Once Raheem Sterling's England captain, now ex-Portsmouth starlet Sam Magri is battling back against football's cruelties

The flourishing Raheem Sterling’s standing as a figure to inspire intensified following recognition as the Football Writers’ Association’s Footballer of the Year.

By neil.allen1
Saturday, 6th July 2019, 10:00 am
Updated Sunday, 7th July 2019, 8:08 pm
Sam Magri (far left, back row) on England under-17 duty against Portugal. Others lining up include Jordan Pickford, Nick Powell, Raheem Sterling and Nathaniel Chalobah
Sam Magri (far left, back row) on England under-17 duty against Portugal. Others lining up include Jordan Pickford, Nick Powell, Raheem Sterling and Nathaniel Chalobah

Days earlier, his former England skipper had been informed by Twitter of an Ebbsfleet exit, discarded with cold-eyed detachment despite a new contract tabled by the non-leaguers.

Sam Magri concedes he never fulfilled his footballing destiny.

A linchpin of England youth football stretching from under-16 level, he amassed 31 caps, featured in four age groups and, when his stock soared highest, was summoned to Liverpool for a week-long trial.

Sam Magri featuring in a pre-season friendly against Salisbury in July 2012. Picture: Sarah Standing

In the summer of 2011, while on the books of his beloved Pompey, the defender represented the Three Lions at the Under-17 World Cup in Mexico.

Magri netted a penalty during their 3-2 elimination at the hands of Germany at the quarter-final stage, playing colleagues including Jordan Pickford, Nathan Redmond, Nick Powell, Nathaniel Chalobah and, of course, Sterling.

Yet financially-challenged Pompey’s desire to cash-in on their starlet against his wishes initiated a nauseous tailspin to a once-promising career.

At the age of 21 and starved of a single first-team outing at QPR and then Crystal Palace, Magri was without work and questioning his footballing future.

Sam Magri faces Chelsea in a July 2011 pre-season friendly against Chelsea. Picture: Steve Reid

It would be the National League which reignited the career of the sometime England captain who roomed with Sterling.

Now aged 25 and with the Hawks, Magri said: ‘There are some from that England team that, like me, haven’t kicked on – and some did.

’I’ve not been to where I wanted, but I’m happy, married and still class football as my job. I cannot ask for more.

‘It’s an unforgiving industry to be in, anyone that enters must have a thick skin, and when you aren’t where you want to be, it’s even harder to accept. I know.

‘I used to beat myself up about it when younger, but not now. As you mature you realise you can’t change the past, you accept it as one of those things and get on with it, you have to.

‘I was seen as the next big thing, representing England 31 times, on occasions as captain. I was built up, expected to be like Beckenbauer at 18, there was pressure, such expectation.

‘Suddenly you have to drop down and that’s the hard thing. When you're young and reading hurtful comments it’s horrible – now it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

‘Pompey sold me to QPR, they didn’t want me anymore, then I went to Crystal Palace, and suddenly, aged 21, didn’t have a club

‘When you start a scholarship at the age of 16, the thought of not being a footballer never enters your head. At school I took no notice, I just wanted to play football.

‘Then you get released and don’t know where to go, I literally had no clue about anything other than football.

‘I had thoughts of quitting the game, at times I didn’t really want to play, but my parents stepped in and told me to keep going. My dad would remind me how lucky I was to be a footballer – and as you get older you realise that’s true.

‘Getting built up and built up and built up, then you’re not where you want to be. You go through that and then people are being hurtful, saying this and that because you had been made out to be the next big thing.

‘At times my parents were worried, not about anything seriously wrong, but concerned with me being young and dealing with such disappointment. Thankfully, I had my parents, but the game doesn’t do enough to support so many others like me.’

Before Dover and Ebbsfleet offered the first-team opportunities so pivotal to the development of any young player, Magri inhabited an upward curve.

Long identified as Pompey’s rising star, he found himself booked in for a Liverpool trial in February 2012 ahead of a potential deal.

That transfer didn’t materialise and, six months later, he instead joined Premier League QPR for an undisclosed fee on transfer deadline day.

The former Fratton Park season-ticket holder departed with one Blues appearance – and a heavy heart.

The following month he earned a maiden under-19 cap during the 6-0 demolition of the Faroe Islands in a line-up also containing Jack Stephens and Calum Chambers.

He subsequently never played in the Football League – or for England – again.

Magri added: ‘Everything was going well at Pompey, then I was offered a week’s trial at Liverpool.

‘I played a game against Everton, won it, did really well, and genuinely thought they were going to offer me something. When the phone call arrived it was to tell me I wasn’t quick enough so wouldn’t be signing.

‘I’m a centre-half, I’m not slow, so nothing made sense to me, but I returned to Pompey determined to show what I could do.

‘Then one day I went into training and everything seemed different. The attitude of the manager at the time (Michael Appleton) changed towards me, I don’t know why or what his reasoning was.

‘Next thing I know, I received a phone call one morning instructing me to go to QPR for a medical that afternoon. The next day my Pompey career was over.

‘To this day I don’t know how much the club received for me, it was never mentioned at the time. I was told I had to leave and that was it. I was gutted, I loved Pompey.

‘At the age of 18, I had moved away, for the first time I was living on my own, adjusting to new surroundings, meeting new people, it was tough.

‘I supported Pompey and joined them at the age of seven, even now I still remember the first training session, I was a nervous wreck!

‘When I left, I was low because of the way it happened, especially for somebody my age, it was so quick. The next day I had gone, that was it.

‘Afterwards, I read the manager’s comments in The News that I wasn’t good enough, which was the first I’d heard of it, I was never told that, but that’s football, it’s a crazy world.

‘Then at QPR, Mark Hughes, the manager who signed me, was sacked two-and-a-half months later. Harry Redknapp came in and only liked experienced players.

‘I wouldn't say I have regrets because I didn’t want to leave Pompey, but that decision became my biggest regret, it was out of my hands so I couldn’t control it.

‘At that stage, a year or two longer at Fratton Park could have changed my career. That’s what I used to think, but obviously it didn’t happen.’

Since arriving in the National League in August 2015, Magri has totalled 170 appearances during successful stints at Dover and Ebbsfleet.

In addition, while England recognition has faded, there have been seven international outings for Malta, a country he qualifies through his grandfather.

This week Magri dropped down to the National League South to join the Hawks, a switch which allows him to spend more time with wife Ellie and eight-month-old son Nico at their Hilsea home.

And the 25-year-old has never been more content.

Magri added: ‘At Palace I was staying in digs and you are on your own, which gives more time to think, and that’s the hardest part. All this stuff going through your head.

‘After leaving QPR, I had gone on trial at Selhurst Park for their under-21s, but there was also the offer to move to Welling in the National League. I went to Palace, which was a regret.

‘You sometimes trained with the Palace first-team and played under-21 games, but I soon began to realise I could have been playing competitive football in the National League. At the time it was a tough pill to swallow.

‘Competing in men’s football is a lot harder than turned out in the under-21s, I would have learnt a lot more in the National League than wasting a year at Palace, but you can’t go back, I’m past all that now.

‘The first time you ever get released you think your world has ended but, as you start to get over it, you learn it’s one of those things.

‘Sometimes the manager doesn't like you, perhaps the chairman doesn't like you, maybe you aren’t good enough, you never really know what’s happening.

‘Through my experiences, maybe I could help young players in their particular situations. I’d like to reassure them that should you be without a club and you’re thinking “That’s it, it’s done” please don’t, there are options.

‘If I could go back I would have taken school more seriously, learn about something else just in case. However, no matter what you tell young players, nobody listens, all they want to do is play football and try to make it.

‘I’ve carried on playing football, though, thanks to fantastic support from my parents and people close to me, that's the biggest factor helping you get over struggles.

‘There was nothing I could do apart from just getting on with it – and I’m happy with my life. I can’t complain.’