Sam Cosgrove Feature
During the post split fixtures the Red Army got to meet the real Sam. Impressive he was too. The big striker spoke to the RedMatchday Editor before the end of the season.
World class they may be, but time waits for no man and English cricket is starting to look around for successors to Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad to open the bowling – without much success.
As it happens, back in January the Dons signed the man who might have been the answer. Sam Cosgrove might be a striker now but in another life, he might have been a strike bowler at Test level.
“When I was young, I loved my football but I was also a very keen cricketer. I was a fast swing bowler. I represented my county Cheshire but my football career got in the way. I was on the radar with England. I never played for them at any age level, but they were monitoring my progress. But at about 15 or 16, I had a choice to make about which sport I wanted to focus on. Before then I could play both football and cricket side by side but then the football became too time consuming.
“I obviously can’t play cricket any more, even in the summer, I can’t risk getting injured. A few years back though I bowled a ball at my mate and removed his off stump at the first time of asking! I surprised myself!”
England’s loss is Aberdeen’s gain if the evidence of Sam’s decisive display against Hearts, Hibs, Rangers and Celtic is anything to go by, his first real sustained opportunity of showing the Red Army what he can after joining Aberdeen on a two and a half year deal in January.
The 21 year old, born in North Yorkshire, came through the Everton Youth Academy before joining Wigan Athletic. During his two seasons at the DW Stadium he had a number of loan spells.
“I was born in Yorkshire but only lived there for 11 months. I then grew up in Cheshire and attended Knutsford High School. I was a Manchester City fan and I had a season ticket for three seasons until my football got in the way of it. I did not have the time to do both.
“My dad used to take me to Maine Road when I was little but I don’t remember that, so I can’t really remember the bad days when they were playing in the lower leagues. I can only remember the goodish days and the midtable days in the Premiership!
“I started going regularly two years before we won the title. I was then there the day Sergio Aguero scored THAT goal. After that, I had to give up going, but it would never get better than that final day in May 2012. I still remember the game and the goal really clearly. Like most people who were there, I don’t think I will ever forget it. I thought we had absolutely blown it. When Dzeko scored I thought to myself, we might have a chance here, and then it happened. Incredible scenes.
“By then, I was at Everton. I have always been a striker throughout my career. I have always been quite tall and that caused quite a lot of trouble when I was very young. A lot of teams would think that I was too old and would question my age and arguments would start on the side of the pitch. “There’s no way he’s a U8!”
“I was at Everton for four of five years as a youth team player before I signed my scholarship at Wigan Athletic and then I was there for four years. My time at Everton was good. The whole set up there is so impressive. The amount of money and time they put into the youth set up was at a different level.
“Back then, a lot of the other Premiership clubs did not have the massive academies. As a club, Everton were always quite keen on bringing the kids through. They had just opened up the new training ground when I arrived and the facilities were like nothing I had ever seen before. That’s going back eight years or more.
“It was very intense. They used to take us out of school for release days and we would go for extra coaching twice a week. I used to miss quite a bit of school. I really had to knuckle down and focus on my football and work hard.
“Everton is a great club, with a good culture and they do things the proper way. As a 12 and 13 year old, the amount of resources they throw at you, it is crazy. And the amount of youngsters they have as well, they would have up to 20 kids within each age group, which is phenomenal numbers when you consider it goes all the way down to U8s.
“I played with Jonjoe Kenny and Ryan Ledson who is at Oxford at the moment. A couple of the younger ones, the year below, were Kieran Dowell and also Tom Davies. I played with him for a bit.
“But there are so many players, and then the first teams can spend so much money, it is hard to make a breakthrough, but there are a lot of good players in there. Just look at the young England teams who have been winning World Cups and the Europeans Championships. Over the past few seasons, they have been winning a lot of tournaments consistently.
“Getting in the first team is something else though. They say you need experience to get in the team but how do you get the experience if no one is willing to put you in in the first place? That is why I think up to a certain extent the loan system can really help you, although there is some luck involved in it is as well. It can be a Godsend, or you can have a hard time.
“I had a few loans myself and experienced both ends of the spectrum. Some were good, and some were bad, but they all were a learning experience. It’s all about getting game time in men’s football compared with academy football. There is a massive difference. That game time is key because managers are not willing to put you in if they think you are a risk.
“The statistics in England are crazy. Less than 1% will ever make a first team debut. If so many kids are not getting a chance, there must be some really good players who are falling through the net because they are not getting that opportunity. There are so many young players who are taken on in all the age groups but only a couple of them can get a chance. They cannot be giving out debuts to everyone, so it is tough. That’s why I moved on to Wigan to try and get that chance”.
In contrast to that experience in England, one of the main objectives of Project Brave in Scotland is to have far fewer kids playing at the elite level, with all the resources going into a smaller group of players, hopefully increasing the chance of the boys making the grade. Only time will tell if it works – that’s if Scottish football actually gives the project time to work before someone comes along and changes it….
“Wigan were also a good club and again a good experience. I joined the year that they won the FA Cup but they got relegated from the Premiership a week later, back in 2013. I was actually at the final as a Manchester City fan at Wembley, so when Ben Watson’s scored the stoppage-time winner for Wigan I was half cheering and half had my head in my hands! I was thinking what do I do here?! It was a very strange feeling, I had literally just signed for them.
“The following season they made a right push to get promoted. They got to the play-offs but did not come through. And then they got relegated again which was tough for everyone involved with the club. I had a good time there and had plenty of opportunities, so it was a good experience and helped my football development. During that time, I played with Fraser Fyvie. He was a very good player but was unlucky with his injuries at Wigan. I played with him in the reserves quite a bit.
“Getting the chance to come here was great, but it was a real surprise too! I knew about the club and everything, though I didn’t realise just how far away it is! I was excited more than anything.
“They pushed hard to get me in January instead of waiting till the summer and I really appreciate that now. It will be a great help for next season. I’ve been happy with how it’s gone so far. Obviously I haven’t had loads of game time at the moment, but everything else has gone well. Everyone at the club has been absolutely fantastic with me. As an outsider coming in, I could not have asked for more. I can’t stress that enough. Everyone has made me feel right at home.
“I feel I have settled in as well as I can. There has been no problems and I am enjoying it, it’s a nice place. I pretty much know my way around now, I can just about get around without a sat nav! My dad loves coming up, every time he says what a lovely place it is.”
Having signed on transfer deadline day, Sam was handed a debut against Celtic a few weeks later. His Dons entrance lasted just eight minutes as he was red carded for a mistimed challenge after coming off the bench.
“When I was younger, I had a couple of silly sending offs, but I have not had anything as rash as that for a long time. It was rash but it was not malicious. It was a silly thing to do. Unfortunately, it happened eight minutes into my Aberdeen career. Yes, I do regret it, but you have to move on and focus on doing well now. I feel I started to show what I’m about in the Hearts game”.
In that game, Sam set up the opening goal, had a hand in the second and was only denied a goal himself from a header by an outstanding save from keeper Jon McLaughlin.
“I didn’t know I was playing against Hearts until the manager came into the dressing room, just before the teamsheets are handed in. I would not be human if I wasn’t nervous, but there would not be any point in me being here if I did not want to do it. I just concentrated on taking my opportunity as well as I could. It was a good all round team performance so I was able to enjoy the game.
“Setting up the first goal and getting an assist beside my name, that was a big confidence booster, as was winning headers and holding the ball up and keeping possession for the team. It all adds up and builds the confidence. The only thing that was missing from my performance was a goal really, but I nearly got one! It was a very good save.
“I’ll have to wait a bit longer for my first goal but that will be a special moment when it comes along. That is what I am here to do, to score goals. As soon as I get that first one, hopefully it will be this season at some point, then I can kick on from there.
“Football is sometimes about biding your time. You can either go in kicking doors down and spitting your dummy out or you can go get your head down and work hard. I have never been one to kick up a fuss. I have always believed in myself and I have always put my performances first. If I am not performing well then I am not deserving of a place. I will be the first one to admit that. But hopefully my performances towards the end of the season put down a marker at a good time in the season.
“I’ve had a good taste of things now and hopefully when next season comes around, I can play a bigger part having got my feet under the table. Getting on in the Scottish Cup semi-final was helpful too, even though the day went wrong for us.
“The whole week leading up to the game was very special as was the morning of the match because my dad made it up here. It was an enjoyable experience up until they scored the first. Getting on and playing at Hampden was good experience but it was not ideal circumstances. Hopefully over the next few seasons, we can get back there. It will certainly be something I’m aiming to do as I don’t want that to be my only memory of playing at the national stadium.
“I am really enjoying my time in Aberdeen. The way the club works, it is extreme professionalism. Everyone from the coaching staff down to the youth staff and the office staff, everyone does everything right. It’s great to be here”.