From City Attacks To The Nike Academy – Meet Hassan Jalloh
Easily our favourite transfer story of the summer, meet RWD's favourite young player, Hassan Jalloh...
One of our favourite transfer stories of the summer didn’t involve a Premier League team, it didn’t involve an international moving for tens of millions of pounds and it didn’t make the back pages of the national newspapers, but it is just as incredible a story as any you’re likely to come across. The signing involved a semi-professional joining a group of young players being developed for careers in the game at the Nike Academy. With Nike’s The Chance and its recently re-branded Nike’s Most Wanted searching for young players around the world to join the Nike Academy year after year, the idea of a young player joining the ranks at the St George’s Park based facility might not seem all that special, but the rise of Hassan Jalloh, or Little Hass as he’s affectionately known, is just that.
Before the World Cup, we were fortunate enough to be invited by Nike to cover their Winner Stays x City Attacks tournaments across London, in which groups of four young players competed to be the best small sided team in the capital, with a final tournament held at the incredible Phenomenal House. With heats held in North, South, East and West London, there were players with the talent, tenacity and outrageous skill to catch the eye, but none more so than Hassan, whose laidback flair and controlled power saw him dominate the cage from his first minute to his triumphant last.
Rewarded with a week’s training with the Nike Academy for their exploits, Jalloh’s team headed to St. George’s Park in the summer and the midfielder hasn’t looked back since. Impressing with his vision and his creativity, Little Hass was invited to join the Academy as a permanent fixture and now has the opportunity to push for a career in the professional game, following in the footsteps of Nike Academy graduates Tom Rojic (Celtic) and David Accam (Helsingborg) and a smattering of players on the books at professional clubs around the world, with the help of Nike’s incredible coaching staff including Jon Goodman, Edu Rubio and Josh Dixon and the unbelievable facilities available at the home of English football.
Catching up with Hassan Jalloh a few weeks into his time at the Nike Academy, I wanted to understand exactly what it means to become a member of that elite group and just how the insanely skillful baller planned to make the most of his incredible opportunity.
How do you think you managed to stand-out in the Nike Winner Stays x City Attacks tournament?
The Winner Stays competitions were all about flair and I’ve had that since I was young and because it was like street football and I’ve grown up in that environment, playing on concrete, playing a kind of futsal in small-sided games it was easy for me to play my game.
You had an effortless swagger about your play when I watched you, is that something you associate with your game?
I think I’m a calm player, yeah. I try to get on the ball a lot and do things that people wouldn’t do, I try to risk things and do spontaneous stuff on the ball and try to catch the opposition out. I would say I’m a playmaker. I’ve got an eye for a pass, I like to move the ball fast. I don’t know how you would describe it. It’s unique. I grew up supporting Liverpool but I didn’t really model my game on any of their players [laughs]. No offence, but the European-style playmakers were great examples to me.
How focused on making it as a professional were you before you joined the Nike Academy?
I was very motivated to make it as a professional footballer before I joined the Nike Academy, but there weren’t really any doors opening. I was playing semi-professionally, which is still a good level, but it’s harder and coming here has just made things a bit easier because we’re playing teams regularly and people are always on the lookout. I didn’t think any of this would ever happen, so whatever happens I’m grateful for the opportunity first and foremost and now I’m just going to see it as a stepping-stone to where I want to be.
How big of a step up do you think this is?
It’s a big step up. It’s a very big step up. I would say that training every day, which I was doing back home, but the training up here, the conditioning, the food, everything is different. Hopefully, with everything that’s going on right now, from getting the right food to training I’ll just keep getting better.
What do you think you’ve improved the most on since joining?
Since coming here my fitness has improved and that’s a key thing when it comes to being a professional anyway, but also my communication and being organised for all of the training that we’ve been doing, because it’s pro training and being focused all of the time, because when you’re not really touching the ball a lot, that’s when you need to focus. Say if you touch the ball 10 times in a training session, then you haven’t really done anything, but with those 10 times that you have touched it, what did you do? Can you stand out in that situation?
What have you identified as things you need to work on?
I know there’s a lot to improve on with my squatting and my change of pace, which Josh Dixon who works with us in the gym is helping me with a lot. He’s given me a player profile to go through every morning to improve my game. I came here thinking that my passing was really good and it’s something everybody here is really happy with. I’m really good at picking out a pass. Edu and Josh and the rest of the team are helping me a lot. Coming from semi-pro football, that environment means that you have to always be producing, whereas in this environment, if you don’t do it one week they’ll talk to you, they’ll give you time and they’re always giving us a chance.
How hard was the adjustment to life in the Nike Academy?
It took me a little while to settle down being away from home, but I think my confidence is starting to improve now. It’s slowly, slowly coming. I didn’t think leaving home would be a problem, but when I was here for the first two weeks it was very hard, but now I’m settled in and I’m ready to crack on.
What is your favourite thing about being at the Nike Academy?
My favourite thing about being at the Nike Academy is the training and getting so much information that can help me out with being a player and the general experience. I’m loving the access to all of Nike’s products! I haven’t been allocated a specific boot yet, but I’m either going to be a Tiempo V Legend or a Hypervenom player I think. The new colours are beautiful!
How welcoming were the other boys in the Nike Academy when you arrived?
The other boys in the Nike Academy welcomed me straight away. From the week I came as a winner of City Attacks I was settled, the boys are welcoming. There’s a lot of talent in this group, especially the two Brazilians, I love playing with them, it’s like playing in the City Attacks games, they play with freedom. All the players here have told me about the Nike Academy success stories who have gone on to professional clubs and I’ve followed up on a lot of them as well. I actually got to meet one of the boys who has just joined a team in Spain. I only got to see in two training sessions, but he was very, very, very good.
What would you say to young players out there who have signed up for the Nike’s Most Wanted trials and are still waiting for their break?
To anybody signing up for the Nike’s Most Wanted Trials I would say keep playing, because you never know who’s watching. You never know.