At Hayes & Yeading United, the pieces have been falling together nicely for the most part this season, with former Chelsea midfielder Paul Hughes’ side assured of an Evo-Stik League South East play-off place. While goals have flowed pleasingly from various directions, one name has figured with a regularity that has been hard to ignore – Immanuelson ‘Manny’ Duku.
While it may yet be a season to celebrate down at Beaconsfield Road, it has already been a campaign for the record books in one sense. Dutch frontman Manny Duku helped himself to a brace in last Saturday’s 6-1 home thrashing of Egham Town, taking the 25-year-old on to 31 league goals and 37 in all competitions.
Unsurprisingly, he leads the way for United, but his clinical form across the year overall also sees him sitting pretty at the top of the league’s scoring charts. Even more impressive than that, though, is that the Amsterdam native has claimed his own portion of club history.
“Yeah, someone told me that I had broken the record for most goals in a season,” he said. “One of the people at the club said recently that if I score a few more I’ll be the all-time top scorer!”
“It’s a good thing because if you don’t score goals then the team doesn’t win. It motivates me to do even more for the team and hopefully get promoted.”
That United scoring feat was a record previously held by 25-goal Josh Scott, who went on to play for Dagenham & Redbridge in League One and Two. Possessing athleticism and sharp movement where it matters, the lethal touch Manny has displayed during this campaign has supposedly perked the interest of professional clubs like Colchester United and Cambridge United, as well as St. Johnstone, north of the border.
The question is, how does a Dutchman once on the books of a former UEFA Champions League name in SC Heerenveen end up rewriting club records in the English non-league game?
“I was born in Amsterdam, I grew up in Amsterdam and played football there through the youth levels,” Manny explains. “When I was 18 I joined Heerenveen, which was further north, and I played there in the second team.”
“After that, I left and went to some local teams around like little villages, and then I came to England to hopefully push up again. England is quite a big country, with a lot of clubs, so if you do well you might get noticed.
“That’s what I thought, and if you put in the work, then I think you get out what you put in. Coming to England was my mum’s idea; she was here and she said I should come.
“I came with my younger brother and sister, so when I first came I was just trying to find a team.”
With Ghanaian parentage and a family of eight siblings, Manny started his English on-field odyssey in 2015 with a pre-season at Oxford City. Their assistant Mark Jones, now manager of the club, set him up with Chesham United, who would then sign him.
With opportunities limited, he asked Jones if he could help him find any side local to his base in Aylesbury who would be willing to take him. Dean Brennan was contacted at Hemel Hempstead, where he spent a couple of weeks, but his next port of call was where he first started to feel some foundations were being laid.
“I joined Kings Langley, where I had a good time and we won the league there as well. Then the second season at Kings Langley, (joint-manager) Paul (Hughes) left for Hayes & Yeading, and I went to Banbury, where we had a good season and finished nearly in the playoffs.
“I think that’s the highest they’ve finished in the Southern Prem. When the season was done, Paul contacted me again and I joined Hayes & Yeading.
“It’s been a good decision so far.”
Since his switch to United last summer, the strong helping of industry he alluded to earlier has certainly been demanded from him. His manager was a Premiership midfielder once, coming through at Chelsea to debut for arguably one of England’s finest ever footballing talents in Glenn Hoddle, before continuing under two more European greats in Ruud Gullit and Gianluca Vialli.
Now 41, Paul Hughes won three successive promotions alongside co-boss Ritchie Hanlon at Kings Langley, taking over at Hayes & Yeading in November 2016. Although last season ended in a disappointing relegation from the Evo-Stik League South Premier, he has led them on a promotion charge this time around.
Manny speaks of a positive relationship between the two of them, with the gaffer’s cajoling undoubtedly helping him reap rewards in a productive team.
“With me personally, he’s very strict, so everything is not good enough. For example, I can score a hat-trick but still he can be annoyed about other parts of my game, so he’s really pushing me and everything can always be better.
“When I was at Banbury, he called me and asked if I wanted to come. He’s someone who I know really, really wants to help me and push me to go up maybe to the League or a higher level.
“For me this season, I think because I work very hard it helps with getting chances; players can find you easily if you’re always moving about. They trust you as well, so it’s a team thing.”
Sitting 3rd in the table, Hayes & Yeading are guaranteed a place in the playoffs and still going for automatic promotion, though their fate in that regard is out of their hands, having played more games than their rivals. While the quality and guidance in the ranks may well return them to a higher level in the short-term, Manny believes that should just be the beginning.
“Hayes & Yeading is a very good club. It has been in the Conference before, it has a very good ground, everything is there, the facilities are good.
“I think it speaks for itself.”
As characteristics go, coolness and confidence are not a bad strikeforce to call upon, and Manny has had both in his armoury, as demonstrated earlier this month against Hanwell Town with a slick turn and rasping near-post finish into the top corner to bring up his brace. Although he has been racking up the goals he has not been left to shoulder the responsibility alone, with Duncan Culley hitting 20, Ismael Ehui on 15, and Toby Little and Scott Donnelly just one away from double figures.
Manny might not be the popular choice for team DJ – which he sees the funny side of – but it is a changing room he very much feels in step with.
“Yeah, a lot of people like to make jokes and have fun, and if you win it’s always good; if we were losing then it wouldn’t be alright. We have people like Scott Donnelly who’s played in the League before and he’s quite a big personality.
“Duncan Culley who joined us, he’s played Conference before as well, and then we have players who came through at pro clubs and want to go up again. People like Scott really help us to do the right things.”
Counting VV Eemdijk, FC Breukelen, Legmeeervogels and FC Abcoude amongst his former sides back home, Manny has been becoming increasingly well acquainted with the sweet spot of his trade in recent times. He has had to persevere to even clamber onto this springboard, though, and for the time being at least, football is still only one part of his week’s work.
“At the start in England, I was really trying to push myself into football, so I wasn’t working, but you can’t keep doing that for years! After a while I found a job and then I was working in Buckingham as an activity co-ordinator.
“In the summer I left that job to go travelling, so I went on a few holidays, went to Ghana. Now I work for a housing association, so that’s what I do now to earn some extra money and fill up the time outside football.”
When the camaraderie on which non-league essentially runs strikes in time with the desired results on the pitch, it is hard for any player to want to wish the moment away in a hurry. That is very much the case for Manny as we speak, but with murmurings of suitors from loftier perches naturally brought up as the season has progressed, has that had a front seat in his thoughts, or been consigned to the back for now?
“For me, I always enjoy my football, professional or not professional. It definitely motivates me to drive to do better, because everyone who plays football wants to go into the pro league.
“That would be a massive achievement for me, because that’s why I came (to England). So that’s what’s pushing me and giving me the drive, and as I said, my team is very enjoyable, so I’m happy to have a team that’s good, I’m scoring, and we’re doing well.”
If there is to be any big news for Manny or Hayes & Yeading in the near future, there is one place where he is unlikely to read all about it!
“I’ve realised that a lot of things go through Twitter, like with Hayes & Yeading when there’s Player of the Month. Sometimes it’s very handy to have.
“I don’t have a Twitter account but in the future I may do!”
Interview/article by @chris_brookes