Being bashed about in League Two, his hopes with Rotherham United and the teammates who force him to sing ... Joshua Kayode, the interview

Being bashed about in League Two, his hopes with Rotherham United and the teammates who force him to sing ... Joshua Kayode, the interview

By Paul Davis | 15/07/2021

Being bashed about in League Two, his hopes with Rotherham United and the teammates who force him to sing ... Joshua Kayode, the interview
Joshua Kayode

 

BLAME his teammates for the fact that Joshua Kayode never stops singing.

The young striker holds a note better than any Miller and his fellow players are quick to take advantage.

He’s laughing as he says: “Usually you just have to sing on your initiation — you know, in the hotel on your first trip away with the first team.

“I’ve been a pro here now for three years and the lads make me sing on all the nights out. Everywhere we go, they like to make me sing. They say I’ve got an amazing voice.”

The academy graduate is back in the Rotherham United fold and looking to make his senior debut for Paul Warne’s side in the forthcoming League One campaign after the toughening-up process of loans at non-league Gateshead and, all last season, League Two Carlisle United.

“It was just good to get games in, good to go out and experience the Football League,” the 21-year-old says. They were a great group of lads to play with and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

“I got a few goals and a few assists. Their gaffer (Chris Beech) was great with me which helped quite a lot. I’ve come back with some confidence and I just can’t wait to get started now.”

Carlisle played him mainly out wide, from where he still managed eight goals in 34 league outings as the Cumbrians finished four places shy of the play-offs, but he’s eyeing a different role at AESSEAL New York Stadium.

“Maybe three-quarters of my games were on the wing,” he says. “Every time I played up top I scored, but the gaffer had his own plan and I can’t really complain. I’ve come back to be a centre-forward. Everyone here sees me as a centre-forward.”

He’s older, wiser, a fully-fledged pro after his year in the North West.

“I feel like I understand the meaning of three points more now,” he says. “The loan really helped me to develop physically.

“Not playing against my own age range and going out and playing against men week in, week out has shown me a side of the game I didn’t know I’d need to have. Thankfully, I’ve got it now.

“I got knocked around quite a lot. Centre-halves in League Two aren’t nice, you know! They’re not nice to play against. It doesn’t get any rougher than that.

“Once you’ve played in League Two as a young lad, I won’t say you can play in any division because it’s a big jump to the Championship and the Prem, but definitely you can take the step up to League One.

“Hopefully I do well in pre-season and the gaffer gives me a chance this year.”

Kayode is chatting from his flat in Kimberworth, although he won’t be there much longer as the chance has cropped up for him to move to an apartment block in Wickersley where several other players already live.

He was born in Nigeria and brought up from the age of one in Ireland, but the Millers gave him his chance to make the grade five years ago by bringing him across the Irish Sea into their youth set-up and now Rotherham means home.

Relaxed and assured, he’s a good talker, knowing what he wants to say and having the means to articulate it.

The word on social media is this is going to be a big year for him. He’s modelled the new strips, there’s those rumours he’ll be given the number nine shirt, he’s tall, quick, direct and his feet can be as sweet as his vocal cords.

Just don’t expect him to be the one singing about his prospects.

“I look on Twitter and Instagram on my phone,” says the Republic of Ireland under-21 international. “All the fans are tagging me into to stuff and saying: ‘You’re going to do this, you’re going to do that this year.’

“I don’t look into it too much. It seems like there is talk everywhere about me having a great season and breaking through this year.

“Honestly, first things first, my aim is just to be in the coaches’ eyesight and to just have a good pre-season. Whatever happens from there just happens. Have I set targets for the new season? Definitely not.”

For the only time in the interview he slips into cliche: “I’ll just take each day as it comes and give my all every day.”

His teammates have welcomed him back with open arms and the Roundwood training complex is a louder, brighter place for the presence of a character everyone refers to as ‘JJ’.

He’s hugely popular among players and staff, manager Warne describes him as “hilarious” and a song is never far away.

“I must be decent for the lads to keep making me do it,” he grins. “I most definitely can carry a tune. When I was in school I used to do all the show nights. I can sing anything.

“The lads are terrific with me. It’s been good to see everyone again.”

Mention of his performing prowess comes without a hint of conceit and that approach carries through to his football. The self-belief is so complete that it makes Warne laugh but where there could be hubris there is only humility.

“I’ll back myself every single day of the week, mate,” he says.

“But I know the difference between it being confidence and arrogance. I know where to draw the line.

“The coaches know that about me as well: that I never, ever get ahead of myself.”

Much of that attitude comes from a good, strict upbringing in a close family in Dublin and the tough love of father Joseph who made him stay in Rotherham when an acute bout of homesickness was threatening to end his Millers career before it had even begun.

“My dad’s not mellowed at all,” Kayode says. “It’s still the exact same. In fact, I think it’s even worse now that I’m in Rotherham again! He’s saying: ‘Now you’re back here, you really have to get your head down, no dilly-dallying.’

“I love him for that. He’s never easy on me but it always pays off in the end. Because I’m older now, I understand it better. When I was younger, I was more like: ‘This guy is never off my case.’”

We’re talking early evening following the first day of pre-season last Thursday. The conversation had been due to take place in the afternoon but the session — surprise, surprise under fitness fanatic Warne — had run over the planned time.

He’s honest, friendly, open, taking his time before answering questions and then gives considered, detailed responses in an accent far more Emerald Isle than 60.

“The first day, it’s tough,” he winces. “You come back in and you’re straight at it. I did the mile run and that was quite hard. I got five minutes 30. If you look at Tree’s (Matt Crooks’) time (4:49), mine doesn’t compare. He makes me look so slow. He’s unbelievable. I can’t wait to get going and get out on the grass properly.”

Several League Two managers told Warne last season that Kayode was one of the stand-out attackers in the fourth tier but the forward’s modesty is quickly at play again.

“I’ve been out, I’ve done what I had to do and I’m back now,” he says. “I just feel like it’s time for me to get my head down, get into the team and show everyone what I can do. 

“But at the same time I know that if it doesn’t happen and I end up out on loan again, it’s not too late. I’m still young, I’m still learning every day.

“Whatever happens this season, I know next season I’ll be back and ready to go again.

“I’m never really thinking, like: ‘Oh yeah, I’m back here and I’m going to play.’ It’s more like: ‘Whatever happens, happens and I’m just going to take everything in my stride.’ As long as I can become a better player, that’s the main thing.”

If he does find himself in the travelling party for that first overnight stop, he already knows what he’ll be treating the squad to.

“My ‘go to’ song is Pompeii by Bastille,” he says.

“That is the song the lads make me sing every single time. I’m an R&B kind of guy really, but I like anything that’s got a bit of a rhythm to it.”

For now, it’s hard work and hope while he leaves supporters to clamour for his inclusion.

That’s one chorus a grounded young talent is not joining in with.

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FIVE MINUTES WITH JOSH ...

First sporting memory

My first goal in the school team when I was 11 years old. It was a good goal, a header.

Favourite current player

Robert Lewandowski. He’s just a total goal machine.

Favourite other sport

Basketball. I first played in school. I don’t really follow the NBA stuff but I still play now when I get the chance.

Best thing about being a footballer

It’s just the fact that I get to do what I love every day. It was always my ambition growing up to be a professional, from the moment I could walk, mate.

Worst thing about being a footballer

I don’t want to say running because the gaffer would go crazy! There isn’t one. I enjoy it all.

Favourite ground

New York Stadium.

Favourite side other than the Millers

Manchester United. They were my team growing up.

Football hero

Thierry Henry. I’m a 2000 child and he is my favourite player ever. My dad is an Arsenal fan so they and Henry were on our TV all the time when I was a kid. By a mile he’s the best Premier League player ever, I’d say.

Other sporting hero

I’m going to say basketball’s Michael Jordan just for his desire to win and be the best he could be every single day.

Tell us something that people don’t know about you

I failed my theory exam three times before I passed my driving.

Best moment in football

It’s between scoring on my full league debut for Carlisle or scoring on my full debut for the Republic of Ireland Under-21s.

Worst moment in football

Suffering an injury with Carlisle early last March and having to miss about six weeks.

Guilty pleasure

‘Pick n Mix’ sweets. They’re so nice, man. I don’t know if I can say how often I indulge! Let’s say once a week.

Reading material

I don’t really read books. I have a look at the Advertiser to see what’s being written about the Millers.

Viewing material

A Netflix series called Lupin. It’s about a gentleman thief in France trying to avenge an injustice suffered by his dad.

Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?

Playing my best football and being happy.

**********************************

DREAMING OF HIS FIRST MILLERS GOAL

“Hopefully it’s in front of our fans. That would be something else. I’ll be great o see them back at New York Stadium next season.

“Every kid in the academy has always thought about scoring a goal for the first team. It would be great.”

PROMOTION PUSH

“I’d like to think we’ll go up. In League One with Rotherham, the aim is to be promoted, definitely.

“I’m sure that’s what we’ll be talking about in meetings. We’ve just got to work hard and hopefully we’ll get the reward in May next season.”

**********************************

WARNE ON JJ

MANAGER Paul Warne believes Rotherham United’s Josh Kayode could be a “right handful” for League One defences next season.

The striker has made three Football League Trophy appearances for the Millers, but has yet to make his league bow for the club.

Warne is urging caution as the emerging youngster looks to make an impact. However, the boss likes what he sees so far.

Here’s what he has to say about one of the brightest Rotherham prospects in years

“It could be a big year for JJ. We’ve always liked him through the years. Physically, he’s developed. As a player, he’s developed.

“He’s still got a long way to go. I don’t want to build it up too much for the kid too much because that would be unfair, but you also have to put it into context. I think he’s got everything needed to do really well at this club.

“We’ve done everything we can to help him. We don’t run an under-23s side here so it’s always difficult to get the young lads through, but his loans have been a big success. That’s not always the case. I remember when Ben Wiles went on his first one and got sent back by Frickley Athletic.

“JJ got himself in the team at Carlisle United and his performances kept him there. I don’t want to get too carried away. He scored eight goals for them, he didn’t score 25.

“He’s going up a level to League One where, suddenly, there aren’t 3,000 or 4,000 people watching up but maybe 12,000 at a sold-out home game. It is a monumental step-up.

“He’ll be potentially playing in a better team, a quicker team — no disrespect to Carlisle. The demands will be greater but I honestly think he has everything required for success. He’s a got a right chance.

“As much as we can help him as managers, coaches and mentors and all that, it’s down to him. He’ll definitely get an opportunity in pre-season to impress us and hopefully he’ll stay in the building. That’s our intention.

“JJ is a great kid. He’s funny. Me and Hammy (coach Matt Hamshaw) were sometimes on the phone to him talking about one of his Carlisle teammates and we’d say: ‘He’s not bad.’ JJ would come straight back with: ‘He’s not as good as me.’ We were like: ‘Okay, mate, calm down, calm down.’ He had us howling with laughter.

“He’s a confident kid but not in an arrogant way, just in an innocent way. The lads love him.

“He’s a great singer as well. I’m looking forward to his first away trip when he can sing for us.

“He’s very much part of my first-team thinking for next season. As I speak to you now, I’ve got Michael Smith, Freddie Ladapo and JJ as my strikers.

“Whether we need another one we’ll have to wait and see, but I’m hoping JJ can step up and be part of our squad. I can’t see a reason why not.

“In fairness, if I was recruiting now and I was asking who was one of the best strikers in the National League or League Two, his name would be everywhere.

“I’m just lucky that I’ve got him in the building and he’s not cost me a fee. He signed a new contract last season. He’s committed himself to us, as we have to him.

“Hopefully, if he develops the way we think he can, he’s going to be a right handful.”


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