Sunday 25 February 2018

Marriott to take chance after hours of hard work under mentor Kennedy

Jack Marriott has been among the goals since moving to Peterborough. Photo: Getty Images
Jack Marriott has been among the goals since moving to Peterborough. Photo: Getty Images

Sam Wallace

Only Harry Kane has scored more league goals than Jack Marriott across the top four divisions this season, and no one has scored more in the FA Cup, which means that in this febrile transfer window there will be many watching Peterborough United's centre-forward today.

He is up against Leicester City in the FA Cup fourth round in the lunchtime kick-off, a Northamptonshire-raised boy who is the latest English striker to build his professional career the hard way.

Like Leicester's most famous name, Jamie Vardy, and Kane, Marriott is one of those footballers whose status in the game has been hard won through loan moves, non-league, triumph, setback and a determination always to go somewhere where he will play games.

It has taken him to the Conference, with three loan spells at Woking while he was contracted to Ipswich Town, who discovered this diminutive, speedy goalscorer relatively late - at 15 - and gave him a scholarship one year later. Along the way, he has summoned up the courage to ask Peter Taylor to release him from a loan at Gillingham that was going nowhere and in 2015 signed for Luton Town, when negotiations involved him saying: "Give me any deal. I want a chance."

A bright character, it is clear when we meet this week that Marriott is one of the new breed of English footballers who build a career rather than trusting that a career will happen to them.

Last season, he lost his place at Luton in League Two. Now he has 18 goals in League One, making him the top goalscorer in the Football League, with 24 goals in all competitions and has been linked with moves to clubs as high up the hierarchy as Crystal Palace and West Ham.

"I look at the Championship as the old Premier League because some of the best English players are there," he says.

"The Premier League is so vastly coveted, so many good international players. The best in the world, apart from (Lionel) Messi, play in the Premier League, and from what I hear, it's the most difficult. When you see English players doing well there, you know it has not been easy for them.

"Look at Harry Kane, and all his loan spells. He played at Millwall, Norwich, so many different places. Now look at him - 99 Premier League goals. That's not been given to him. He has had to work hard for that.

"It's the same with Vardy. He has earned his England caps and his Premier League medal. It's not easy. Anyone who thinks it will be given to them will drop out of the game because you have to work hard. That is one thing I will do until the day I retire because you can never rest on your laurels."

Like Vardy and Kane, Marriott was a late developer, despite being given his Ipswich debut aged 18 in May 2013. For the next two seasons, he went on six different loan spells, not all of which worked out, but reflecting on it now, he recognises the value of the experience.

At Gillingham in early 2014, he had not realised there were three seasoned pros ahead of him. Later that year at Carlisle United, the manager, Graham Kavanagh, was sacked soon after he arrived.

Through it all, Marriott was guided by one principle: that he wanted to play first-team games and was prepared to move to do so.

"You learn stuff in games that you won't learn in training," he says. "In training, you can think that goals are all you need, but, no, you need to be able to hold the ball up because the more you hold the ball up, the more chances you get, and, therefore, the more goals you score. It's all linked. You have to work on your first touch or you are never going to hold the ball up."

His mentor has been the former Liverpool midfielder and Republic of Ireland international Mark Kennedy, who also played at Manchester City and Wolves among others, and was the Ipswich Town U-21s coach. Kennedy would work for hours with him on the training pitch and analyse clips of his games.

The low moment was a loan to Colchester United at the end of the 2014-2015 season when Marriott would often not even make that club's U-21 side.

"That was a very difficult period of time," he remembers. "I still questioned whether I wanted to continue playing football, but I wouldn't change it. It makes me the mentally strong person I am now because, no matter what happens, you get out the other side."

He was released by Ipswich that summer, on good terms with Mick McCarthy, and from then on, he knew it was make or break.

He scored twice against Bristol City in his first start for Luton and was immediately offered an improved deal, finishing the 2015-2016 season with 16 goals.

In the second half of last season, he lost his place in the Luton team and realised another major decision was around the corner.

"It would have been so easy to stay," he says. "I had two years on my contract, but I am not that type of person. I wanted a fresh start at a club where I felt valued."

He went up a division to Peterborough, scored six in his first five games, and was named League One's August Player of the Month.

The team are currently eighth, under manager Grant McCann, and beat Aston Villa in the FA Cup third round. Marriott scored twice and, a lifelong Chelsea fan, bagged John Terry's shirt, too.

"Six months ago, I wasn't even playing, and this was in the league below," he says. "It goes to show how football can change. Now I look back at the difficult spells I have had and think I can get through anything. Also, I appreciate how bad those times were, and I never want to go back to that.

Natural

"I take (the talk about his future) as it comes. I get wound up by the lads - that's natural in a dressing-room. You can't ignore it, but you have to try because if I am thinking about rumours, if I am constantly phoning my agent, there is no point.

"I am happy and loving my football, scoring goals and being in the starting XI. Why should I be distracted? If I am not focusing on my game, then it's a slippery slope, all just for rumour and speculation."

He says that his target is promotion to the Championship with Peterborough and is sticking to the rule that has served him well already - that whatever he does will be to play first-team games.

His career total already stands at 191 with 71 goals. "I'm a footballer, I've loved the game all my life. Why wouldn't I want to play games?"

© Daily Telegraph, London

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