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Matlock Town have recently announced the signing of Jesurun Uchegbulam from Mossley. The Nigerian winger is an exciting, young prospect who has also previously had a trial spell with Sheffield Wednesday.

Matlock’s assistant manager Dave Wild has plenty of experience working with Uchegbulam and knows the winger very well. Wild explained in detail how the signing of the 20 year-old came about and why there is a lot of excitement at the Gladiators regarding this arrival:

“At one of my previous jobs, I joined a BTEC programme while I was in charge at Stockport Town. Jesurun was one of my first students to undertake this programme, so that’s how I first met him and that’s how our relationship formed. So he joined Stockport Town as a 16 year-old. He was a raw talent from the academy but he took to it all like a duck to water. He’s got unquestionable talent. In terms of what he did in the very early stages of his career in the North West Counties League, it was frightening to be honest! I think he played ten games for me at Stockport Town, scored eight goals and got 12 assists. So, doing that as a 16 year-old, there was quite a lot of hype and a lot of local interest in him. I don’t think that helped him at the time because he was so young. I ended up being charge of Mossley the following season and Jesurun was one of the first lads I signed. He didn’t make it straight away in the first team; he had to mature and develop his team game. But he did that and from then on was one of the team’s most important players that season. It’s natural progress for him to move up to Step 3 of non-league and I’ve got absolutely no doubts (and it’s the same for Paul Phillips) that he will be a genuine success for Matlock Town.”

Uchegbulam is the first Gladiators signing ahead of the 2021/22 campaign but it is still expected that there will be nowhere near as many comings and goings at the club compared to last summer. Matlock Town’s manager Paul Phillips is clearly just as big a fan of Uchegbulam as what Wild is, and the Gladiators assistant told me more about what kind of player Matlock fans will see at the Proctor Cars Stadium and what attributes he will bring to the team on the pitch:

“He’s got so many attributes, that it’s hard to pinpoint what his main threat is. One of the big things for us, is that he’s unbelievably direct. He’s pacey, he’s powerful and he’s very aggressive on the front foot. He loves to run at players, he wants to push teams back into their own final third, he wants to score and create goals. I think the best way of describing him is that every time he gets the ball at his feet in the opposition’s half, he’ll make the whole dugout sit on the edge of its seat. He’s exciting and he’s still got a lot of raw talent, so there’s still stuff to work and improve on, but he’s a very exciting prospect. He’s got ridiculous pace too. But there is more to his game than just that. His general understanding of the team aspect of the game has got a lot better since I first worked with him and I think that’s why now is the right time for him to step up to this level of football.”

Wild also provided an update on what the planning and preparation is looking like ahead of the 2021/22 campaign at this preliminary stage. Unlike some clubs in Matlock Town’s division, the Gladiators will not be playing any friendlies whatsoever until pre-season properly begins in July. Matlock’s assistant explained in detail why he feels it’s essential not to rush players back and burn them out after such a long time without playing any competitive football:

“In terms of any more new players coming in, or players heading out, we’ll keep that all close to our chest still for the time being. It’s still very early. The only reason we’ve announced the signing of Jesurun is because that’s an actual contract deal that’s now been signed. In terms of planning and preparation for the next season, we’re in a good place. We’ve been having several Zoom meetings and several chats with the squad from last season. We’ve got lots of injury prevention sessions planned. It’s going to be a very different pre-season this time around because the lads already haven’t played competitive football in so long. It’s going to have to be a lot of baby steps at the start of it and protecting bodies to make sure that we’re not running them ragged before we’ve even properly started the season. We need to make sure we’re doing the right thing by our players and putting them all in the right position. This will ensure that the players won’t be having fitness issues come the busy Christmas/New Year period, which is where your promotion bids can be won or lost. What we’re doing in pre-season will hopefully come to fruition, so that team are well in contention and in the mix at that busy point of the season. So the preparation is a little different for the start of this coming season. We’re having to think things through differently but it’s a good test for me and Paul Phillips.”

The Gladiators assistant manager also had a quick message for Matlock Town fans as planning begins to take form for a season which will (fingers crossed) return to a traditional, uninterrupted format after a 14 month spell where the world has been turned upside down by truly historic circumstances:

“One thing that myself and Paul Phillips can guarantee is that this will be a hard-working side. They’re all going to play for the town, play for the badge and play for the club. Absolutely everyone that is in this camp are there because they want to progress and they want to push this club higher. We’re not going to be there just to make up the numbers. As a group, we’re hungry to push this club to a higher level of football. Matlock Town have got all the key attributes needed to be at a higher level. The fans just need to stay behind us, trust us and we won’t be far off. We’ll get things right more than we get things wrong. I truly believe that we’ve got the right group in place.”

In further Gladiators news, shortly after I spoke to Dave Wild, Matlock Town confirmed that popular goalkeeper Shaun Rowley had signed a new deal with the club. Fans voiced their delight at the confirmation of this as, despite so few games being played, Rowley impressed many with his shot-stopping abilities and looks to be an excellent replacement for the now-departed Jon Stewart who now plays for Yorkshire Amateur.

Manager Paul Phillips has also confirmed that a second goalkeeper will be signed at some point soon and will then be loaned out to another club while Rowley is the first choice between the sticks.

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