Zaine Francis-Angol is relishing his new attacking role at Motherwell – especially with the backing of the manager, teammates and fans.
With the likes of Jamie Murphy, Omar Daley and Chris Humphrey departing in recent months, the natural left-back has been thrust forward into a wide midfield role.
Manager Stuart McCall has been encouraging the 20-year-old to use his pace to get forward and he has been receiving priceless tips from Scotland international James McFadden.
And Francis-Angol admits the Motherwell supporters have given him a further lift as he gets used to his new position.
Francis-Angol, who set up John Sutton’s winger in the 1-0 win over Partick Thistle, said: “It’s a good position because I like the attacking side of the game as well. It’s good to be able to get forward and still do a defensive role when the right-backs push forward.
“I’m enjoying it. I played left back my entire career. I played a few games at youth team on left wing and came on a few times last season to hold the defensive shape.
“Now I have this attacking role. I hope I can offer pace down the wing and a few deliveries into the box.
“The manager encourages us to be positive and try to make things happen and create.
“Because it’s a new role, the more games I will get, the more experience I will gain and the better I will get, and that will hopefully show.
“Last season I got a taste of the first team by making a few appearances off the bench and it made me even more hungry to start games.
“This season has been even better so far starting a few games. I worked hard through pre-season and thankfully got a start in both the European games.”
McFadden has been playing on the right flank or in a more central position this season but has passed on his wealth of experience as a left-winger.
Francis-Angol, who has made 32 first-team appearances, said: “He is always giving advice, so it’s good to have an experienced player on the opposite wing and in the dressing room. He tells me to keep moving, pass and move, get in behind, when to make the runs.
There are bits of information that I need to push into that position.”
Francis-Angol’s direct running made him a favourite with the fans as soon as he made his first-team breakthrough last season. And he appreciates the catchy song they styled to match his name.
“I don’t know who made it up but it’s a great song! It definitely gives you a boost when you hear the song, especially when you are on the pitch and have maybe made a mistake.
“Any noise they make gives you a boost, the sound of the crowd and the aura of the stadium.”
Francis-Angol arrived at Fir Park in the summer of 2011 to continue his football education after leaving Tottenham, where he had been since he was a nine-year-old.
He said: “The highlight was probably training with Beckham when he came in. It was a crossing session, he was teaching me how to use my right foot. I think I trained with Bale once or twice, but it was hard to come by a first-team session at Spurs.”
With Tottenham being among the biggest spenders in world football, it is naturally difficult for youngsters to break through there – indeed more of Francis-Angol’s ex-Spurs colleagues are now in Scotland than at White Hart Lane.
“Tom Carroll is in and around the first team at Spurs and Harry Kane,” he said. “He is a striker, a great finisher.
“But there are a lot of players from my age group at Spurs who are up in Scotland now. Calum Butcher and Kudus Oyenuga joined Dundee United in the summer. My mate Olumide (Durojaiye) is at Falkirk, Callum Tapping at Hearts.
“Quite a few of the ex-Spurs lads are up here – basically half my youth team. I have played against Callum a couple of times at youth level but not at first-team level yet, so that will be fun.”
Francis-Angol’s football experience also includes the international scene having won four caps with Antigua and Barbuda. Zaine was born in London but qualifies for his country through his Antiguan-born mother.
And his pride in representing the Caribbean country is coupled with his desire to improve his game by testing himself on a different stage.
“We are basically out of the (World Cup) qualifiers now so there are no games coming up. There might be a few friendlies soon.
“The last time I played was last year about Christmas time. I have played against USA, Guatemala and Jamiaca. Omar and Chris weren’t there; thankfully I wasn’t playing left-back against Chris!
“It’s really good, a different experience and mentality. Going away and playing against players from different continents is good experience. It’s a slightly different sort of football, more slow-paced and waiting for an opportunity.
“Heat contributes to that, you can’t keep going at 100 percent all the time, you have got to take it easy and keep possession a bit more. Whereas it’s too cold to stand still here so you have to constantly attack!
“I will always be there to help out and better myself through the games. We used to go to Antigua on family holidays when I was young. I still got some cousins and aunties there, who are very proud of me playing. My uncle and auntie came to watch some of my games.”
This interview first appeared in the Kilmarnock ‘Steelmen Matchday Magazine’. You can order back copies or season subscriptions from our publishers, Curtis Sports.
Words: Gavin McCafferty
Photography: Jeff Holmes