Sheyi Ojo was a child prodigy and has quickly become pivotal at Cardiff. On loan from Liverpool, he is keen to start regularly, stay injury free and play his part in getting Cardiff back up to the Premier League, as he tells VFTN here in this exclusive interview.
The games have been coming thick and fast recently. Is it nice to have a couple of weeks without games, or are you ok with the grind of three games a week? You’re well on course for this to be the most you’ve ever played in a season.
It’s been a busy schedule the last couple of weeks, but I’m enjoying playing consistently and every game is a different challenge. The last game didn’t go to plan in terms of the result, but overall, I think it’s been an OK start to the season. We probably should have more points and I think we’ve been unlucky at times as well.
How do you manage such a hectic schedule? I can’t imagine there’s much room for training. Is it pretty much just playing and recovering?
You play a game, then the next day you might come in for recovery, which is important during such a busy schedule. You might do ice baths or massages, stuff like that and eat all the right foods so that you’re ready to perform for the next game. It’s been good during the international break because It gives you the opportunity to work on things that you wouldn’t be able to if we had a match, so we’ve been doing a lot of individual training. A lot of the players have had different game time until now. Some have played every game and some maybe need a bit more fitness wise, so its just managing the squad, which the staff have done really well.
How are you finding Cardiff? It must be difficult moving to a new area during a global pandemic! Have you had much chance to have a look around?
It’s a difficult situation with all the Covid stuff, but I’m here to play football at the end of the day. As long as I’m playing, fit and healthy, everything is going well. I’ve managed to go in to the city a couple of times and it seems nice, so I can’t really complain.
What’s it like as a professional footballer playing during Covid? There must be a lot of pressure on you to abide by the rules because you’re in the public eye and there is a danger that you can bring it in to the squad.
To be honest, so far, I don’t think anyone has come back positive. It’s all going well so far and everyone seems to be keeping safe and healthy. We had a Covid test this morning, so hopefully that continues.
How do Covid measures affect you on a day to day basis at a football club? What has changed?
It’s the little things. Not everyone is in the same changing room and there’s a two-metre rule. We have to do a temperature check on the way in to the building and on a game day. At the moment, we’re doing about one test per week, but in terms of football, not much has changed, which is good for the players. Apart from there being no fans, everything else is pretty similar.
You’ve been at Liverpool for almost 10 years now. When they signed you from MK Dons in 2011, you were only 14 and they paid a reported £2m. What did that feel like? That’s a lot to live up to for someone so young.
At the time, it was a big move and my family moved with me. I had never been to Liverpool and grew up in London, but it was a massive opportunity and Liverpool is probably the best club in the world at the moment. I wouldn’t say there was pressure because I was just enjoying my football. I never looked at it as pressure.
Going through the academy, it was mainly fun and I think that helped. It’s been a long journey with ups and downs. There’s more to come and I moved to Cardiff to get some more game time under my belt and show what I can do. Then we’ll take it from there.
Your career at Liverpool pretty much ran parallel with Harry Wilson, who is three months younger than you. I know you played in Under-17 tournaments together. Are you guys close and just how good a player is he?
I played with Harry in the youth team, but in the last couple of seasons we’ve both been on loan. He’s probably played more games than me because I’ve had a few injuries. He’s a top player and in the youth team we built up a relationship. Since he’s come to Cardiff, its been the same thing. Hopefully we can both have good seasons here.
I noticed in your first game together that you were constantly looking for each other and there appeared to be a bond on the pitch.
Yeah, because we’ve been playing together for so long, on and off, he knows what I’m going to do on the ball and vice versa. Whenever he’s on the ball, I’ll look for the run and that’s obviously helped the team and will make us more dangerous going forward. So far, it’s going well and we’ve both got a couple of goals.
Out of interest, when you played in the same team together previously, what positions did you both play?
We were both playing on the wing. There were also times when I would play as a number 10 and he would be on the right, but we were always pretty flexible and I think the manager is trying to do something similar this season.
You’ve both had a lot of loan spells for such young players. Is that variety something you enjoy, or would you rather lay some roots in one place?
I can’t say I’ve regretted anything because its all good experience, but obviously its unsettling at times. It’s hard to get that consistency. When I was a little bit younger, I didn’t mind it as much, but right now, the main aim is to settle down. Whether that’s at Liverpool, Cardiff or somewhere else, depending on what’s right for me.
You’re a World Cup winner, having won at Under-20 level with England. How was that? There were some impressive names in that squad, with the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Dean Henderson. Was that the pinnacle of your career to date?
It was a good experience. We were away in South Korea for about five weeks and we formed a good relationship within the squad. There was a lot of good talent and it was a great achievement. On an individual level, I would say making my debut for Liverpool was bigger. When I first signed, I said I wanted to make my debut before I turned 18 and I did that. I scored at Anfield as well.
I know you’re also eligible to play for Nigeria. Would you be willing to represent them at senior level?
There have been talks. I would be open to it, but I’ve not really thought about it too much because my main focus is consistency without injuries. I think they’ve tried to contact my agent previously, but I’ve been playing for the England youth team. I would definitely think about it.
You’ve mentioned that you’ve sustained injuries in the past. Can you talk me through what injuries you’ve had.
My first major injury was a back injury. I had a stress fracture in pre-season and was out for four months while I was at Liverpool. That kind of ruined my season. The following season I went to Fulham on loan and I injured my hamstring twice, missing maybe half the season. Last year at Rangers, I had ligament injuries and it was similar in France. I’ve never really had a consistent season where I’ve played all season. I’ve played a lot of games so far this season and I feel fit and strong.
How have you found this season? It feels like your form is improving with every game.
We lost the first game to Sheffield Wednesday, which was frustrating, but I think like my performances, the team is getting stronger every game. We’re getting to know each other more and what the manager wants us to do, so we’re improving collectively and individually.
How have you found working with Neil Harris? You seem to have quickly gained his trust and become a regular in the side.
He’s been brilliant, to be honest. He’s really good with the lads and the message is for us to show our stuff and play good football. I think we’ve done that in spells, but unfortunately we’ve conceded early at times and its not really helped us so far.
Having been promoted with Fulham in the past, what do you think, if anything, is currently missing from this Cardiff side to make them promotion contenders?
I think we just need to be better with our end product, whether that’s scoring or the final ball. I think that’s lacking at times. We also need to start fast and wipe out the mistakes.
How do you find being on social media?
I’ve been using social media for a few years now and I mainly use it after a game or to give feedback to the fans. It’s mainly football related, but on Instagram, there’s some personal stuff as well. At times it’s a bit heavy going, but it’s understandable. Fans are passionate and they just want the best for the club they support. It comes with the job.
The bar at Liverpool is very high and as you say, they’re probably the best team in the world at the moment. I guess you and Harry are in the same boat in that regard. Is the aim still to try and make it there, or do you think your future likely now lies elsewhere?
I’ve got another season on my contract after this one, so it’s an important year for me. I think Harry is similar. To be honest, I’m not trying to think too much in to the future. For the last two or three years, I haven’t played for Liverpool and I’ve been on loan, but I keep in contact with the Liverpool staff. I’m still a Liverpool player, but I don’t know what the plan is for me. A lot of it will come down to game time because I don’t want to be at a club where I’m not playing. I’ve just got to focus on Cardiff and play as much as I can.
Would you be up for staying at Cardiff long-term, if that was an option?
I’m not really thinking about next season because things change quickly in football. Cardiff is a massive club and the fans haven’t been with us so far, but from the messages I receive and seeing them around the city, they seem really positive, so there’s no reason to not want to be at Cardiff. There’s a great bunch of lads, the staff are really good and the manager has been brilliant. Hopefully the club will be in the Premier League next season because that’s where it deserves to be.