Far-Flung Adventures: Ross Jenkins on playing in Romania

Ross Jenkins is a 25-year-old midfielder who spent last season at Romanian top-flight club Poli Timișoara. He broke into the Watford first team under Brendan Rodgers in 2008, and has also played for Plymouth, Barnet and Crawley Town, as well as the England Under-20s. Here he talks to Will Unwin about his adventures in Romania and the challenges of finding a club overseas…

“I didn’t play enough games after leaving Watford, so a lot of teams in England were wary about why I didn’t play games and where I’d been. I’d speak to clubs and the main thing was that I didn’t have many games on my CV. To go abroad and play in a different league was a bonus for me. It helped me open doors in different countries so that I’d have a few more options come the end of the season.”

“More people are open-minded about moving abroad and playing. The style of football abroad is good, so some players who don’t fit the model of a League One player, the more technical ones, can thrive in a different country. The salaries are different – the pay is better in England – but if you want to play regular football and want a stage to play on, then moving abroad is a good option.

For me it was a good time to go away, get my head down and play football. It gives you a chance when coming back to England for clubs to go online, watch your games and see that you’re back fit and that you’ve completed 90 minutes on a regular basis.

When an agent calls me and says: ‘Do you want to go to this country?’ or ‘This league?’ and I ask for more details on the club and the contract, and he can’t tell me, then why on earth would he think I’d want to commit to something? There are a lot of people out there who are trying to get mandates (to represent players) so if you do land a contract in that country, they have the rights on you as well. There are a lot of sly agents out there, but the key is to find out all the details, do your research on the club, and make sure you don’t get trapped in a mandate by an agent.

Anyone can be an agent now as long as you pay the £500 fee. Back in the day you needed to take a course. Now anyone can write in their bio about being an agent and there’s so many bullshitters out there, it’s very hard to trust someone. If you have a friend who is an agent – perfect – but if you get some bloke saying they’ve got this club or that club interested in you, wanting me to fly out immediately, then it sounds a bit too good to be true. In most cases it is.

I made sure I paid for someone to translate my contract from Romanian into English before I signed it. It proved its worth when it took me six months to get all my money. I did my research on Poli Timisoara. I knew it used to be a big club; it’s still a big club, but not what it was six or seven years ago. I had all the details I needed to make it official and to know it was a good opportunity. I wasn’t too bothered about salary, it was purely for the football, but I had all the details on paper – they paid for my flights, which was enough for me to make the move.

When you’re without a club, people can be desperate. The club have you bent over a barrel and can put anything in that contract. All you will see is your salary and you won’t read all the details. If you don’t do your research, you can fall into traps. It’s not like in England where you have the PFA to help you. When you’re out there, if you don’t speak the language, it’s hard to communicate with the football association.

Having everything set as soon as possible is key. Living accommodation is the main one, as you don’t want to be living out of a suitcase, staying in hotels and eating out every night. Being able to relax at home is key to ensure you can focus on football. Make sure you’re settled at home first, then it makes the football easier, ensuring you’re bonding with the players, making sure you have a relationship, even if they don’t speak English. I was lucky that I experienced that at Watford for a short time after the Italian takeover. We had a lot of foreigners arrive and you had to make them welcome, interact with the boys who didn’t speak English. That aspect helped me bed in with the boys in Romania.

Learning the language would be ideal long term. As long as you have the basics covered on the pitch – making sure you know the ‘trigger’ words in the game, so you can talk to players and make sure you understand what they’re saying to you – then football’s football, it speaks for itself. Someone can be saying ‘man on’ or ‘turn’ and if you haven’t a clue what he’s saying, then you’re not going to take any notice. Get the football language sorted first. Anything out of the game, ordering food or getting taxis, is a bonus.

If I was to go abroad again, I would have to be near a big city. In Romania I was in city with a lot of English speakers, but once you got outside of it, it was near impossible to communicate with anyone. I’ve had a few offers from places I don’t think will progress my career, as they were in leagues that weren’t great and I’d be afraid that no one in England would watch it.

I don’t want to be forgotten. Ultimately I want to come back to England to play. If you play in a country where football isn’t the main sport or it isn’t televised, you can be forgotten back home. If you’re playing in a top division in Europe, you still have a chance. It’s about being clever and smart, thinking about the long-term. I was thinking more about my career when I went to Romania, but the chances are if you go to a lower league abroad, then it will be difficult to come back to England and get a Championship or League One club.

Over the summer I had the chance to move to Catania. I didn’t have all the details. I decided to go out there on the reputation of the club before I actually saw what I was getting, where I was living and what the circumstances are. I took a gamble purely on the club’s reputation being a big club.

When I got there I had a gut feeling that this wasn’t right for me. Nothing was set in stone and I didn’t want to go down the case of the unknown again, so that’s why I decide to fly back. They were keen on having me over there still and getting something sorted still. I thought it might not be for me for footballing reasons. I’ve had the chance to move to Azerbaijan and Canada in the past but I’ve known those moves weren’t right for me.

At the end of the day, your career is short. If you’re thinking you’re taking a step back and you’re not willing to commit to a year abroad, then you have to make that tough decision. There’s no shame in walking away from something you don’t feel is right. I decided that playing back in England would be better for me that being in Serie C and you have to back your own decisions. Ideally I want to get back into the Championship and I think the best way to do that is to be playing in England or playing in a top league abroad where English clubs can watch me.

Far-Flung Adventures: Ross Jenkins on playing in Romania
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