Jermaine Beckford is living the dream at Bolton Wanderers
JERMAINE Beckford’s CV makes interesting reading, especially when you skip past the football bit.
Before the Wanderers striker made it big at Leeds United he juggled a non-league contract with a catalogue of part-time posts, ranging from windscreen fitter at the RAC to shop assistant at a sportswear company.
Just seven years later, it is no wonder the one-time Chelsea youth product sums up his whirlwind journey to the Reebok via the Premier League, a famous giant-killing goal against Manchester United and a multi-million pound nightmare at Leicester in just one word: “Surreal.”
It was not long ago Beckford registered his last goal for Wealdstone in front of 182 people in a Westview Cup Fifth Round tie at Bromley.
A few weeks later he was plunged into a home game for Leeds against Crystal Palace, where his future manager, Dougie Freedman, would be watching on from the bench.
It was a transformation that still has the striker shaking his head in disbelief.
“One week I was running up and down in front of 80 people and the next week I was in front of 35,000 at Elland Road,” Beckford recalled to The Bolton News.
“I still can’t get my head around how quickly things changed and it’s been a good few years. But it’s something I’m extremely proud of.
“All of a sudden I was a professional footballer. I’d done it all – restaurants, warehouses, offices, worked pretty much anywhere you can imagine.
“It makes me appreciate what I have got now. Football is a dream world, it’s like a bubble, and I know I’m very fortunate.”
Beckford’s scoring exploits at Leeds United, plus his dwindling contract, made him one of English football’s hottest properties.
But since leaving Elland Road – where he smashed 85 goals in three seasons in League One and also played alongside Freedman – his critics point out that he has never quite shown the same promise at the higher level.
A move to Premier League Everton in 2010 lasted just over a year but Beckford is fiercely defensive of his time at Goodison Park, where he finished with 10 goals in all competitions out of just 18 starts. “At the time someone told me that in terms of minutes to goals ratio there were only two Premier League strikers who had a better record than me – Wayne Rooney, and Didier Drogba, and they were okay.
“It wasn’t that bad. It was a big learning curve for me and I learned a lot from some really good players.
“I didn’t have one bad day at Everton, so it always surprises me when people say it didn’t work out.”
On Merseyside Beckford also came across a player he credits with having a profound effect on his career, Frenchman Louis Saha.
Though the media were quick to write off Beckford in his Premier League days, he believes the guidance Saha offered helped him stay positive.
“He was losing his pace a little bit but his control, his concentration, his awareness, was like nothing I have ever seen,” he said.
“He spoke to me and gave me a new-found confidence to believe in myself and that I was at the club for a reason.
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and he really helped at that time.” Sven-Goran Eriksson paid £2.5million to Everton to bring Beckford’s goal to the King Power Stadium but his move to the Midlands was to prove even more of a disappointment.
The former England boss was sacked just a couple of months into the season, leaving an uncertain future for some of his expensive recruits, which also included current team-mates Matt Mills and Neil Danns.
Beckford is reluctant to criticise the Foxes, adding simply that his spell with the club “did not work out” but after a spell with Huddersfield on loan last season, he was then reunited with Freedman, now manager at Wanderers.
The move – even at a nominal cost – was viewed as a gamble by many Whites fans at the time, and the 29-year-old admits it has taken time to bed down.
“I think I am adjusting now, becoming more confident, and hopefully that means that the goals will start to flow,” he said.
With two goals in his last three games there are signs that he is starting to acclimatise – although Freedman has stated publicly that the team are yet to bring the best out of him via their style of play.
Many believe the recent football played by the Whites has been too negative and direct – but Beckford has stuck up for the dressing room and believes a more attractive brand will follow once results continue to improve.
“When the team is under pressure or there isn’t that ‘out’ ball then sometimes they have to play the longer pass,” he reasoned.
“In football you can’t pick and choose – sometimes it’s just a case of playing the game as it comes up.
“Of course I’d prefer everything to come along on the floor because that’s where I have more fun.
“The manager isn’t trying to change the system according to me. But he’s not a massive fan of the long ball – he’s more an intricate passing kind, who encourages us to play short and sharp.”