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Careers cut short: Talking to ex-Man City kid Leon Mike

It’s the second of a series of interviews with football’s early retirers. First came Alex Notman and now Leon Mike… Leon Mike’s professional career was over at the age of 21; he had made two appearances for Manchester City and spent 18 months at Aberdeen, but his lust for the game had been rapidly worn down. Despite being a regular at Aberdeen, things turned sour for him at Pittodrie and he was released early from his contract. Within the space of two years he’d gone from a Manchester City starter to leaving the game behind. “I remember being sat in my flat on my own a couple of times asking myself out loud “Do you even want to play football anymore?” which was weird for me at 20, 21 years old. At 16 I couldn’t believe when I signed my scholarship at City that someone was going to pay me to play football, so in the space of four to five years, I’d gone from that to being totally disillusioned with the game,” Mike explains. “It was a confusing time, I was confused to why I felt why like I did but I knew my heart wasn’t in the game anymore.” His debut for City in 2001 was a sliding doors moment for the 20-year-old as within seconds he had missed a great chance and then another in the second half. He did enough to earn a start in a 2-1 win over Rotherham the following week but another missed opportunity was enough to make up Kevin Keegan’s mind and he never played for the club again. The Mancunian had come up through the ranks at City as the club was evolving in the Championship under Keegan, playing a brand of dynamic attacking football which saw them earn 99 points in the season. “It was funny as a week before I’d gone in to speak to Kevin Keegan and Arthur Cox. I asked if there was anything else I could do to get in the first team. I was training well, I was scoring in the reserves and I was just wondering if there was anything else I could do to get a chance. He said I had Paulo Wanchope, Darren Huckerby, Shaun Goater and Paul Dickov in front of me, so I had to be patient. “I went and scored a hat-trick against Bradford the same night and then come the Friday I was in the squad because we had a few injuries, so it came as bit of a shock,” Mike said. “I sat on the bench at Fratton Park and Shaun Goater went down five minutes before half-time, so Keegan told me to get stripped. “I froze for second, got ready, got my warm-up done and came on. Within seconds I had a chance and hit it straight at the ‘keeper and in the second half I had another chance and missed it, then we lost the game 2-1, for which Kevin Keegan lambasted me in the changing room, so it was a tough debut but it was unbelievable being on the pitch with Robert Prosinecki. “I played against Rotherham, I missed another chance and then after that Blackburn away in the League Cup and I said to myself that I would score whatever happened that night but I didn’t even make the squad. I got an ankle injury after that which kept me out for about a month. By the time I came back Aberdeen were on the case and I was abruptly sold.” At Aberdeen Mike played over 30 games for the club in the 15 months he spent in Scotland but a toxic mixture of homesickness and allowing his own standards to slip meant his desire to play the game was gone, and by the end of the 2002/03 campaign he had already returned to Manchester. Leon Mike – Aberdeen (2002-03)Striker joined for £50k and hit a phenomenal 5 goals in 33 games in his only season — Pish SPL Footballers (@stramashing) November 19, 2015 “It was on me, by the time I left Aberdeen, I was totally disillusioned with football, I’d lost interest, I’d lost interest in training, playing games. Aberdeen paid up my contract, so by the time I came back to Manchester, I had a bit of money, I was acting out at 20, 21 years old. I had trials at Doncaster, Oldham, Bury, Lincoln but my head wasn’t in it at all, I wasn’t keeping myself fit and I basically ran away from football for the next ten years.” Now out of the game, Mike did not see an obvious route back. During his time in Scotland he had played in Europe and scored against Rangers but the impact of being away from home and struggling with the lower standards at the club had made Mike question everything about football. “I stopped doing the things that got me to a high level in the first place, I stopped doing extra training, I wasn’t enjoying the training up there, the standard of the coaching wasn’t great, we were doing stuff that I was doing at City at the age of 14 and they were doing it in the first team. I wasn’t in the team, I think was struggling living away from home. “All the lads there were young but they’d settled down, there were lads who took me under their wing like Derek Young, who had a nice family and I spent Christmas Day with them in 2002. They were really nice people but I was far from my family, it was a five or six-hour drive to get home or £150 to get on the plane. The standard of football and the coaching, mixed with the politics of the game, it kind of ground me into submission and I just said in my head “I don’t want to do this anymore”.” Mike’s first avenue back to football came by chance through his close friend and former housemate Danny Webber, who had a long career at Watford and Sheffield United. Mike went to train with non-league Mossley, who played in the North West Counties League in the eighth tier of English football. “Danny’s cousin Jason Beckford had spoken to him and asked me to come down to Mossley. I went down and signed straight away to stay in the game that way. I didn’t take it seriously, though, it was just football for me, training twice a week and playing once. It suited my lifestyle at the time, I...


Published By: Fottball 365 - Thursday, 11 January, 2018

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