THE BOY DON GOOD

How MK Dons’ Samir Car­ruthers has put his As­ton Villa pain be­hind him

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Chris Dunlavy

EAR­MARKED for great­ness by Martin O’Neil. A Premier League de­but at An­field un­der Alex McLeish. At 19, it seemed Samir Car­ruthers was an As­ton Villa star in the mak­ing.

Then Paul Lambert took charge in June 2012 and ev­ery­thing changed. Un­wanted and un­used, the play­maker spent the next two years fes­ter­ing in the re­serves, play­ing just three times be­fore a bliss­ful es­cape to Sta­dium:MK.

At the time, re­jec­tion stung. Car­ruthers even ques­tioned his own abil­ity.

But af­ter res­ur­rect­ing his ca­reer in Mil­ton Keynes - and cap­ping his 100th game for the Dons with a fine strike against Lambert’s Black­burn - the 22year-old says ditch­ing Villa Park was the best thing that could have hap­pened.

“I’m sure Paul Lambert had his rea­sons but, the truth is, we never saw eye to eye,” ex­plains Car­ruthers, who said scor­ing in the Dons’ 3-2 de­feat to Rovers had been “a sweet mo­ment”.

“That first year, I wasn’t even al­lowed out on loan. I just trav­elled up and down the coun­try.

“I wasn’t even mak­ing the bench – he just made me sit there in the stands, watch­ing like I was a fan.

De­mor­al­is­ing

“At first, it’s all good ex­pe­ri­ence. But it be­comes de­mor­al­is­ing, es­pe­cially when it stretched into a se­cond year. There was no real ex­pla­na­tion and you start think­ing ‘I’m not good enough’.

“There were so many young­sters do­ing re­ally well and he never gave any of us a chance. Look at Jack Gre­al­ish. Un­der Tim Sher­wood, he came straight into the team. I did think ‘If I’d stayed, would that have been me?’

“But I’ve got no re­grets. The de­ci­sion to leave was per­fect. I’ve played 100 games since then and, 100 per cent, I wouldn’t have got that at Villa.

“I’ve been through a pro­mo­tion bat­tle, a rel­e­ga­tion bat­tle. I’ve learned so much about how to deal with pres­sure, how to close out games, what you need to dig your­self out of cer­tain sit­u­a­tions.

“If I was on a bench at Villa, what would I have? A good bonus. The odd few games at fa­mous sta­di­ums, but I wouldn’t re­ally un­der­stand foot­ball.

“You can’t tell me some­one like Marc Al­brighton would be this good if he’d stayed, ei­ther.

“Of course, drop­ping out of the Premier League is a big deal. But, be­ing prag­matic, it doesn’t mat­ter now, does it? If we stay up, we’ll prob­a­bly be play­ing Villa next sea­son.

“That would be lovely, to be hon­est.”

Car­ruthers is the ar­che­typal Karl Robin­son player: tal­ented and tech­ni­cally adept, but also eru­dite and in­tel­li­gent, clearly com­fort­able in his own skin.

For that, Robin­son must take some credit.

“He gives play­ers be­lief and con­fi­dence,” ex­plains the mid­fielder. “He doesn’t have a prob­lem with mis­takes. He’ll never have a go at you for try­ing to beat a man or try­ing some­thing au­da­cious.

“If you work hard and lis­ten, he gives you free­dom to ex­press your­self.

“That’s why it is so at­trac­tive to young play­ers. I’d been here six months on loan and when he called to say ‘I want to sign you’, I was ec­static.”

Fo­cused

Yet Car­ruthers also owes much to his par­ents, whose de­ter­mi­na­tion to see their son suc­ceed even ex­tends to crit­i­cism of his goal tally.

“The Gaffer is al­ways on at me to score more goals,” he laughs. “But he needn’t worry – I get it ev­ery time I go home!

“My par­ents are great. From a young age, my dad was fo­cused on me play­ing foot­ball. But, at the same time, my mum put education first.

“They both said ‘fo­cus on school and see if foot­ball hap­pens’. Even af­ter foot­ball, you never know what qual­i­fi­ca­tions you’ll need.

“I was at Cam­bridge United as a kid. They got rel­e­gated to the Con­fer­ence and the cen­tre of ex­cel­lence folded. Arse­nal came in and I was there from the age of 12-14.

“They of­fered me a schol­ar­ship, but I didn’t want to stay. When you get held back and knocked down so many times, you just get fed up.

“I didn’t feel wanted and I couldn’t see any sign of progress.

“If you look back six-seven years ago, al­most no English play­ers came through at Arse­nal. My par­ents re­alised that, too, and saw that Villa was the to­tal op­po­site. They told me to go for it.”

Car­ruthers also has his folks to thank for his se­cret dress­ing room weapon, per­fect Ara­bic.

“My mum is Moroc­can,” he ex­plains. “She moved to Eng­land for univer­sity and met my old man.

“I’ve never ac­tu­ally asked why she left Morocco. I guess she just wanted a bet­ter life. She’s a phar­ma­cist now, work­ing in a hos­pi­tal.

“I’ve got loads of fam­ily out there. Be­fore the foot­ball got se­ri­ous, I used to go ev­ery sum­mer. I’m flu­ent in Ara­bic.

“I was just lucky to grow up speak­ing both lan­guages. If you’re pick­ing some­thing nat­u­rally up from an early age, it’s much eas­ier than be­ing ac­tively taught as an adult.

“When I was at Villa, they had a Moroc­can lad, Karim El Ah­madi.

“When­ever we need to speak per­son­ally, we’d switch it to Ara­bic. If we wanted to com­plain about some­body or say some­thing bad, we’d make sure

no­body could hear.

“I use it a lot with my mum, too. Her English is per­fect but, when we need to speak in pri­vate, we use Ara­bic. My dad doesn’t like it much, though. He al­ways thinks we’re talk­ing about him!”

Right now, most peo­ple are talk­ing about Dele Alli, the 19- year-old Spurs and Eng­land star with whom Car­ruthers shared a mid­field last sea­son.

“To be truth­ful, I don’t think any­body saw Dele do­ing this,” says Car­ruthers, of Alli’s seven goals in 37 games for Spurs. “You’ve got to give the kid so much credit and re­spect.

“But you al­ways knew he’d do big things. He’s a goalscor­ing mid­fielder who al­ways seems to be in the right place.

“He’s got an en­gine that never dies. He can run all day. He’s also got no fear, which I’m sure came cour­tesy of Karl.

“The things he’s do­ing, not many peo­ple have done at 19.”

Car­ruthers is grate­ful for the “win­dow” that Dons alumni like Alli and Benik Afobe have opened for scouts, but for now his fo­cus is sim­ply on keep­ing the club in the Cham­pi­onship.

“No­body ex­pected it, es­pe­cially on the low­est bud­get in the divi­sion,” he says.

“We tried to keep our prin­ci­ples. We tried to play foot­ball. Some­times that’s hurt us, but it is some­thing we all be­lieve in.

“We’ve tight­ened up a lot. Against Derby and at Mid­dles­brough, we’ve shown we can de­fend.

“We are learn­ing lessons in terms of blend­ing those prin­ci­ples with be­ing hard to beat.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Im­ages

GET IN: A mo­ment to savour for MK Dons’ Samir Car­ruthers as he scores against Black­burn and old boss Lambert, left. In­set: In his early days at Villa

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