Football-Wonderkids is often talking to players that tell us that they got released from their club and don’t know what to do next.
Juma has joined a growing list of young English players who are finding success in Sweden.
The Juma Omar story tells us about his trails at Arsenal and Reading, the day he was released from MK Dons, how non-league football saved his career and what is like playing in Sweden.
What position do you play?
I started out playing football as a winger and that’s the position I got signed to MK Dons.
I got a bad injury to my knee that left me out for about 7 months, when I came back I filled in at centre back as our team was quite solid and performed well so played there since.
I can also play anywhere in the back four but prefer playing centre half, I have played around as holding midfielder a couple of times and enjoyed it there and a position I feel I can a job in.
What your style of play?
Since I was at MK Dons from young, I like to play a possession based game. They focus on a lot of the technical sides of the game from young so that we’re brought up with playing that way.
I feel that’s why a lot of players have been successful with making it through their ranks and also into others teams, as with my own opinion I feel anyone can play the long ball game.
What are your strengths and weaknesses as a player?
I’d like to say my best strength is reading the game and my positioning, I feel this is essential to me as I need to be on point with these as I’m not the tallest centre back around at 5’11. Height has never really affected me playing there as I’m quite good in the air as well and I’d like to say that’s another strength I bring is from set pieces.
I’d say my biggest weakness would be my weaker foot, even though I’ve been working on it from a young age, I’d say it’s not where I want it to be yet. I’d like to improve that so it’s like second nature using it and I feel that will massively help me improve my game as it will save me the extra second from switching the ball to my right foot.
You had trials at Arsenal and Reading at the start of your career.
Yeah the first team I went to was Arsenal, there was about 50 kids and I got selected to go to another trial, which they’d then pick players to train with there actual Under-8’s team, unfortunately the second trial I didn’t get picked so then that’s where that ended.
Secondly with Reading I got picked up playing for a team called City Soccer along with two friends Ethan Lamptey and Kevin Danso.
We went along had a tour of the Stadium and watched them play against Portsmouth in the Premier League many years ago. We also got to meet players from both sides in the players restaurant.
The trials went very well and they were keen on all 3 however I feel the distance was too much at such a young age, therefore my parents pulled me out from there.
You ended up joining MK Dons?
Straight after Reading I joined MK Dons, I was aged 8 when I joined the set up, back then I was just playing football for fun and never really understood what it really meant to be in an academy.
A year on half of my local teammates I played with came and also joined the set up which to me wasn’t a surprise as we hadn’t lost a game in almost 2 years.
Around Under-15’s is when I realised maybe football was what I really wanted to do as a full-time job. I loved playing it and I sacrificed going out with friends on Friday nights as we would have training 8:30 Saturday mornings and play games 11:00 on a Sunday.
Even though I missed out on things, it was all worth it as I don’t think I would have progressed in the academy as the coaches were on top of all of that.
Under-16’s was my best season there as it was the make it or break it season. The coaches had spoken to us about this and told us it could be our last season and half of us wouldn’t be here next year as we would be moving into the youth team and to me that was something I didn’t want to miss out on.
I started that season going away to Portugal with the youth team and for me that was my highlight of being at MK Dons as it was a whole different experience playing abroad and also testing my ability playing against older players and that was the level I had to be at to be able to get that scholarship.
I did eventually get told about my scholarship after a game against Leicester by my manager at the time, he thought I’d been outstanding and if I carried on playing how I was then there be no reason why I’d not be offered one.
The meetings came along and of course I was still nervous as I’d just been told in person and also the youth team manager was there. I remember the meeting being quite short and me being told that I’d be here for the next 2 years.
It was great news and I knew that this is where the dream was starting off. It was also hard seeing some of my closest friends from being so young leaving the team and going to play elsewhere, however I believe everyone has a different journey and everyone has their own timing.
How did they help you improve? There academy has a fantastic reputation for building technical teams?
Joining the set up helped me a lot in many different ways on and off the pitch.
If you’re looking to improve technically I feel MK Dons is the place to be and the right academy set up as it’s brought into the system from a young age and as you get older you get used to it.
I feel if we were taught it at an older age it would’ve been hard for us to get used to and adapt as we wouldn’t of been familiar with the style, I say this because we had a lot of good players come in on trial from good clubs, however as they weren’t used to the way we played they found it hard and didn’t get spotted.
How did you feel when you left after 10 years?
Coming up to the decisions for Pro contracts I was a little bit unsure of what the verdict would have been, I feel I had done well that season, I feel all the second years had stepped up and we were all in contention to be awarded at least something.
I feel we had matured as players on and off the pitch and played well as a team even though results sometimes didn’t go our way.
It was after a gym session and the second years were all waiting in the changing rooms together, we had all become so close over the years and knowing in the next 10 minutes you’d probably not be playing with each other again was one of the worst feelings but it’s football and it does happen.
The meetings were quite short and snappy, I had mine and got told that I wasn’t being offered my pro contract at the club and at the time it hadn’t really sank in. I left the office and went back to the changing room to get my stuff and drove home.
I always had the mentality of if I get told once that I wouldn’t give up.
About a week later it started sinking in that I’m not going to be at that club again playing the game I love and it did knock down my confidence massively.
I went to Mansfield in the summer for a trial and performed well throughout that time, they extended that trial, however the manager was honest with me and told me that Under-23 side doesn’t really get a look in from the first team gaffer at the time and that’s when I decided that I’d go elsewhere as I wanted to be at a team where there was opportunities.
I attended the exit trials and played well there. I got a letter about two weeks later saying what teams had spotted you, and QPR was amongst one of them, I tried to get through to the scout at the time however he’d already left by the time the letter had come which meant them plans to go on trial had fallen through.
I decided to then play non-league football and joined Newport Pagnell as I wasn’t playing for a few months, my girlfriend at the time cousins were playing there and told me to come along.
I did enjoy it and I feel if I didn’t make this step I probably wouldn’t be playing football now as I was losing love for the game, I feel that was one of the best decisions I made to carry on playing.
You’re now playing in Sweden with Ytterhogdal IK?
Sweden came to me at a surprise.I got a call asking if I’d be interested in playing abroad and the first thing I said was no that wouldn’t be for me, I said this as I was happy where I was playing and also happy with the people I had around me, I was content at where I was at.
Later on I got asked again about February times and I thought to myself that this could be a great opportunity and I’d have nothing to lose going out there and giving it a try.
Being here now I feel it’s a great standard of football and everyone here has been told no by an English club, however everyone’s so driven to get picked back up by a bigger club and start playing the game the loved for a living again.
The facilities here are great, there’s everything you need here within walking distance and no distractions in the area, I’m living so the only way really can only be up from here on.
It was a big decision I made and I do miss friends and family back home, however it’s something I’ve been working with from a young age and hopefully it will all come together in god’s timing.
Would you recommend Sweden to other young footballers?
I’d recommend Sweden to a lot of players, especially if you’ve been told no by an academy before. This is because it’s a fresh start and football is all about opinions, someone might like you and someone else won’t that’s just how it goes.
I haven’t got a bad word to say about Sweden from the football down to the people living out here. The environment is different and you have the chance to learn a whole new language and meet new people.
It’s full time football here too so you’ll be playing the game you love once again and it will help you improve as a player again and it’s rebuilt my confidence being out here.
The manager and assistant manager I have are both driven too, they want the best for all of us playing here and I think that’s what it’s all about, improving as a player and moving on to set yourself new challenges because without that you won’t really be getting the best out of yourself.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
In the next 5 years I hope to be back playing a high standard of professional football. I know what I need to work on and I feel where I am now there’s nothing stopping me from achieving that.
I’m glad I changed my mind to come out here as I feel it will help push my career in the right direction and that’s what any player wants.
I’ve got the right mindset and drive to get to where I want to be and only time will tell now.