Elliot Simmons Story: An English Footballer in Scandinavia
The Elliot Simmons Story might resonate with lots of young players who were released but it shows if you keep motivated and working hard you will get another opportunity.
Starting his career at MK Dons before being told he was too small going to a football college and having trials at Aston Villa, Leicester and Middlesbrough.
After a spell in Spain Elliot signed a professional contract with Dalkurd in Sweden at 19 years old.
Now on loan in Finland to get first team experience.
What position do you play?
Mainly as a deep-lying Pivot/Holding midfielder but also sometimes cover in the pocket and as a full back.
What your style of play?
I like to get on the ball constantly from deep, build from the back and dictate the tempo of the play, through the thirds with my passing ability and creativity.
What are your strengths and weaknesses as a player?
Technical ability, Decision making, Composure, Intelligence, passing range, Retaining Possession, Creating Space, Keeping things simple, Heading, Work rate and Mentality.
As for weaknesses, I am working on running with the ball more out of defence, taking more shooting opportunities and final third assists. I am still growing so need to gain more physical strength and add a few more kilo’s of muscle. Currently 183cm and 75 kg.
Where did you start your career?
I moved from England to Ottawa, Canada at age five and joined a local league club. At age 9 I joined the Ottawa Fury academy (NASL). During this period, I was scouted at age ten by Tony Carr and Paul Heffer of West Ham Utd after winning the U9-12 age group at their North American ID camp held in Toronto.
On the back of that I was invited over for trials with West Ham, then later with Arsenal.
I remained in Ottawa until age 11 when we decided as a family to move back to Northampton. I had the opportunity of a 6-week trial with Spurs upon my return but chose MK Dons FC instead as it was much closer and my dad had already spoken to head coach Dan Micciche and was very impressed with the academy program he was running their which focused on reduced sized pitches, futsal and letting players find their own solutions in-game scenarios as opposed to being coached what to do constantly.
I was also given the opportunity to train up at higher age groups regularly which was brilliant with players like Dele Alli, Brendon Galloway, Seyi Ojo and so on.
I then remained at MK Dons from 11 until age 16 and started in over 200 games. However, I was a very late physical developer and was only 5ft 2 and 55kg at scholarship decision time, everyone else was much bigger than me by this time and most people thought I was a U13 !
Dan Micciche had left earlier in the season to join England U16 and I was told by the Academy Director to my face that I was too small and timid to get a scholarship which was devastating to hear at the time and that was that and I left the club
I went to the exit trials and played well but nobody came in for me and lack of size was the general feedback I got.
You then went to a football collage and had many trials that didn’t work out?
I was accepted by Hartpury college on their full-time football program but was then contacted by my ex U12/14 MK Dons coach James Nash who invited me to come onto his Full time Cat 1 college program at Milton Keynes College, a few of the other lads released also agreed to join.
If I’m honest I was reluctant at first as I just wanted to get away from MK but after seeing the program, the facilities and listening to James I knew it was the right thing to do development wise.
I then spent U17/18 at MK College, we trained full time and had the same possession based philosophy as MK Dons but more physical training.
At age 16 I was playing both U19 ECFA Cat 1 and U21 UCL league football which was a huge turning point. If I had got a scholarship at MK Dons, no doubt I would have been warming a bench but at college I was getting two full games a week against much older and stronger players.
James didn’t care about my lack of size, if I was good enough I was big enough.
At the end of my first year at age 17 and 5ft 7, 58kgs, I was scouted by Aston Villa playing U21 UCL and spent 3 separate weeks at Bodymoor Heath with their U18s and played in a game v Spurs.
I absolutely loved the training and environment there but they couldn’t make their mind up on me as I was still much smaller physically than their scholars and lacking strength, so again I was left disappointed but it did give me huge belief that it was only a matter of time if I stuck at it as technically I knew I was up to this level.
Whilst on trial at Villa I received a call up to a weeklong Canada U20 training camp and I was the only player not signed to a professional club. Again, this gave me the confidence and motivation to keep working hard.
In my second year at MK College I was put forward for the England U18 Colleges National Team Trials along with two other team-mates. After a series of trials all three of us were selected and we played five international games including the Roma Caput Mundi tournament in 2016 where we faced the full U18 national team of Romania and Greece.
It was another turning point for me as I was voted players player and got great feedback but even this failed to gain any interest from club scouts and no trial offers came.
At the end of my second year at MK College we had won the National U19 Cat 1 championship and the cup double and although I knew some club scouts had come to watch me, only Leicester City had offered me a trial and I ended up injuring myself on the second day of the trial so again that was that again.
I had the option of a third year at college but felt another year would not develop me further and wanted to test myself week in week out v professional opposition.
I was fortunate enough to be offered a 5-month period with Malaga City in Spain at age 18. At this point was 5ft 10, 65ks but still only looked about 15/16 physically.
Spain was huge, not only was I living independently, cooking my own food and growing mentally but also training full-time and playing weekly games at U19 against clubs such as Villarreal, Athletico Madrid, Valencia and Real Betis.
I was also playing a mid-week game against senior first teams of local clubs. During this period my technical ability, decision-making and confidence playing against top Spanish youth players went up another level as did my determination to get signed.
Scouts from Real Betis and Villarreal picked me out in games and at this point I was called up to Canada U20 again for another training camp in January 2017.
I had also decided at this point to apply to an NCAA college in the USA as a backup and had been offered a 95% scholarship starting August 2017 but in the back of my mid this was just a backup and last resort.
After the U20 camp my intention was to return to Spain and go on trial with some Spanish clubs but the Vancouver Whitecaps 2 USL side invited me in for preseason training. However after less than a week I picked up a groin strain injury which meant I would be out for a minimum of 4 weeks so would miss pre-season so reluctantly I flew back to England to recover.
At this point if I’m honest I did feel like giving up in trying to get a pro club and my parents were trying to convince me that the NCAA was the way to go and get a degree whilst playing soccer and perhaps at age 22/23 I might find a club in the US.
However deep down I knew I was good enough and just needed to find the right club with the right Philosophy who would have the patience for me to grow and mature.
From there you made decision to move to Sweden, how did that come about?
In February 2017 whilst at home recuperating I spent a lot of time researching clubs that played a possession based game in Europe. I sent a video to a number of clubs including Swedish club Dalkurd FF who replied back saying they were looking for a Holding midfield/pivot for their U19s and that they played a very slick tikka taka style game.
I had never heard of Dalkurd before but they came across very ambitious and I agreed to go out for a trial in late February 2017. I had not trained for 4 weeks but within a few days they offered me a spot on their U19s for the season. It was not on any kind of contract just league registration only and accommodation, but I felt this was my opportunity at last and was determined to get signed.
Moving to Sweden did not bother me having lived in Spain. It was a great environment and their style of play really suited me, everything was centred around a defensive midfield pivot.
Soon afterwards I was also playing for their U21s which was mainly first team squad players and the standard was really high. After some good performances the first team management became interested in me more and I started training a few times with the first team.
This really gave me the final belief I could play at this level.
In July 2017 I signed a 2.5-year professional contract with Dalkurd and they achieved promotion to the top-tier Allsvenskan league and with Europa/Champions league qualification ambitions I was told I needed to gain first team experience in 2018 and return for 2019 pre-season to earn a spot in the Allsvenskan first team squad.
I signed with a Swedish agent and ideally wanted to return to England on loan but no league club contacted in England were interested in taking me, only a few part-time clubs, but I needed to be in a full-time environment and at a club that liked to keep possession which was a very difficult challenge.
This was a frustrating period as I was so pleased at signing a professional contract but it really brought home to me how difficult it is to find a suitable loan club with so many young players needing game time at the top club U23s and how many leagues they were having to drop to achieve this.
Next is a loan move in Finland to gain experience?
Fortunately, the Finnish season ends before the Swedish season does so clubs start looking earlier for loan players, so Mikkelin Pallolijat offered me a loan trial for two weeks in late November 2017.
The Manager Jan Wilkman was the ex Aston Villa Chief Scandinavian scout and received a good reference from Villa on me. Most importantly he was trying to build a promotion chasing squad and play attractive football at the same time.
They offered me a season long loan deal at the end of the first week starting Jan 1st until November 2018 and I had no hesitation in signing as it is a great set up.
We train full-time (6 days a week) and have indoor and outdoor pitch facilities and a fantastic gym. I am one of the youngest in the squad and will wear no8 shirt next season, but it will be a great learning experience playing senior football, living in my own place and experiencing another new culture.
What motivates you to be a footballer?
Becoming a professional footballer has been my goal from as early as I can remember and making a good living from playing a sport I love has always been the motivation.
As much as I have experienced some real highs and low so far on my journey my love for the game has never changed and this is really important in achieving your dream as it has to be your obsession.
What advice do you have for any young players who find themselves in the same situation you did?
If you have ever been released from a pro club at 16 or 18, don’t give up and don’t take it personally.
Looking back now I believe MK Dons made the right decision with me at 16 because they did not have a U21 squad and by 18 I would not have been physically ready for the first team and released anyhow. In releasing me it gave me the opportunity to play twice as many competitive games each week at U17/18 and against much older opposition at a very good standard which was ideal for my personal development and it opened up lots of other opportunities such as the ECFA national team etc plus I had no compensation fee on my head.
Cat 1 College football is great as the standard of play and training at Cat 1 colleges is much higher than you think ( we used to regularly beat Cat 3 U18 league clubs) The main thing is keep playing at the highest level you can and work hard to keep improving yourself as there are scouts everywhere and if you are good enough you will be spotted.
Also make sure you have your games recorded and keep an up to date highlight video to send to clubs for trials, just don’t give up and be prepared to make the right sacrifices to achieve your dream.
When you do get your first contract enjoy the moment but realise immediately it starts all over again and you have to work even harder.
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