that for the first time, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s an unusual way for a club to be run.’ I started watching Wimbledon games from years back on YouTube, and even Manni’s games from the FA Youth Cup.
“The supporters are a big help to us right now. You can see they’re right behind us. It’s really encouraging because even though we’re not in the right place now, we still have the support of the fans. Based on the club’s history, we know the fans are a big help. We know we have to keep pushing to help this club move forwards.”
Brought up in Brixton, Paul played football from a young age, and he had a brief flirtation with Chelsea before Wimbledon came calling. Initially representing our club as part of the AFC Wimbledon Foundation’s football and education programme, Paul caught the eye of our Academy coaching team.
“I used to play for Chelsea Kicks, who were based in Canada Water, and from there I went to a team called Evolution FC, near where I lived in Brixton. I was at Brentford from the age of 11 for three years. When I was 14, Wimbledon wanted to sign me, but at that time you had to pay for your own kit! I was on trial at Chelsea, where I was training with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James, but I came back here after getting offered another trial. The Head of Talent ID here at the time was Limahl Erb, who was also my coach at Evolution. I came here through him because he used to be my teacher – he was in charge of the school football team at Sudbourne Primary School in Brixton.”
Paul signed his first pro contract at Wimbledon as recently as April this year, so it’s been a rapid rise for him to become a first-team regular. His single-minded attitude to training has certainly helped, but he’s also very grateful to our coaching team for easing his transition.
“The dream for a lot of young boys is to become a professional footballer, so when I got my first pro contract I said to myself that it was just the start. I knew I had to come in every day for training and give my all. I had to give my all to do extras away from the training ground, and when I’m training I give it everything too. I knew it was important to ask Robbo questions, and now it’s the same with Vaughan.
“Glyn and his coaching staff are all good with me, and Nick is always encouraging me to keep going. It’s great that they can help me out in certain situations, and I don’t feel left out when I come here. I’m striving to be the best I can as a left-back, and I feel I’ve improved a lot since I switched to that position. I’m the youngest in the team, so any help I can get is very much appreciated. The fact that Robbo has also stepped up to be involved with the first team is a big help as well. He’s a nice guy and you can call him outside of training for help and advice, so that’s always been a real benefit to me.
“I’m still young, and still learning. I feel that the more matches I play, the more I’ll understand the game and get better. And I feel I am getting better, thanks to what we’re doing in training. I can see that it’s helping me in a positional sense. I’m good at attacking, but there’s still more I can do. I’ll play anywhere the manager wants me to play, whether it’s left-back, left wing-back or elsewhere. I’m a dynamic player – I like to get up and down that wing. If it’s long-term that I’m playing wing-back, so be it.”
Paul’s connection with the club goes back further than the day he joined the AFC Wimbledon U18s. He played a few games for Raynes Park Vale, where his manager was Gavin Bolger, who played for us in the first two seasons after our re-formation. Paul is very grateful to Gavin and the coaching team at Raynes Park, and he still keeps in touch with staff and players there.
“The first-team manager, Gavin Bolger, helped a me a lot as he gave me the opportunity to play men’s football at a young age. Darren Wiltshear, who was my U18 coach, also helped me to progress as a player. When I first came here Darren would ask me how things were going, and he still sends me a message every Saturday morning before a game. Afterwards, he’ll ask me how it all went and how I felt about my own performance. Earlier in the season, when Raynes Park had a midweek game and we weren’t playing, I went along to watch. My old team-mates asked me if I’d be playing for them again, but I said I was just there to watch and support them. I was getting asked by parents about how my time at AFC Wimbledon was going and people down there were very interested in what I had to say about my career and the club. I am glad I’ve kept in touch with them all, as my time at Raynes Park was very important to me.”