(Image credit: Lincolnshire Live)
JR: You have recently signed for Lincoln City. How are settling in at the club and how would you describe a club such as Lincoln City?
CB: I am settling in well. We managed to get the deal over the line at the last second of deadline day and being at Lincoln City it is very demanding. It is a very professional but very demanding environment both mentally and physically which helps me massively because it is a lot in the legs and that is where I am best and how I feel the most comfortable in my position and in football as a whole really.
JR: You played one season for Hednesford Town. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any particular highlights or memories?
CB: Yes one hundred percent Hednesford Town is a great Non League club and Liam McDonald is a great guy and a great manager. He brought me in from Market Drayton and he converted me to a right and left winger to a left back so that I could get up the pitch and help the team more with my speed and the momentum. He helped me massively during my time at Hednesford Town and then he got a move to Solihull Moors which impacted Hednesford Town a lot for me personally - that also kind of changed the club. I was kind of scared because I did not know where I was going to go and what I was going to do in regards to Hednesford Town but when he went he told me that I would be fine and that everything would be ok. I went on trial first at Crystal Palace and then at Sheffield Wednesday. He was the manager who reassured me that everything would be fine.
JR: You transferred from Hednesford Town to Arsenal. How do you look back on your time at Arsenal and do you have any highlights or memories?
CB: I think if I was not at Arsenal I would not be where I am today. They were the ones that took the gamble on me. Brian McDermott was the one who scouted me when I was on trial at Sheffield Wednesday. In my trial match against Birmingham City, he was watching somebody else and I was the one who caught his eye. He picked up the phone to Arsène Wenger himself and said look there is a player here I like and he gambled on me which I will always appreciate and respect. Arsène was the person who confirmed that he said to me come down for two days which I did and I stayed at a hotel in Sopwell in St Albans, he told me have a two day trial with the first team which I did and the next minute he offered me a two and a half year deal which is crazy because I was on trial at all these other clubs for years. I had never had a scholarship nor entered an academy. For Arsène to take me under his wing and go straight into the first team and take me on pre-season tours is a memory that I will never forget and it will always be with me. I was in and out of football and trialing hard for other clubs and I was always getting told that I was not good enough or that I need to grow and it is one of those things that will always be with me forever, a lot of people forget how much Brian McDermott impacted my career and I still speak to him this day. We speak about different managers and friends and he was the one who gave me the belief and made me a lot more confident and the person I am today. If it was not for him, I would not be sat in Lincoln at the moment.
JR: You have accrued good experience in your career at club level. Could you say who are among the best players you played alongside during your career so far?
CB: Yes, when I signed for Arsenal, I was with the first team a lot and I would say Mesut Özil is a dream to play and train with. He is just on a different level and it is sad what has happened to him recently as well, but these things happen in football. A lad called Jérémie Boga who is playing for Sassuolo in Italy at the moment we were on loan at Birmingham City together, he is also next level. Olivier Giroud was one of the best trainers I have seen let alone players that I have trained and played with. Reiss Nelson is also a very good player.
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JR: I can imagine in your position as a defender that you have come up against some difficult opponents through the years. Could you say which opponents have stood out for you in terms of talent and ability?
CB: Yes, I remember playing against Chelsea on a pre season tour of China in Beijing and Willian was just a joke that day. It was the time when Antonio Conte was the Chelsea manager and they were playing wing backs and won the Premier League that season. They had a poor start to the season but they recovered and in that game I played in China they had Victor Moses on one wing and Marcos Alonso on the other wing but Willian was hard to defend against that day. Another opponent who stood out was Kingsley Coman of Bayern Munich also in China. It was not so much the fact that he was hard to play against it was just playing against him. We are both quick players and he did not want to run me or track me and he just kept it simple and I thought he would run at me one v one which surprised me as he is a top class player and we had a bit of banter on the pitch. Franck Ribéry is one of the world best wingers and a very dangerous player.
JR: Finally Cohen, you mentioned Liam McDonald and Arsène Wenger. Could you say who are the coaches and managers who have meant a lot to you and played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?
CB: I would say firstly when I was on loan at Birmingham City, Arsène Wenger got sacked and it was a day I will never forget because I knew it was going to be difficult to go back to Arsenal to try and break into the first team. So when I returned to Arsenal I went into the under 23 team and the coach that meant a lot to me and helped my development during that year was Freddie Ljungberg. He developed me the whole season even though we had our up's and down's and as a coach he was relentless, he did not stop. He knew he could get more out of you even if it was 110 percent he knew he could get 120, 130 percent out of you everyday week in week out. He is definitely one of the best coaches I have worked with including Arsène Wenger, but, on a relationship level, I saw Freddie everyday and he is the one who impacted my career the most, he was there for me a lot even when I left Arsenal which was a sad day. In that year he showed me the truth, he was just an honest human being and I have nothing but respect for him and I will always respect and have a solid relationship with him because he was himself and he showed me a lot of things which made me the player I am today to be fair.
Obviously Arsène Wenger brought me to Arsenal and when there were rumors in a few of the group chats that he was gone, I saw it on Sky Sports in the canteen at Birmingham City and my heart sank because I knew it was going to be really difficult to get in and around the first team. To be fair, that is one of my biggest learning curves because Arsène told me that he did not want me to go out on loan, he wanted me to stay and be with the first team and get cup and Europa League games under my belt. At the time, I was thinking that because I had come into the game late, signing for the club at 20 and when I was playing for the under 23's I was one of the oldest players, I thought there and then when the under 23’s season was completed that I didn’t want to do it again. I wanted to go and get the experience. I thought I was ready to play in the Championship, but he told me not to go and the same with Neil Banfield. I was 21 at the time and I thought I will give it and go. I am more than capable and when I left Hednesford Town to go to Arsenal my confidence at the time was peak and at it's best. I felt unstoppable and after a great season with the Arsenal under 23's and doing well with the first team I felt that I could go and compete at a high level in the Championship on loan at Birmingham City. That was not the case, I found it hard because I had four gaffer's during my time at the club we had Harry Redknapp, Garry Monk, Steve Coterill and Lee Carsley as a temporary manager. We had had four different managers at the time and it was just hit and miss. I was in one minute and out the next and I had a niggle on my ankle but it was a great learning curve and it took me to a first team environment for the whole season which helped me a lot. I regret the decision, I should have listened to Arsène Wenger and the coaches but it was my decision at the end of the day. I had a few agents in my ear but that is what happens when you are young and growing up, your head gets turned and things happen but I have definitely learned from it. Also at Birmingham City, Lee Carsley was temporary manager at the time and he showed me a lot both on and off the pitch.
Editors note: James Rowe has now reached a milestone of 300 interviews with professional players and managers in football. Read this interview on his journey to reaching such an impressive figure.
James Rowe is a Dutch Football expert based in the Netherlands, professional writer and translator for The Secret Footballer. He has featured on talkSPORT and regularly features on talkSPORT 2 and Love Sport Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.