'˜I wouldn't want England's starlets to repeat my mistakes'
Jake Thomson doesn't offer mitigation, his guilty plea reflects a man who comprehends costly mistakes.
There is no fumbling for the comfort blanket of blame, too often clutched by those spat out by football to cushion any break-neck plummet.
Instead, the former England youth international acknowledges a talent unfulfilled, an illustrious destiny which inched away from his grasp as the career pace eased.
Self-pity is not evident, however, rather a steel-spined determination to ensure others negotiate such potentially-fatal flaws during pursuit of the dream.
Thomson’s gaze meets the next generation of England promise, the Under-17 World Cup winners who include Chelsea’s George McEachran in their talent-dripping ranks – a player he is now employed to advise.
The 28-year-old from Southsea was among their number once, a Southampton protégé ever-present for England under-16s and under-17s, amassing 19 appearances and six goals.
During a two-year period stretching to 2006, international contemporaries included Theo Walcott, Daniel Sturridge, Jack Cork, Scott Sinclair, Ryan Bertrand and James Tomkins.
Yet Thomson’s football career ended as a bit-part player at non-league Havant & Waterlooville, opting for retirement at the age of 27 following a 13-club journey which included Southampton, Bournemouth, Torquay and Exeter.
Now he has embarked on a new vocation, engaged as an agent for Key Sports Management, where McEachran numbers among his clients.
And the former Priory School head boy believes wisdom crafted through his own oversights can offer precious guidance.
Thomson said: ‘I could definitely tell young players what not to do – because I probably did it.
‘Knowing what I do now at the age of 17, I would be a hell of a player. I wouldn’t mess about, I would knuckle down.
‘I made a few decisions which probably weren’t correct. Now I can sit back and say “If you go down this road you’ll end up like me, having a decent career but coming out of the game at 27”.
‘Or you can knuckle down, keep your mouth shut, work hard and you never know where you can reach.
‘I never tried hard enough. I always thought you had to work reasonably hard, but ability would get you through. Nobody ever told me I couldn’t play properly or I wasn’t very good.
‘The fitness coach would say “Come on, gym time, you’ve got to get some weights”. Well, I’m a footballer, not a weightlifter!
‘You point out “Was there a moment in the game where I have been pushed off the ball? Show me that video and then I will sit down and do this”.
‘I would rather be out on the pitch, kicking a ball and messing around. Now you see the shape footballers are – I’d have no chance of playing these days.
‘I was making wrong decisions career-wise. I just wanted to play, thought the grass was always greener, so made a move. Then I ended up sitting on the bench for a club two leagues lower than the club I turned down a contract at.
‘I didn’t cope with the bad side of football very well. I am a Pompey boy, I speak my mind, I tell them how it is, if I’m not happy then I will let you know about it. It didn’t go down well with a lot of managers at a lot of clubs.
‘I had a good career. I’m not going to moan about it because there is no point. I can’t do anything about it now.
‘I played in the Championship, League One and League Two, appeared in international football, represented England at youth level and ticked a lot of boxes. I’m still happy with my career.’
Thomson was already involved in Southampton’s youth set-up when he starred for Portsmouth Schools during their 2004 capture of the English Schools’ under-15 national title.
It would be four-and-a-half years later when the midfielder made his first-team bow, lining up against Cardiff City in the Championship.
Future internationals Adam Lallana and Morgan Schneiderlin were among his team-mates during a 2-1 defeat on that opening day of the 2008-09 campaign.
By that stage, best friends and fellow St Mary’s graduates Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale had already departed for different North London homes in multi-million pound deals.
The third amigo amassed 16 appearances for Southampton and also international recognition for Trinidad & Tobago, before being released in the summer of 2010.
On May 24, 2016, Thomson faced Baffins Milton Rovers in the final of the Portsmouth Senior Cup at Wicor Rec. A crowd of 416 witnessed a 3-1 defeat for the Hawks – and the end of a football career.
Thomson added: ‘I honestly couldn’t be bothered to run around any more. I had done it every day for 15 years.
‘Let’s be honest, in the Premier League and Championship it’s very, very nice to play football, but the lower you go the training is boring, pitches are rubbish, it’s cold, not as glamorous and becomes a drag.
‘My last club was Havant and I did it for nothing. I got a lift in with one of the players, and although felt I should have played more, I enjoyed it and the lads were great.
‘I miss the camaraderie of the boys the most, the banter. You can never remember specific games, but can always recall the banter in the changing room, the jokes and messing around at training.
‘Now I am at the bottom of a good ladder in my new career, I haven’t got the time to play football. I haven’t run around in 18 months and it would just be a bit silly for my life going forward.’
Following the culmination of his playing career, it was the long-time agent of Walcott who offered Thomson an alternative profession.
Warwick Horton, a director at Key Sports Management, identified the former Pompey season-ticket holder to help expand the company’s expertise.
With Thomson’s insight into players’ mindsets and candid appraisal of the game, he has swiftly been handed responsibility for overseeing the brightest talents – including McEachran.
He said: ‘I got my first agent at 16. I had three in total, not as many as others, people go through agents like nothing.
‘When I played at Newport County, my agent brought in another player for my position and that was the reason I couldn’t play. My agent was doing his best for his client, just because that client wasn’t me he still had a duty of care.
For me, the issue was he didn’t make me aware of the playing arrival.
‘It’s about being open and honest and not always telling the client what they want to hear – that doesn’t do any good.
‘I have seen many agents and agencies in my time, and am slightly biased considering I work for them, but Key Sports are one of the best.
‘The main point is I actually played the game at a decent level and have been in every situation as a footballer, so I know what I’m talking about.
That is not to say I know more than agents out there who have never played the game, it’s just seeing it from a different perspective.
‘I help manage six or seven of the younger players. There’s George McEachran, we’ve got his brother Josh as well, and another at Chelsea called Jack Wakely. I also help West Brom’s Kane Wilson, currently on loan at Exeter.
‘I’m still only 28, so if I was really that unhappy about no longer playing I’d just go to a gym and get fit again – but I haven’t really that desire. I would much rather sit in the stands and watch players, telling them what I think.
‘Whether they listen or not is up to them.’