Pre-season preview part one: the obscure world of trialists

Ireland 1

By Jason McKeown

It’s a good job that the Wi-Fi reception is good at Nethermoor, Guiseley – for Bradford City’s usual pre-season trip to their non-league neighbours, this Saturday, will no doubt provide reasons for us supporters to Google obscure football names who appear on trial.

Year after year, a number of trialists will take part in early pre-season friendlies in the hope of convincing the manager they are worth offering a permanent deal to. Although it seems most have no chance, a surprisingly high number are awarded a proper contract and some have gone on to make a huge impression. Witness the club’s most effective post-millennium strike partnership of James Hanson and Nahki Wells, or other ‘We Made History’ contributors, Zavon Hines and Carl McHugh.

Other notable trialist names over the years include Andy Gray, Mark Paston, Paul Henderson, Steven Schumacher, Steve Williams, Kyle Nix, David Syers, James O’Brien, Steve O’Leary and Scott Neilson. Last season’s 4-0 Guiseley romp featured four trialists – including Rafa De Vita, who ended up signing a one-year deal with the club. No wonder we all pay extra attention to these unknowns.

There are, however, many others who don’t impress enough to warrant a place in the upcoming season’s squad, and are cast off. Some names remain in the memory, others are long forgotten. Width of a Post recalls some of the failed trialists from the past seven seasons and what became of them.

Kyle Naughton

The pre-season: 2007/08

Background: Having emerged through the youth ranks at Sheffield United, a teenage Kyle Naughton was trialled by Stuart McCall but overlooked for a deal.

What happened next: A left winger at the time and with his Bramall Lane future in doubt, Naughton eventually established himself with the Blades thanks to manager Kevin Blackwell converting him to a full back. Naughton and team-mate Kyle Walker were eventually signed by Tottenham for a combined fee of £9 million. Although Naughton has struggled at White Hart Lane, he could certainly have done a job at Valley Parade!

Jevegeni Novikov

The pre-season: 2009/10

Background: As Stuart McCall managed the cost-cutting measures from a failed promotion bid the season before, several trialists were given an opportunity, including Hanson and Williams. Another interesting figure was Estonian international midfielder Jevegeni Novikov, who auditioned in a 2-0 friendly victory over York City and looked fairly impressive.

What happened next: With no deal offered, Novikov ultimately ended up at FC Okzhetpes who played in the Kazakhstan Premier League, before moves to FF Jaro (the top flight in Finland) and Estonian side FC Levadia Tallinn. His career ended in 2011 at just 31-years-old.

Alan Mannus

The pre-season: 2009/10

Background: Part of McCall’s 2009 trialist search that summer included finding a goalkeeper to replace the departed Rhys Evans. Long-established Linfield stopper Alan Mannus, born in Canada and raised in Northern Ireland, played a couple of friendlies but was unfortunate that the poor quality of opposition meant he didn’t have a save to make. He left, and McCall ended up bringing in Simon Eastwood to keep goal.

What happened next: Mannus returned to Northern Ireland and signed for Shamrock Rovers. In two years at the Tallaght Stadium, Mannus played in the Champions League and was runner up in the PFAI player of the year award. In 2011, Mannus joined St. Johnstone, and he has largely enjoyed an impressive three years in Scotland. More European football, a third-place finish in the SPL and, last season, a Scottish Cup winners’ medal.

Seb Carole

The pre-season: 2010/11

Background: French winger Seb Carole was trialled by Peter Taylor in the summer of 2010, but the former Monaco, West Ham, Brighton and Leeds man was not offered anything concrete.

What happened next: Carole made a return to Brighton on a week-to-week contract, but was only a bit-part player under Gus Poyet. After a brief spell back over the channel with OGC Nice, Carole played for Knaresborough Town, enjoyed a short cameo back in League One with Bury, and spent two months at Guiseley.

Jamie Green

The pre-season: 2011/12

Background: After foolishly allowing Omar Daley to leave Bradford City, Peter Jackson was left scrambling for wide players and trialled former Rotherham winger Jamie Green in several friendlies. Green was fairly impressive and it seemed likely he would be offered something, but in the end Jackson opted against it.

What happened next: Green signed for Grimsby Town on a non-contract basis, who had just been relegated from the Football League. He appeared at left back on six occasions but was eventually released, ending up in South Yorkshire’s non-league circles. Last season he was contracted to Buxton.

Jonny Brain

The pre-season: 2011/12

Background: Former Newcastle United youth product Jonny Brain was clearly highly rated during his four years at Macclesfield and linked with moves to bigger clubs – but to Bradford City fans, a succession of awful games against the Bantams meant he was a laughing stock. His most high-profile gaff was an air-shot that allowed pint-sized City striker David Brown to score on his debut, at Moss Rose in 2008. It was therefore a huge shock when Brain appeared as a City trialist under Jackson in a game at Silsden. He had little to do but conceded a late goal in a 7-1 win, and was promptly released.

What happened next: Brain was signed by non-league Nantwich Town and helped The Dabbers reach the FA Cup 1st Round for the first time in its history. He was voted player of the season and given a two-year contract in 2012, but was transfer-listed a year later as Nantwich needed to cut their costs. Brain played for Stafford Rangers last season but is currently without a club.

Michael Boateng

The pre-season: 2012/13

Background: Along with Anthony McNamee (ex-Wycombe), Michael Boateng was trialled by Phil Parkinson following a strong recommendation by Jamie Lawrence (the pair were part of his academy). The duo took part in City’s pre-season trip to Ireland but were not offered anything.

What happened next: Boateng – who had been on Bristol Rovers’ books – ended up moving into non-league with Bromley, Sutton United and Newport County (before they were promoted to the Football League), but hardly played for any club. After seemingly nailing down a first team spot at Whitehawk last season, Boateng was named in the match-fixing scandal and, last month, was sentenced to 16 months in prison.

Javan Vidal

The pre-season: 2012/13

Background: Despite his exotic-sounding name, Javan Vidal was a Mancunian who came through Manchester City’s academy and undertook several loan spells at the likes of Aberdeen, Derby and Chesterfield, before signing for Greek club Pantolikios. After failing to make a single appearance for the Superleague Club, Vidal appeared on trial in City’s 7-1 thumping of Tadcaster United but was not offered a deal by Phil Parkinson.

What happened next: Left without a club for six months, Vidal eventually signed for Stockport County but left Edgley Park after they were relegated from the Conference. Amazingly, Vidal was given another professional opportunity and signed for Rochdale last summer. However, after making only three appearances at Spotland, he was released last January.

Gary Woods

The pre-season: 2013/14

Background: After playing in all but four games of Doncaster Rovers’ 2012/13 League One title-winning season, Gary Woods was surprisingly released and ended up on trial at Valley Parade due to new goalkeeping coach Lee Butler’s South Yorkshire connections. Woods played in City’s tour of Ireland but no deal was agreed.

What happened next: Woods also went on trial to Championship club Watford and earned a one-year deal at Vicarage Road. Despite not figuring at all last season, Woods remains on the books at Watford.

Vincent Acapandie

The pre-season: 2013/14

Background: The wonderfully-named Vincent Acapandie rocked up on trial last summer and played in the annual Guiesley friendly. The 23-year-old Frenchman had graduated through Auxerre’s academy but played only five times for the Ligue 1 club.

What happened next: After failing to impress Phil Parkinson, Acapandie is no longer playing football.

Brian Jensen

The pre-season: 2013/14

Background: At 38-years-old and after 10 years at Turf Moor, Brian Jensen’s trial appearance for Bradford City last summer came as a huge surprise. ‘The beast’ looked solid enough in the 4-0 thumping over Guiseley, but surely City could do better?

What happened next: There was life in Jensen yet. He signed for Bury and enjoyed a strong season at Gigg Lane – sweeping up at the player of the season awards. Jensen wasn’t offered a new contract in the summer, and so has signed for City’s League One rivals Crawley Town.

Dimitrios Konstantopoulos

The pre-season: 2013/14

Background: Yet another keeper trialled last summer (in the end Jon McLaughlin was the only permanent keeper Parkinson had on the books), Greek stopper Dimitrios Konstantopoulos had quite a pedigree. He’d made his name at Hartlepool during the period where United were knocking on the door to the Championship, and after 139 appearances at Victoria Park went on to play for Coventry, Swansea and Cardiff. After two years at AEK Athens as back up keeper, Konstantopoulos was looked at by Parkinson but not signed.

What happened next: Konstantopoulos had no trouble finding a club and signed for Championship side Middlesbrough on a short-term deal that was extended last January. He made his full league debut in March and impressed greatly, ending the season attracting interest from other clubs such as Nottingham Forest. In May, Konstantopoulos signed another new one-year deal at the Riverside.

Categories: Opinion

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3 replies

  1. I really liked Jevegeni Novikov at York, looked liked he would be McCalls type of player picking the ball up from centre back and was decent in the tackle too. I’m pretty sure he played with Andy Holdsworth in the midfield that day who looked a class above too.

    I was shocked we didn’t sign Mannus as he was everything Simon Eastwood wasn’t and was a semi pro at the time. Looks decent when I’ve seen him for St Johnstone.

    • We did indeed have Holdsworth too that day. McCall was ready to sign him but then Oldham came in for him and he choose to move to Boundary Park. He is now playing for Guiseley so we will see him on Saturday.

  2. It always seems to me to be an extremely fine line between making it as a pro, and not doing so. It would seem there are all kinds of elements to gaining a contract when on trial at a club, and most of it seems to be luck!
    As detailed above in your comprehensive detail about an admittedly small handful of trialists that we are aware of, they seem to either disappear without trace, at the very least falling into the dark abyss of non league football, or, as in the case of the Greek keeper they slip through one net, but are caught in another. It must be very frustrating to a manager when he sees a player who he decided was not for him, go on to have a decent career elsewhere, equally it must be even worse to give a player a contract, only for him not to live up to expectation. I remember Nicky Law bringing in a whole succession of trialists and signing a significant number of them, following the clubs escape from administration, when it was touch and go whether we would start the season. They included from memory Andy Gray, and Luke Cornwall. One went to have a career, one would seem not to have done.
    It always seem to me to be a very fine line, and there must be some really decent players who have never made it, equally by contrast there must be players who have been a bit more fortunate and played at the very least a handful of games.
    Which brings me on to those players with several hundred league appearances under their belt. They must be quite special irrespective of whatever level they have played at, because the likelyhood is they have seen several managerial changes during their career but each new manager has gone on to select them. That proves something to me.
    So the next time you hear the fan next to you shout “XXXX you are crap” and you look at his record and he has played 350 league games, the chances are he is not crap.

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