From making his way through the ranks with distinction at Aberystwyth Town FC 10 years ago to winning at Wembley last week to help his Wycombe Wanderers side reach the EFL Championship for the first time ever, 25-year-old forward Alex Samuel has had quite the journey in his young career to date.
A 16-year-old when making his debut for Aber at Park Avenue, Samuel’s career so far has been a textbook story of what can happen if you never give up.
Facing career-threatening injuries two years ago and being released from his club at the time, Stevenage, the 25-year-old has since taken the opportunity to shine at Wycombe and today can class himself as a key member of the Wanderers squad looking to continue its super rise when it takes to the Championship next season.
It would be easy for Samuel to forget, in the midst of all the success the young forward has tasted recently, where he had come from, but in our conversation with him following his EFL Playoff Final success, the 25-year-old forward was eager to show that he hadn’t and wanted to share a message to the young players in Wales who might want to follow in his footsteps.
“I want to say to those young players in Wales, the young lads who are coming through the ranks at Bala, Rhyl, Aberystwyth, Haverfordwest and so on, I hope you hear my message which is to say that you can do it [become a professional player].
“It is not easy, you will get a lot of setbacks but that is what football is about – what you do with those setbacks – and as long as you are determined and believe in it and keep going, work hard and do everything that you can, only good things can happen.
“People will see that hard work and the determination and people like that, so if I can inspire anyone then that is what I’d love to do, and encourage any young players who want to become a professional footballer.”
“I know how hard it can be, but it is possible.”
The Welsh footballing twitter-sphere was awash with congratulatory messages and pictures from Samuel’s youth as an Aberystwyth Town Academy player last Monday evening as Wycombe won their place in the EFL Championship for next season, congratulating the young man who enjoyed spending his formative years in Wales.
Admitting that his phone hasn’t been quiet for too long at all in the eight days since Wycombe’s win, Samuel expressed his gratitude for the support he has received from Wales and said how the days since that Playoff Final success have allowed him to reflect on his beginnings in Ceredigion.
“The support I’ve had means everything. This last week has been a time of reflection and to think that this all started from Aberystwyth really, and a lot of the foundation for my success today, so it means a lot to me.
“My mum, sister and brother live in Aberystwyth still, and they had Wycombe flags outside the door, plastered across the house and so on, and it was just such an amazing moment for everyone.
“I do hope it inspires young footballers that they are able to become professional in those areas, because I know how hard it can be, but it is possible.
“You can never give up in football – we’ve seen so many stories of people not giving up and things changing for them, so you’ve just got to keep putting 100% in and that’s always been my motto so if I can keep doing that then I’m happy with that.
“I wouldn’t have thought I’d be sitting here now as a Championship Player.”
Samuel’s career has taken him from Park Avenue to the Scottish Championship, then League Two where he played a crucial role in Newport County’s ‘Great Escape’, before moving to Stevenage where a serious injury threatened his career as he was released by the club at 23 years old.
Wycombe Wanderers stepped in to offer him a trial, which soon became a six-month contract, before a two-year extension was signed – a testament, in the words of club manager Gareth Ainsworth, to Samuel’s hard work and determination – but the 25-year-old describes his achievements since being released by Stevenage as a miracle.
“Two years ago I would have said to achieve this would be a miracle, especially just because of the scenario I was in being injured, released from a League Two club with my agent struggling to find a club for me even in the Conference, so it was a miracle to be picked up by Wycombe.
“I wouldn’t have thought I’d be sitting here now as a Championship player, so it has just been incredible. I don’t really have words for what we achieved last week. The pressure of those playoff games are enormous – the occasion means everything to the team, and you’ve simply got to win.
“There’s all this pressure, and you want to talk about how much it would mean to win it and how much it would change your life, but you don’t because you want to secure it first, and then to play at Wembley it was just surreal to look at that pitch and play in an amazing, historic stadium, and I’ll never forget it and the feeling when that final whistle blew. You could tell how much it meant to us.”
“We’re going to be proving a lot of people wrong again.”
The future is certainly exciting for Samuel, then, but what is to come in his future?
“We’re preparing now for next season.” Samuel said. “We’ll enjoy the celebrations, but we need to focus now on getting even more fit and ready for one of the most competitive leagues in the world in the EFL Championship.
“I’m focussed on preparing my body and mind for the job at hand. Everybody is probably predicting that we’ll go down straight away, but they did that when we went up to League One, too, and even this last season when we started pre-season with nine players in the squad.
“We’re going to be proving a lot of people wrong again, I think, but it all comes back to that hard work and the team spirit – you can see how much of a team Wycombe is, and it is just about us sticking with that and moving forward, so we’ll wait and see what is to come.”
We spoke to Alex for the latest episode of our 'Getting to Know' series on the JD Cymru Leagues podcast. You can listen to the full episode below and learn more about the young forward's incredible journey in football to date. Enjoy!