Ben Greenhalgh has played with Mario Balotelli, Lucio, Javier Zanetti and Patrick Vieira. He has also played in the Scottish Premier League with Inverness. Now he is creating plenty of goals for Concord Rangers. Chris Clark chatted with Ben to find out more about his career thus far…
Talk me through the process of applying for Football’s Next Star and finally winning it.
I never applied for FNS, it was a a team bonding session with Kent rep, which Ken Brooke took us down too! It wasn’t anything I took too seriously until Jamie Redknapp approached me and I was the only one chosen out of 300 people on that day! I took it all in my stride as many things were going on at the time, I’d signed a contract for Welling first team at 16 and I’d been selected for England school boys under 18 so maybe the reason I was so composed throughout the process was due to the fact I felt I had places to fall back to!
Do you or your mates dig out the old tapes and re-watch it?
It pops back on Sky every couple of years and it’s always a laugh to watch again but it was 6 years ago now so unless I’m caught name dropping it won’t come up in banter as much anymore!!
What was it like training with Inter Milan for 6 months, that must have been one hell of an experience? What kind of players did you train with, and play against?
I remember the first time I was pulled into a first team session was during the show and it was so surreal, I found myself on a team with Ballotelli and Quaresma playing up against Lucio and Zanetti. It’s funny how when you’re that star struck it can be hard to play to your best! After this though I had quite a few chances in the following year to train with them and it seemed like more of a normal occasion which was much more relaxed and easier to impress in compared to the reserve training sessions. A few of the reserves have gone on to better things, Mattia Destro who I lived with was always expected to do big things in Italy but wasn’t favoured by Inter but has now gone on to play quite regularly for Roma!
How did you adapt to the culture in Italy?
It was tough adapting to the Italian culture because of the language difficulties! The first 6 months I spent with Inter I only picked up bits of Italian due to the fact I spent a lot of the time with other foreigners out there in the same position as me, but when I went on loan to Como everyone else there was Italian so I was chucked into the deep end with learning the language and after a month I found it really easy to fit in, and caught onto the language almost fluently! I might have adapted too well with the Italian fashion because I don’t think people back here knew what hit them when I returned in white Armani jeans and shiny dolce and Gabbana trainers!
You played 12 games for Calcio Como and scored 8 goals, but you weren’t offered a deal. Was that a disappointment to you? Would you have stayed in Italy if you were offered a full time deal?
My time at Como was where I learnt the most in football, and had some of my best playing stats with goals and assists! I was offered a deal which would remain being full time, but it was Around Christmas time and a lot of the squad hadn’t been paid for two months due to the financial problems in serie B and C at the time. It was because of this I couldn’t be stuck in Italy with the worry of not getting paid, and I had always wanted to return to England anyway!!
How was playing in Scotland and in the Premier League? What was the standard of football like, and did you feel a little bit let down when you weren’t offered a contract there?
Playing in Scotland was the best time I’ve had in my career, it was a long way to travel too but once I was up there all the other boys were in the same situation and we got along very well! I was breaking into the first team and got quite a few games in under Terry Butcher who brought me in, but once John Hughes came in as manager I wasn’t give much opportunity and he changed things about. It was bad luck and I decided after not playing for a few months that it would be best for my career to be playing somewhere rather than not! This was why I spent the last 6 games of that season out on loan where I managed to get a few goals and get back into the swing of things!
Moving onto Concord, you’ve been at the club before under the previous manager. What’s different about Adam and Jody’s approach to the game?
It’s not massively different under Adam and Jody because the basis of the club is still the same and the ambitions are still the same. We are trying to play at the right opportunities more which I like but it’s a transitional phase at the moment. It’s showed in a couple of games that we haven’t adapted to the game we want to play well enough, but that’s always going to happen. The positive thing is we should probably have won 6 of our 7 games proving this system is working we just all need to get used to it and I’m sure when that happens we will be very hard to beat! It’s also a little different as well due to the change in league, when I was last here we had to win every game and we won the cup and playoffs where as this year we are coming up against some very strong teams with big budgets. One thing that doesn’t change about Concord is that only spurs on to beat the teams where we are seen as underdogs!
You’ve an excellent dead ball delivery. Does that come natural to you or does it require lots of practice?
It’s something I have worked on over the years because I know if I get my delivery right how much of an asset it can be especially in this league. It comes down to confidence, I have the confidence in my delivery as do the management and players. I don’t feel the pressure when delivering the ball, I always want to be putting the ball into a dangerous area!
You’re always keen to do a trick. What is the best one you have pulled off, and what did it result in?
I do love a step over or five, there’s nothing better than twisting up defenders. I think it’s the nutmegs that always look the best and get the right reaction. My best skill was on my debut for Inter reserves where I did a dragback elastico through someone’s legs and then crossed the ball in for the forward to hit the bar with an overhead kick, would’ve been the best goal id been a part of! ( I’ll try and reenact the skill at some point this season if we’re 3 0 up) But nothing will compare to nutmegging Patrick Vieira in training and getting his congratulations!!
What hopes do you have for Concord this season, and yourself?
I hope to keep getting in as many assists as possible, I’m on 6 in 7 so I will try and keep up to the game by game ratio as I know it could result in us winning games. I’d like to beat my last season’s figures of 10 goals and hopefully get over 15 but in the position i’m playing assists come first! I think we can do as well as previous seasons if not more, we’ve lost games we should’ve won but we are still working each other out. There won’t be many games that we can’t win so we’ll take it step by step and try and beat everyone in our path and see where that takes us!!