Nathan Redmond: ‘the Last Two Years Have Been the Biggest Learning Curve’
Sunday, 3 March, 2019 - 07:30
Nathan Redmond: ‘I didn’t know if I was still going to be at the club or play again. That was the kind of doom-and-gloom outlook I had.’ Photograph: Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Getty Images
London - Ed Aarons
“There’s nothing worse than not being able to get past a certain point, which I thought was never ending,” Nathan Redmond says. Over his shoulder, the skies are starting to darken at Southampton’s impressive training ground on the fringes of the New Forest. Fresh from another demanding session after a week in Tenerife under the watchful eye of his club’s workaholic manager, Ralph Hasenhüttl, Redmond is reflecting on a challenging period of his career that saw him miss the decisive penalty for England against Germany in the European Under-21 Championship semi-finals as well as be booed off by his own club’s supporters.
“I wasn’t doing anything right, I hadn’t scored a goal and was not performing for my team,” he says. “There were so many things going on and I wasn’t doing anything to change it. I guess I had to go through all of those things to realise how fortunate I am to be playing football. But at the same time I don’t want to end up being somebody who wastes something I’ve been blessed with.”
Ever since he became Birmingham’s second-youngest player at 16 years and 173 days in 2010, there has been no doubting Redmond’s talent. Now 24, he has scored six goals in his past 11 appearances since Hasenhüttl replaced Mark Hughes. He has recaptured some of the form that brought him his solitary senior England cap, as a substitute away to Germany, two years ago next month. But having been tipped as the brightest star of his generation after turning down some of the biggest clubs to stay with his hometown team, the period since that sole senior appearance has been what he describes as “the biggest learning curve of my life”.
“I’ve got rid of a lot of things that I had been allowing to happen,” Redmond says. “One negative thought was leading to another and the smallest of things was getting me down. I didn’t understand how to deal with them the right way but the lessons will keep coming until you do that. I can’t be mad at anything that has happened.”
His problems began during the under-21s’ tournament in June, when he injured a hamstring in the final group match against the hosts, Poland. It was diagnosed as a tear that would normally require at least three weeks’ rest but he decided to stay with the squad and came on as a substitute against Germany’s youngsters five days later.
“I should have gone home,” Redmond admits. “I don’t think I fully understood how bad it was until I came back and thought: ‘Maybe I should have made this decision.’ But it was my last tournament for them and I wanted to give everything I could. I know a lot of the younger boys coming through did look up to me to be a leader off the pitch because I’d had a lot of experience and had been playing football from a young age as well.”
The abiding image of England’s defeat that night was Redmond being consoled by his friend Nathaniel Chalobah, his eyes bloodshot from the tears that had been flowing steadily since his miss in the shootout. He admits following in the footsteps of Stuart Pearce, Chris Waddle, Gareth Southgate, David Batty and the rest who have missed spot-kicks in national colours had a profound effect as his confidence nosedived, culminating in Pep Guardiola’s impassioned intervention on the pitch at the end of Southampton’s defeat by Manchester City in December 2017. Having reminded Redmond “how good a player he is”, the manager later revealed he had “said to Nathan: ‘You have to attack because you have the quality to do that.’”
Yet such was the disintegration of confidence that Redmond admits it took six months before the significance of Guardiola’s praise sank in. “When I was younger there was a lot of expectation and hype – I always believed I was a good player but not always 100%,” he says. “If I hadn’t fixed up my head after Pep Guardiola spoke to me and told me what a good player I was … maybe some other players would be like: ‘OK I can do this.’ But it took me until the summer. If one of the best coaches in the world is telling me I’m a good player and I’m still not feeling it, that just proves I had a lot of work to do myself. There were a series of games when I wasn’t in the squad at Southampton, I was training with the under-23s – there was a lot of stuff going on. I was thinking: ‘Why has this happened to me?’ instead of trying to change and looking at things that were right in front of me.”Redmond adds: “When Mark Hughes came in he understood I was in a bit of a bad place in terms of confidence. I remember having a conversation with my mum and I was thinking: ‘This is it.’ I didn’t know if I was still going to be at the club or play again. That was the kind of doom-and-gloom outlook I had.”
Working with the fitness expert Andy Barr along with Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge and Chalobah – who is second on England Under‑21s’ appearance list with 40 games, two ahead of Redmond – he says spending last summer preparing in Los Angeles worked wonders not only for his physical condition but also his mental health. Yet it was not until Hasenhüttl was appointed that he realised the extent of his slump.
“I almost thought I had reached my limitations. I came back at the start of the season and I thought I was playing pretty well but then the new manager came in and said: ‘You’ve got no goals and no assists in the league … what’s going on?’ We had a review in Tenerife and he’s like: ‘Look at what you’ve done the space of three months.’ We had a long discussion about everything but I don’t think I’ve ever scored so many goals in my career, so it made me think: ‘What if I had been doing this six or seven years ago?’ That’s what is exciting for me and hopefully I can keep it going.”
The pain of their morale-sapping defeat against Cardiff at St Mary’s is still raw and Redmond admits they are desperate to make up for that against Arsenal on Sunday after slipping back into the relegation zone. He believes Hasenhüttl’s notoriously exhausting approach to training is starting to rub off on the players and is confident there will be no need for the heroics that saw Saints survive by the skin of their teeth last season.
“We have a little bit of time before it gets to that stage – we can still put it right,” Redmond says with steely determination in his eyes. “But the quicker we do it the better.”
After the last two years, he knows he has no time to waste.
The Guardian Sport