My interview with former Spurs man Jacques Maghoma:
Born in Lubumbashi, Zaire (modern day DR Congo) in 1987 Jacques Ilonda Maghoma grew up in Finchley, North London where he attended Finchley Catholic High School. A highly skilled winger who signed scholarship terms with Spurs back in 2003, Jacques rose up through the ranks at the North London club and he featured for their first team on several occasions during preseason friendlies as well as appearing on the bench in competitive matches for the Lilywhites. The eldest of three footballing brothers, Christian now of Arka Gdynia in Poland and current Spurs starlet Paris who is still only 17. Maghoma’s career so far is one of remarkable resilience and determination which has seen him fight back from some debilitating injuries in order to work his way up the English footballing pyramid, following his release from Spurs back in 2009. Jacques has worked incredibly hard to not only become a star player for Championship club Birmingham City where he plays today but also to earn his place in the richly talented DR Congo national side. I caught up with the boyhood Spurs fan and academy graduate who kindly made the time to speak with me about his footballing journey, and his time in the Spurs youth set up. Tottenham Hotspur is a club which remains close to his heart and it has helped him to achieve so many great things in his footballing career to date. It was an absolute privilege to get the opportunity to listen to the 31 year olds story and in case you weren’t already aware he is a wonderful man just like his two younger brothers, and we should all be proud to call him one of our own.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Jacques: My earliest memory is probably my first training session at Spurs as a 13 year old back when they were still at Chigwell. Micky Hazard and David Kerslake were the coaches back then.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Jacques: Funnily enough it was when I first went there on a two week trial when I ended up getting told that I wasn’t going to get signed! I went away and trained with a Sunday league team at the time called Winchmore Hill and I kept playing there until I was 15. There was actually a summer camp at White Hart Lane one particular summer and funnily enough David Kerslake was there and he had seen me play and obviously improve in the two years that I’d grown, and so when I was 15 I ended up joining them.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Jacques: It was brilliant because at the time I had probably two of the best coaches I could ever have had in my development. Micky Hazard was such a technical player while Dave Kerslake was a little bit more strict, so we had a good balance in them both at the time. They moulded me into becoming the player that I am today, especially Micky Hazard who I got really close to as he was really good to me.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Jacques: Not really because I didn’t really watch football to have those heroes, at the time I was just so focused on my own game that I never really had that idol.
Could you describe to me what type of player you are and what positions you played in, in the Spurs youth team?
Jacques: I actually started as a centre mid and then as time went by I moved to the wing, both on the right and left wing. However, I’d say that I’m more of a creative player and I like creating things, I like doing things that others can’t do. One of the people who I would always look to was Ronaldinho. His skills and how he ran past players and how he was able to manipulate the ball was just amazing, and at the time I used to look at a lot of things with him. We had a skills coach at the time at Spurs called Ricardo Moniz and I used to do a lot of skillsets with him which would help me a lot.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Jacques: It was a tough one back then because the old pros were tough. It wasn’t easy for young players to come into the first team, it’s a lot easier now for players to come into the first team and be within the group straight away, back then it was a lot tougher. So I didn’t really have any great influences but I did have good friends who I’m still friends with now like Chris Riley, Claude Seanla and Simon Dawkins as we grew up with each other at Spurs before going our separate ways. When John McDermott joined Spurs he was really good, as was Clive Allen and Alex Inglethorpe. They all sort of moulded me and tried to push me but unfortunately injuries ended my progress as such. The club was changing manager at the time but those three people and Chris Hughton and Martin Jol helped me. Martin Jol especially because he was the manager who really took me under his wing when I started training with the first team. Another great help was Ricardo Moniz who I spent a lot of time with doing one on ones which has helped me a lot in my career.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game?
Jacques: There were a lot of players as there was so much talent at Spurs especially in my age group that had different qualities than I did, and I had different qualities to what they had. When I ended up training with the first team I got to watch players like Modric and Berbatov who have gone onto achieve great things in their careers, with Modric going onto win the Ballon d’Or and Berbatov playing for Man United. Then you had Gareth Bale who had different qualities however, I was especially close to Tom Huddlestone, Jake Livermore and Jermain Defoe and they were all people who you would try and look at to improve your game. Training with the first team helped me a lot to be able to see that, and I was fortunate enough to be in the group to improve my game.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time at Spurs or ones which particularly standout within your memory?
Jacques: Probably the first time that I travelled with the first team and it was actually a home game and we stayed in a hotel. I used to get car sick so when we were on the team bus I had my head down because I thought that I was going to throw up when the bus was moving. I felt sick and all of the boys were taking the piss out of me thinking that I was nervous and scared because it was my first time travelling with the first team. That was a really good memory, and another was obviously being called up to train with the first team, and signing my first professional contract. The whole experience of being at such an amazing club which I had grown up supporting was just amazing. My whole time there was amazing.
You featured in a number of preseason friendlies for the Spurs first team including one against Irish side St Patrick’s Athletic. What was that experience like for you?
Jacques: Someone actually sent me a picture not long ago with me, Darren Bent and Gareth Bale. I remember that game and I did really well when I came on and everybody was really happy with me that day, so that was a good memory.
What has been the greatest moment of your footballing career so far?
Jacques: Just turning professional. A lot of people will look at that but what people don’t realise is that there’s millions of kids that are competing to play on one position. So for me to turn professional and stay in the game as long as I have and to still be doing well and working at my game is a big achievement. At the moment I’m at Birmingham and I’m really enjoying it and hopefully with Birmingham we will continue to push on until the end of the season, and hopefully achieve something amazing like reaching the play offs. But at the same time thinking about my journey from playing in the park to getting into a Sunday league team and then getting signed by Spurs and signing my pro contract. And then being involved in the first team and going onto play in league two for four seasons, and then going straight into the Championship at the age of 25 has been fantastic. I’ve enjoyed the whole journey and it has made me who I am today, all the good times and the lows is all part and parcel of life and I am still learning. The journey itself has probably been the best thing.
Who is the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Jacques: All of the players that I played with in the first team at Spurs were all great, players like Jermain Defoe as a striker who could score from any type of ball into the box. And then Berbatov who was amazing at what he did, then you had people like Tom Huddlestone who never gave the ball away, left foot or right foot he was just effortless. So I really don’t know it’s really hard to just pick one player and say that he’s the greatest that I’ve ever played with. If you asked me on the spot I’d probably have to think about it.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Jacques: I got injured when I was 18 going on 19 and it was a big injury which put me out for ten months because I needed an operation. When I eventually came back I wasn’t the same because it took me probably another year and a half to really find my feet again, because it was a big knee injury. It took me a long time to get back into the flow of how I was, and by that time at such a big club you have other youngsters who are coming through and pushing to get into the first team after your time has gone by. I just wanted to play competitive football especially and not under 21’s or 23’s football as you weren’t really getting tested. So me and my dad made a decision at the time to leave Spurs and although I didn’t want to leave, at the same time I needed to go out and get games and play games. I ended up at Burton (in 2009) who had just been promoted to the football league. Paul Peschisolido was in charge at Burton and he was a great guy. I did ok in my first season at Burton as stepping down into league two was totally different football. It was actually an eye opener for me because coming from the academy of a club like Spurs a lot of things are done for you, but when you go down to league two it’s not the same. You have to grow up and mature really quickly. At that time I was 21/22 and I grew up really quickly, during the second season we almost got relegated and Paul Peschisolido got the sack which was unfortunate. His assistant Gary Rowett then took charge and he really brought a different side to me within my game. He not just wanted me to be a creative player but he wanted me to do both sides of the game. Where I was able to defend and attack, and obviously that meant that I had to be fitter to do that than what I was, to do it for 90 minutes. The third season at Burton was really good but then in the fourth season everything just clicked. I’d met some great friends such as Aaron Webster who was pretty much my brother when I was there, and Billy Kee and Robbie Weir. They are all people that I miss because we were such a tight group and it was a family club, because it’s a small town where everyone knows each other and where everyone’s friendly.
In the fourth season at Burton I ended up scoring 18 goals and getting 14 assists, I got in the team of the year and then after that season I ended up moving into the Championship with Sheffield Wednesday and then Birmingham City with Gary Rowett.
Who is the toughest fullback that you’ve come up against so far in your career?
Jacques: Probably Lee Peltier and Eric Lichaj who played for Nottingham Forest. We all had good battles because to beat him I knew that I had to be at 110% and the same for him to be able to stop me. At the end of the game we used to respect each other and I thought that Peltier and Lichaj were proper fullbacks. Those two players come to mind straight away.
How has your time at Spurs prepared you for your subsequent career in the game?
Jacques: Just in my knowledge of the game really, it’s so important for young players to be at professional clubs like Spurs because you learn so much about the game and the technical sides of it. You can learn to play the game in your head and just being there with the coaches I had like Micky Hazard and David Kerslake I learnt so much from them, and all the other coaches. Such as Clive Allen who was a striker but I learnt from his movement and from how he explained it. You learn so much from those who have played at the highest level and it would have been stupid if I didn’t take that all in, and it’s helping me to this very day.
What would your advice be to the young wingers at Spurs today as they look to make it in the game?
Jacques: There’s one quote that stands out and I can remember Les Ferdinand telling me after I’d had a really good training session with the first team, that for me to take David Bentley’s place in the first team, you’ll have to work ten times harder than him. It took a while for me to process that but when I think about it it’s like saying I’m as good as him but why would the manager pick me over him if he can do what I can do and vice versa. He’s going to play because he has got more experience and more games than I have. So the thing that I would say to any young player who is looking to go into the first team, is that you’ve got to do more than the other players are doing at the training ground. You’ve got to do ten times what the first team players are doing, if Dele Alli is running 10 km a game then you have got to try and run 11 km in a game or even 12 km. If Son is scoring four goals a game then you need to try and score four goals or even more. And if Harry Kane is scoring 20 goals a season then try and aim to do the same, you can’t compare yourself with those players but you need to put yourself through that mindset of trying to do more than the other players in your position. And that will stand out in the managers head, always try and do better then the person ahead of you.
After all these years how do you look back on your time at the Lilywhites and is a Spurs a club that you’d like to return to in a coaching capacity at some point in the future?
Jacques: Yes I probably would but I don’t want to become a manager, I’d just want to coach from under 16’s to under 23’s to try and develop young players. And to pass my knowledge onto them and to tell them of the journey that I have taken. But that’s still far away!
Do you ever get back to watch many Spurs games nowadays?
Jacques: When they are on the television I still watch them but it’s hard to go to games with me still playing, so that’s not easy. I haven’t been to watch them since they were playing at White Hart Lane.
What was it like to play against your younger brother Christian in a preseason friendly involving Spurs and Birmingham back in 2015?
Jacques: To be fair I didn’t really think about it much I was just trying to do the best for my team. It would probably mean a lot more if we were to hopefully play with each other in the same team in the future, if that ever happens.