Talented central defender Rakesh Dhall was a player who was very good and comfortable on the ball during his playing days, and he could bring it out from the back with great effect. At Spurs from a young age, Dhall progressed up the various youth ranks at the Lilywhites to play for their under 17 and under 19 sides but was subsequently not offered YTS forms. The former footballer who grew up in County Hertfordshire would later trial with a number of clubs such as Luton Town and Notts County however, he saw his future away from football and ended up going into education, but today he is still involved in football in some capacity. I recently had the great pleasure of catching up with Rakesh to look back on his interesting time at Spurs, primarily during the 2000’s.
What are your earliest footballing memories?
Rakesh: Some of my early football memories were to do with Arsenal because I’m a big Arsenal fan believe it or not, like a few of the lads at Spurs were. I always remember Ian Wright and Bergkamp and their combination play and how Ian Wright used to just always be the poacher and goal scorer. I remember always watching Arsenal versus Spurs games and so that stuck in my mind as my earliest sort of memories going back. Also looking at players like Michael Thomas and Paul Merson as well as that Arsenal back four with Tony Adams and those top performers going way back, but also looking at early memories beyond that I think that Michael Owen’s goal at the World Cup against Argentina for England was like one of those moments that just makes you excited about football. That just got me thinking about the prospect of this being a real future for me in football and also thinking about the possibilities, but also some personal early memories were looking up to players like Rio Ferdinand because I played centre back. However, I was like a footballing defender so I liked bringing the ball out from the back, so I was like a modern day centre back such as Piqué and players like that who would pass the ball out. I liked Rio Ferdinand because he was willing to take risks as a defender like bringing the ball out, and for me that he was somebody that I found had a lot of similarities with my game, and actually quite a few people said that about my game. So from a personal point of view I’ve said big moments like that Michael Owen goal however another early memory for me was the France 1998 World Cup as well. Because I actually went to the World Cup with my school team, and so being in France and seeing Ronaldo with his legendary Nike boots with him tearing up defences was great. I know that we’ve got Cristiano Ronaldo now but for me there is only one Ronaldo and that’s the Brazilian one, so yeah being in the middle of Paris soaking it all in was probably my earliest memory highlight. So there are a few early memories there.
What are your earliest memories of your time at Spurs and how did you come about joining the club?
Rakesh: It was a really interesting story, so when I was about ten years old I was playing for a Sunday league team called Broxbourne Saints because I lived in Hertfordshire. Ray Clemence was the president of our club and both him and Stephen Clemence were good friends of the club and Stephen actually went to the same school as me which was Broxbourne School. So the Clemence’s were partly involved and essentially I was one of the better players at the club, and I was winning player of the year at Broxbourne Saints every year and I was quite a young developer at football. Then essentially the best players in our Sunday league team were picked for the rural friendly rep team which was called the rural friendly league, so players like Graham Butler and Jamie Slabber who I know really well was part of that team. So essentially our rural friendly team played against a Spurs youth team in a match, and our coach Kevin Butler had good connections with Tottenham and so anyway he set up a match against the Tottenham youth team between the best players of the Sunday league team, and I was one of them. We basically spanked the Spurs team about 10-2 or something, and so a lot of the Spurs scouts were watching the game and thinking hang on a second a lot of these players from the rural friendly team are pretty good so let’s try and sign them up. So I think about six or seven of us got transferred over to Tottenham’s academy after that game and we got trained with them. So the noticeable ones would be like Jamie Slabber and Mark Bunn who was one and he went onto big things with Aston Villa and Blackburn and stuff as goalkeeper. So of that select group I was one of the fortunate ones and that’s how I joined Spurs but my earliest memory I would say even though I have so many good memories from my days at Spurs, but I would say that my earliest memory was seeing Alan Sugar and Gerry Francis in the Spurs reception, and just walking past them like it was just any other day. Also watching David Ginola was another early memory as we used to get free tickets to watch Spurs matches which was quite a nice perk at the time.
So we used to go to all of the Spurs home games and we used to sit right in the lower east section right where Ginola used to pick up the ball from the left wing and he was just unbelievable. It was probably one of the best experiences to learn even though I was a defender, but seeing a winger and how he used to drop the shoulder and shimmy inside was just amazing to watch. So seeing Ginola playing on that left wing was my earliest memory of being at Spurs but also seeing people like Gerry Francis and Alan Sugar as well as seeing how many Spurs managers got changed throughout my time at Spurs was pretty crazy as well.
What was your time at the Lilywhites like on the whole?
Rakesh: It was great although it was pretty intense because you’d be training like three times a week as well as playing a match on a Saturday. So it was all I ever knew really, so I would essentially go from age 10 to essentially 17/18 playing football after school and straight away going to training. Obviously football was what I loved to do so I didn’t see it as a chore or something that I thought was a really bad job or anything like that. So for me it was just all about playing football and I wanted to play more and more although I was kind of put in a situation where I almost didn’t have a choice, because when you are younger you just kind of get on with things like playing football and going to school and doing homework and things like that. However, for me I was just fortunate because I was really good at football that I had to play at that level but I didn’t have a say on it so I just got on with it. I loved the experience and I loved the regularity of like playing football however, I think I was always looking forward as I am a very forward thinking person. So I was always looking forward to the next game and the next training session or the next big match. And the coaches were great and the staff were brilliant and they looked after us, and I think that they kind of raised our expectations a lot as well in terms that there was only good things from players and coaches. However, we had coaches like Robbie Stepney back then and he was a real big advocate for me actually and he really championed me and used me as an example on a lot of things, and I loved playing under Robbie and that was really good. Robbie was also a legend of the Spurs academy and the coaching setup, he was just so passionate about football with him coming from Aldershot and he actually was the first person who had a real impact on my Spurs playing days, I would say because he was such a good man manager who would kind of take you under his wing. He would also really care about what we were doing outside of football and how we should work inside of football, and he was also quite strict and hard on us but I think from an early age I learnt valuable skills like discipline, teamwork and motivation which I think for me really helped me.
So I would say that overall that I wouldn’t change my experience but if anything I thought that I would be at the club for even longer really because it was always so good.
Did you have any footballing heroes/inspirations and if so who were they?
Rakesh: Very early on growing up I would look at a player like Tony Adams, as from a centre back point of view I felt that he was like an amazing role model because he wasn’t blessed with the most pace but his positional play as a defender was just amazing. So from an England point of view I would definitely say Tony Adams, but then kind of developing further Rio Ferdinand was as I mentioned definitely a real good role for me because I based my play and ability on Rio a little bit. However, I suppose more recently Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry were big role models for me because Vieira and Henry for me just symbolised everything that I love about football. Vieira being the all rounded midfielder who could tackle, drive forward and score goals as well as being a leader, so for me Vieira is my favourite player of all time basically. I know that this is a Tottenham interview but I think that if you ask a lot of Spurs fans then they would say that they appreciate a player like Vieria because he could just do everything. I think after that I looked at a lot of players from abroad such as Cannavaro the Italian centre back who again was only short but he was probably the most brightest defender I’ve ever seen in terms of intercepting play and positionally being brilliant. He won the Ballon d’Or and the World Football Player of The Year one year, and so along with Cannavaro I watched a lot of Italian and Spanish football as well but as I say my real role models were Tony Adams and Rio Ferdinand, Vieira, Henry and players like Cannavaro as well.
Could you describe to me what type of player you were and what positions you played in during your time at Spurs?
Rakesh: So I would say that I was a footballing defender but in terms of how to describe me I would say that I was very comfortable on the ball and liked to start attacks from defence. So I would often go on a few runs and play a few one twos into midfield as well as join up in the attacking play which was not typical from an English defender, because back then I think that when I was involved in the youth set up it was very much get the ball away when you were in danger, and just be a good defender like the John Terry’s and Colin Hendry’s of the world. However, I was quite different to that so I partnered very well with a player like Danny Foster and Marcel McKie back in the day, as they were very good at defending and being an all out and out defender. However, for me I was a really good defender but I was also really good on the ball so a lot of my earlier reports at Tottenham when I was under a coach whose name I can’t remember, his reports were saying that I could play in midfield because I was that good on the ball. So I got a lot of reports saying that I was really good on the ball and that I could play in midfield, so I would describe myself as a footballing defender who was blessed with pace and really strong at interceptions. I was also a really good man marker which was something that I was labelled as, so I was often asked to man mark I suppose the most dangerous striker on the opposing team because I’m good at man marking. Man marking was played quite a lot back in the day even though it’s more zonal now, but anyway I could take a big striker out of the game and I would also say that I was an intelligent defender as well. I was clever about the positions that I took as a centre back, and so yeah I was a technically strong and fast defender who also liked to play forward and join attacks.
How difficult was it for a young Spurs player like yourself to break into the first team during the 2000’s?
Rakesh: I would say that it was really difficult because for me I think that the highest that I played was under 19 level, so I played for the under 19’s which was one behind the reserves and then you had the first team. So it was only like two positions away as at the time those were the sort of levels that it was, so I was playing for the under 19’s which was great as I was picked to play for them at the time. Jimmy Neighbour at the time was our coach who coached the under 15’s and under 17’s and unfortunately he passed away, but again he was another legend of the club. And I loved playing under Jimmy because he just really believed in my ability and I was always in the starting eleven, and I was part of the key players in that set up in that under 17 team. So for me when I was in the under 19’s I thought that there was a real opportunity to really come and develop and turn into a real player at Spurs. Then I think that David Pleat was on the board at the time and when essentially he came to watch our matches and things like that there were a few players around me playing for the England team as well. So in the England setup at the time there was Jamie Slabber, Danny Foster, Marcel McKie and Nicky Wettner and they were all picked up by England but I wasn’t. So I kind of felt like for me to reach the first team or have any chance of that I’d have to be involved with the England setup at least as well. So I was a bit far away and then obviously when YTS happened I didn’t get YTS so that was basically a big blow, and what actually happened was a very interesting story actually because I thought that I was definitely going to get YTS and then a professional contract after that. The coaches really loved me and had nothing really bad to say about me and I really liked playing with the other players however, basically John Moncur was the head of the academy at the time and so he called me and my parents to his office. He said look we’ve got to make certain decisions and he was like if it was up to me then I would take you on, so he was kind of saying that it was up to higher people at the club such as David Pleat and other people who were making the decisions.
John Moncur was saying all the right things like I saw you in the Watford match and you were intercepting brilliantly but we want to see that more often. So basically I got released around the 18 year mark when I basically would have got YTS and so I was devastated about it as I had never heard a bad word said about me and I was pretty much nailed on with the team. So nobody really gave me any foresight that I was not going to potentially make it so I was pretty devastated but then two weeks later I got a call from Spurs again. My phone was ringing all the time at home from other clubs all across the country because Spurs were trying to help me to get another club as well, so I went to Lilleshall and exit trials and I got scouted by Luton Town, Birmingham, Notts County, Fulham and Macclesfield. So a few clubs got interested in me straight away such as Fulham and Luton who were both in the Championship at the time so I went to trial at Fulham and Birmingham City so those three clubs were the real prospects at the time. I went to Birmingham and we actually played against Spurs and drew 1-1 however, there was a 90 minute rule that came into play and so I couldn’t join them as I was out of 90 minutes of the area because I was living in Hertfordshire and couldn’t move there. However, basically to cut a long story short I went to a few trials and then Spurs called me back after two weeks and they said that they might have made a mistake about me and that they thought that they wanted to call me back to be sure that they made the right decision. They also said that I was one of the better players and so they called me back, and you can imagine what’s going through my mind as a young man who had been at Spurs for eight years and who had never really wanted to leave the club. So when they called me back I was like ok I’ll go back and play for Spurs however, I was then under immense pressure to perform because all eyes were on me sort of thing and as a defender if you make one little mistake then the ball is in the back of the net.
So there was a lot of pressure to perform and I also had a lot going on as I was bright and could do my A Levels and go to University, and that sort of stuff. So I had lot of big decisions to make about my football career and whether I carry on playing football overall, so I did play a few more games for Spurs but it never transpired into them offering me a YTS but to be honest I don’t think that I was playing at my absolute best either because of the pressure. So that was a really strange story because so much was going on and after being at the club for eight years they had released me then called me back and then I was under a lot of pressure. However, I had been scouted by Micky Hazard who was my scout, and he championed me a lot and he loved the way I played, and so he was like look why don’t you go and play for Luton as I know that you’ll be a big hit over there and you’ll be in the Championship. So I went to Luton and I trained with them for four or five weeks and they wanted to sign me and take me onto their youth academy scheme. However, I felt like the facilities weren’t as good as Tottenham and I would have to stay in digs and leave home at a very early age and stay in Luton, so I had to make a big decision and in the end I rejected the offer from Luton. And so instead I decided that I’d carry on and do my A Levels and go to University, so I felt that was my biggest decision that I had to make however, I felt like I made that decision because it wasn’t a scratch on Tottenham Hotspur really as the facilities weren’t as good and also staying in Luton wasn’t really for me. I also didn’t want to work my way up as I wanted to stay in the Premier League and at the top, so it could have been a little naive thinking like that because I was quite young and also my dad was never the most vocal about me having to be a footballer. So I didn’t really have that background level of support like other people had with their dad doing that. So in the end I rang up the coach at Luton and said that I was going to go to University and they respected that decision, because it was my decision at the end of the day and ever since that I never really looked back. So it was a real interesting series of developments that happened during that time.
Going back to your question I felt that I was a little bit far away from the first team at Spurs though I think that if I’d have signed a professional contract and got YTS then I think that I would have been much closer to thinking about the first team. I definitely felt like I was good enough it was never that question, it was more about whether I was given the opportunity I think.
Who were your greatest influences at Spurs?
Rakesh: So earlier on I mentioned Robbie Stepney and as a coach he was a real big influence for me because he used to use me as a role model in training with the rest of the team. He used to say look at Rak, look at how he’s running around and look at his effort and all this kind of stuff, so he always made me feel good about my football and so he was a big influence over me at Spurs. Also we had a good mix of players growing up that we played with week in week out but I always felt that I was always in the mix of like if not being one of the better ones, than I was one of the better ones of the other group really. Jamie Slabber who I’ve known for years and years from growing up in the same Sunday football rep team to going to training together and all of that kind of stuff, because he was the first one to really break the mould of like actually getting to the first team at Spurs and make a couple of appearances. He wasn’t an influence I would say but I admired what he did because he had a lot of troubled times as well in the youth days and there were times when he wasn’t getting picked or getting in the starting eleven but he stuck with it. I think that a lot of it was down to coaches as well, because at Spurs there was two or three different coaches that we had but my biggest influences at Spurs were definitely Robbie Stepney and Jimmy Neighbour as coaches as well as Ricky Hill who was a really good coach and also Chris Hughton as well. Chris Hughton’s daughter used to go to my school Broxbourne School, but I’d often seen Chris Hughton and he’d know that I was at the school also. He was in and around Spurs at a very high level and he wasn’t obviously biased to me being at the club but I did look to him as an influence as well because I kind of knew of him.
Were there any players at Spurs who you would watch closely to try and improve your game or look to learn from?
Rakesh: That’s a good question and yes there was a few players who I actually looked up to growing up at Spurs. One of them was Ronnie Henry who was another centre back who I played with and he was a really great lad who I played with at the back quite a few times, and I’m actually surprised that he didn’t go all the way to be honest, because he was a really good defender and guy. Another guy who I used to look at was Ben Bowditch and he was a brilliant player who was always amazing in training but again he was a player that I loved playing with as well as he was a top, top player who again I really looked up to. The other one was Chris Eagles who went onto play for Manchester United and Burnley as a winger, he actually came down to Spurs for a trial when I was there, and he was at the club for about a month before he went to Manchester United. However, he was unbelievable and I remember that he used to turn up for the training sessions and basically everyone used to be in awe of him and although many people don’t know that he was at Spurs he had a decision to make and he ended up joining Manchester United. I can remember when I first saw him it was like he had eyes in the back of his head because he used to get the ball and just be so aware of his surroundings, and he used to craft something out of any situation. So Chris Eagles even though he wasn’t at Spurs for a long time as he was a trialist but I was wowed by him, and obviously he went onto achieve great things as well however, I don’t think that he ever really fulfilled his potential as I don’t think he really developed himself physically. He was quite a slight player but I think that if he developed a bit more physically then he would have been a real strong player I think.
What prompted you to leave Spurs and could you talk me through your career after you left the Lilywhites?
Rakesh: So I obviously got released on YTS which was really tough to take and at the time I never really wanted to leave Spurs. So when I got a call back two weeks later to say come back for another trial I was under a lot of intense pressure about the situation and I didn’t get to say goodbye to a lot of the players that I had played with for so many years. So that was a little bit of a shame because I had grown up with all of these lads and I had played with them for many many years and to be honest with you a lot of those players in the under 19’s did end up getting released anyway. So there was a side of me that thought that I was quite fortunate that I didn’t have those couple of years and then not have anything to fall back on. However, what prompted me to leave Spurs were that were other opportunities elsewhere where I knew that I could have a go at it and when I had decisions to make whether I was to go into football, I’m one of those people who loves tennis and socialising and has other interests outside football as well. So for me to make it as a footballer I would have to devote 100% of my time to football, and at the time I wasn’t able to do that because I could still go to University and do other things. So I had to make this tough decision whether I was 100% going to be a footballer which is a big decision for somebody so young, so for me I didn’t have that hunger to be devoted 100% to football. Also I wasn’t willing to work my way upwards because I was at Spurs for eight years which is such a long time that was all that I basically lived. So for me to leave Spurs and go to like a lower league side would have been difficult, and then the other side is that the quality of football as you go lower down the leagues also really dropped. I can remember going for a trial at Notts County and they paraded me like a new signing and they showed me their stadium and said that I was going to be really great here and all this. However, when it came to the trial I played probably the worst that I’ve ever played in my life, like it was the worst trial that I ever had and I was actually pretty embarrassed because my mum and dad and brothers came to watch me. However, the ball was always up in the air and there was no technical play it was just get it down the wing, cross it in and there will be a big unit to head it in and that just wasn’t the football that I was used to.
So I was playing with more physical players than me with a different type of football, and I just felt that this was not the quality of football that I was used to and that was probably why I was looking so bad, because I was like this trial is going really horrendously bad and in the end obviously they didn’t call me back for another trial. I did give it a go at different clubs however, I think that the main chance where I could of made it was at Luton when I decided to stop playing football basically. Even after that I left the door open, I went to Leicester University and played for their first team and played at the then Walkers Stadium and stuff like that. However, for me the reason why I left football was obviously Spurs shutting the door was one. But I don’t think that there was a real enticing opportunity, with the only one being at Birmingham where I would have been willing to go. However, it was just unfortunate that there was this FA rule that I had to live within 90 minutes of the club, but if I had have been within 90 minutes of Birmingham I am pretty sure that I would have joined them because it had a good academy set up. It was also similar to Spurs whereas Luton was just too far the other way that I wasn’t willing to go to them. I can remember going to Luton and looking in the changing room and just being shocked because it was so run down and just so bad. There was another guy who played with me at Spurs called Matthew Judge who was a really good player and he went to Luton at the time and he carried on playing for Luton, but I wasn’t willing to do what he did. I can remember going to training with Luton and being transported in this rugby van to this bumpy park so from going to train their to training at Chigwell was just not football for me. So I think that what prompted me to leave Spurs was obviously they shut the door on me, but it was also the fact that I wasn’t willing to go to another club which didn’t do Spurs’ way of doing things nor have their facilities.
What was the greatest moment of your footballing career?
Rakesh: I think that there was definitely a season in the under 17 team with Jimmy Neighbour where I think that we went unbeaten for that whole season. I was at the back playing with Danny Foster, Marcel McKie and Daniel Perry, so that back four and also Luke Bauckham in goal as well as a really strong team. I just loved that season because we were like invincible and no one could beat us, and I was going into every game knowing that I was starting basically. However, a real memory that stands out for me was this game against Chelsea and I was on the bench but we were losing like 2-0 or something and either Robbie Stepney or Jimmy Neighbour decided to stick me up front. I was playing striker and I played out my skin and I scored the equaliser and I also hit the bar, and then I set up the winning goal in that game to see us beat Chelsea 3-2 and we had nowhere near looked like beating them before that. It was only because I came on that we won but I can remember all of the lads after the game calling me Rakaldo and so that became a bit of banter in training after that. I was a defender obviously but because I had pace and was also good on the ball the gaffer just stuck me up top, and I can remember being at the Chelsea training ground which had amazing facilities, and I was coming off the pitch thinking I’ve just scored a goal and set up one and it just felt really good. Because I didn’t score loads of goals I can still remember that goal now and it was a really good technical goal as well, where I faked to shoot and then just flicked it over two defenders and hit it in the corner. So it’s weird those memories that you get but I think that that was one of the best memories I had in a Spurs shirt, so along with those two memories the Spurs versus Arsenal games were also great ones being an Arsenal fan. Playing against Arsenal gave me an extra buzz and also their facilities at London Colney were great, so yeah playing against Arsenal was great as well.
Who was the greatest player that you have had the pleasure of sharing a pitch with?
Rakesh: It’s quite interesting because I’ve shared a pitch with quite a lot of very good players but there’s three or four that stick out who have gone onto big things. However, I would say Glen Johnson was a really good player who I’ve shared a pitch with, and as a centre back with West Ham he was really accomplished at football and a really good defender. So I would say that he was one of them, I also shared a pitch a lot with Ashley Young when he was at Watford and I actually had to mark him once when I was playing right wing back, and I was like this is going to be interesting because he was quite small and I was quite tall. So I couldn’t really find him when he was running around me and so I was like where is he, but he was often behind me or trying to play me offside or things like that. So that was a hard game to play right wing back when I was used to playing centre back, so marking Ashley Young was quite hard, but I think that Ashley was a good player and the Watford coaches raved about him but personally speaking I didn’t rate him as highly as other players. However, he was a player who went onto make it pretty successfully, so along with the two that I’ve mentioned I’d also say David Bentley as well as I was in the same age group as David Bentley growing up and everyone at Spurs and in our year group used to talk about him a lot. Because he had this arrogance about him and he was technically so gifted, so he was a player who I would often mark when he was playing for Arsenal and he was a great player, but I think that he just fell out of love with football really which was his thing. So I would say Glen Johnson, Ashley Young and David Bentley and then also Chris Eagles and Dean Marney as well, and the great thing about Dean Marney was that he actually got better and evolved after the youth days and the coaches loved him. However, he kept the game really simple and he was a really good passer who liked to go from side to side and also drive forward, but he always very very slight, and then afterwards he really bulked up a bit a lot more because he needed to. Another player who I would mention was John Sutton who is Chris Sutton’s brother, and he just scored goals for fun in every other game basically.
Again I wouldn’t say that he was a great player but he was someone who was kind of strong, and actually another player was Lee Barnard the striker who I was always marking in training and I always played against him. That was really good actually because he was a real good target man and we had loads of tussles in training and stuff like that and he went onto have a successful career as well. Again I’d say that those players were some of the greatest that I’ve shared a pitch with.
Could you talk me through some of your favourite memories of your time in the various Tottenham youth teams?
Rakesh: I touched upon the under 17 team which was a really special memory because we had an unbelievably strong team back then, and I was playing regularly as part of the starting eleven. So that was a really good memory for me, another one was very early on when I used to play at the ball court which was within White Hart Lane, and that was an indoor AstroTurf complex and that was where we used to train every day basically. Then after training we’d go into the tea room and get paid our money which was like £2 a training session, and that was a really special memory because I used to love playing in that ball court. It used to get really hot in the ball court as there was no real ventilation or stuff like that however, you felt close to Tottenham Hotspur because you were literally going into the stadium every other day and seeing the stadium, as well as really getting a feel for Spurs at the age of 10/11. So you really got to see how big a club Tottenham Hotspur is and going in the big gates and the car park, as well as the ball court where you would train so they were some of the best memories, especially going into the ball court. And I always felt comfortable and at home their, and it obviously became a home as well as I was spending so much time their, so they were some good memories from playing at White Hart Lane from the age of 10 to 14. Also playing at Chigwell was great because we had the best facilities and the match days were brilliant however, I think that the one thing that was lacking was the atmosphere which was something which really dawned on me as I was getting older. As I loved playing in front of a crowd and actually feeling the buzz from the fans, so missing out playing out in front of crowds made me have to motivate myself all of the time as only coaches could speak to you because parents had to stay silent. So you lose a bit of the edge from games however, good memories would be training week in week out and playing at the ball court from an early age, and also playing really competitive matches against the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea and some of the best other academies in the Premier League which was great.
Going back to early memories another one was I would say seeing players like Ledley King and Les Ferdinand in and around the ground, and seeing Darren Anderton pulling up in his Ferrari were all pretty vivid memories. Because they stick with you and you think maybe one day I might get a Ferrari and be doing that, so they were quite interesting memories as well.
Who was the toughest player that you ever came up against?
Rakesh: When we played Millwall I came up against a striker called Cherno Samba and on Championship Manager he used to have amazing stats and everyone used to sign him and he would score loads of goals. However, whenever we played Millwall a lot of the lads were like we’re in for a tough game here, and often I had to mark Cherno Samba and you could really tell that this guy was electric. He was really quick and he was also a really good player, so he was probably the toughest opponent that I came up against. Also there was a player called Andre Boucaud and he played I think for Reading at the time, and he always reminded me of Luis Suaréz or Carlos Tevez in the fact that he was really arrogant and quite a nasty player. However, he gave me quite a tough time, so I would say the two toughest players that I came up against were Cherno Samba and Andre Boucaud as they were really tough competitors to play against.
Were there any players at Spurs who you were particularly close to?
Rakesh: There was a group of about four players and we all grew up in Hertfordshire and we all used to go to training together and matches together, so I was very close to them. However, as we’ve got older I’ve kind of lost touch a little bit more just because of our own lifestyles, but Jamie Slabber who went onto play for the first team, I used to go to training with him and so I was very close to him coming through the ranks. There was another guy called Lee Barnett who went to the same school as me and we played in the same Broxbourne School team, and he actually went onto YTS as well. He was a really strong footballer and a really good player who I was very close to because I would basically go training with him everyday. Daniel Perry the right back was another one, so he, Lee Barnett and Daniel Perry, Jamie Slabber and another guy called Osman Ibrahim who grew up in my area, and I was really close to him then as well as now. There were other players within that sort of set up who grew up within that area such as Mark Bunn who was part of the same rep team, so I was close to those guys particularly because we were basically the guys fromHertfordshire and the rest of them were all from other areas. However, we all used to go to training together and I sort of grew up with them. Also not forgetting Mario Noto who I was really close to after he initially joined as a trialist, and he did really well as a winger because he had a lot of pace and he was also a nice guy who was also part of our group I suppose.
What would your advice be to the young Spurs players of today as they look to break into the first team?
Rakesh: My advice would be to basically sacrifice everything to become a footballer, so dedicate yourself to football. That means living well, eating well and sleeping well as well as not partying out and dining out because the sacrifices will be worth it if you want to make it, but if you do want to make it you do have to sacrifice everything. If I really wanted to make it I know that I could have at a certain level but I would have had to sacrifice everything. But I wasn’t willing to do that. So if you are really serious about your football and you really want to make it at Spurs then you’ve got to dedicate yourself to playing for Spurs, and also don’t lose sight of the bigger picture as well. Don’t get too wrapped up in the hype about making it because very few do make it and you do need a little bit of luck as well, so I would always let your football do the talking and I’d work hard at my craft.
After all these years how do you look back on your time at the Lilywhites and is Spurs a club who you still hold close to your heart?
Rakesh: Definitely because almost half my life was playing for Spurs really, so up to my 20’s all my life was playing football and even now I just love football. So for me Spurs will always be a close club to my heart even though I might support Arsenal I always look out for Spurs and how well they are doing. And that year when they got to the Champions League final I couldn’t believe because it was something that I didn’t think in my life time that I would see, but I think that I was really proud to have been part of the Spurs set up when it was and I was at the club for a good chunk of time. It wasn’t like I was at the club for like a month, I was with them for a good eight years so for me those memories and those contract renewals just don’t go away. So for me I think that it taught me invaluable skills that I can take on in my life now, like stuff like discipline and teamwork and understanding about stuff like routine which is so important for mental health. I do think that football can help you with your mental health as much as it can also affect your mental health if you leave football and don’t make it I suppose. So some of the best memories in football have been from Tottenham Hotspur for me, and it’s just unfortunate that it didn’t carry on for me, but I’ve got no regrets at all for me because I don’t really have any regrets in life. If it’s meant to be then it’s meant to be, so that’s how I think of it, and I’ll always keep an eye on Spurs’ results whether it’s from their youth academy or their first team going forward. However, I loved my time at Spurs and I was proud to play for them during my time and I think that if you ask those players in and around the youth set up when I was at the club then I think that they would say the same. However, on the flip side I would say that I’ve learnt a lot about academies and about coaches and about how football is played in this country. My career now is going into football in a different way but I’ve learnt that there are very few Gazza’s around or Joe Cole’s around in this country although they are starting to emerge more now which is great. Such as the Ross Barkley’s of this world and Sancho’s and Sterling’s so we’re in a good moment in this country with football, whereas a few years back we were thinking about where these players were going to come from and it wasn’t that far away.
I think that a lot of that is down to like over coaching players because at an early age you just want to be encouraged to play football and have freedom to play football, but I think that the over coaching that we do in this country is sometimes detrimental because it doesn’t allow players to be as skilful or as free to play their football. So they are not as free to play their football like Brazilians or the Spanish players do and it really stifles that creativity. So as much as I loved playing through the set up of academy football I did find it very intense and restrictive to the point where you just weren’t allowed to go and play your football, as there were always like stops in training where you had to stop and do certain drills and that sort of stuff. I feel like when you are young you just want to be told to have fun and enjoy yourself because when it comes later down the line, then tactics and certain formational stuff begins to matter more than it did in the beginning. So I think that that is the reason why we don’t get the Gazza’s and the Joe Cole’s of this world, and even now we have got good wingers but if you ask where are we going to get the next Messi or Ronaldo then it will be tough because they are one offs but yeah I’ve learnt a lot from my time at Spurs but I would say that some of the best years I’ve had were playing for Spurs, no doubt.