Photo: Oakley Photosport

Kadell Daniel was Jay Saunders’ first signing as he took over at Margate last February. Initially arriving at Hartsdown Park on loan from Dover Athletic, ‘Kads’ became their player outright for the 2019/20 campaign, and the inventive attacking talent had made it into double figures for goals before the season and the game we love ground to a sad halt.

As well as racking up the numbers on the pitch, he has also been studying accountancy, with the 25-year-old feeling he has wised up considerably overall in recent times. Describing perhaps the first genuine connection he has had with a manager in senior football, the team ethos at The Gate was also such that the players had been set to mark the end of the season properly together, before circumstances obviously dictated otherwise.

Wilfried Zaha remains a close friend from his Palace days, and it is not inaccurate to suggest that Margate has seen him recapture the kind of enjoyment he remembers from those formative football years. The Guyana international shares a whole load of insight here, with some vital introspection into the mix, too…

 

Firstly, and without wanting to dwell on it, what has this situation been like for you during the lockdown and this time off from football?

Yeah, so obviously being at home, getting more time with the family, I feel like even though football’s something that I miss, the situation’s so serious that it’s bigger than football. I’m just getting on with it really. I do daily workouts; one of my friends does a live workout on Instagram at 11am and everyone just tunes into that. I’m doing an online accountancy course that I’ve been doing for the past year, so it’s allowed me to put more time into that. It’s given me a lot more time to put into things that I haven’t been able to before.

Aside from the team (Margate were 12th in the Isthmian Premier before the season was suspended), how happy with your season have you been on a purely personal level?

I feel my season could have been better. I feel I did alright; I think I had 12 or 13 goals, and before the season I wanted to get 20. I had some parts of the season where it looked like I was gonna keep scoring and scoring and scoring, but then I had some dips. Overall, it’s been a decent season.

Working with Jay Saunders, how does he approach it with you in order to try and get the best from you?

To be fair, Jay’s probably the best manager I’ve had, on a one-to-one level. I get on with him really well and he allows me to play, he allows me to be free, and I haven’t really had a manager like that. It’s been a pleasure to work under him, to be fair.

As a club overall, what have you enjoyed about your time at Margate so far, what is its appeal?

I think the group of boys, for one, that Jay’s brought in have been so close. We were all supposed to go on a trip away at the end of the season, and I think you don’t really come across teams like that, that gel so well. Performances didn’t really add up to how we were off the pitch, but one of the main things is that the group of boys is amazing, how we get on. I think the club’s well run, the fans are so supportive, even through tough times when we weren’t doing well. You’re expecting to go to places and not see any fans, but they were always there cheering us on. So, the fans and the boys are the biggest things out of the club that I’ve taken.

Is the club relatively nearby to where you’re based, or are you quite far from Margate? Is it Lambeth where you’re originally from?

Yeah I’ve grown up in Lambeth and Croydon, so Margate is a bit of a stretch. Like I said, one of the main reasons why I’ve come so far is because I value a manager relationship; as I said, throughout my career, I’ve never had that. The journey’s long but I feel it’s worth it, as I’ve got a manager that I really get on with.

Internationally, you’ve been involved with Guyana for a few years, but how did you first get contacted for it? Was your eligibility something you were already aware of beforehand?

I’ve been going to Guyana, I think my first holiday was when I was two or three years old, so I used to travel there every summer, because my grandparents lived there; my grandma now lives in England. I’ve always been very close to that side of my family, and being at Charlton and Crystal Palace, I was on their radar. I think six years ago, they had a total change in the infrastructure, where they started to reach out to their professional players abroad. The favourite sport in the Caribbean is cricket, but FIFA give out funding to countries to develop, so it was a project for Guyana to really boost up their football system. I was one of the first batch of people that they reached out to. I was at Charlton at the time, you had Neil Danns who’s a legend in football and had been at Palace, you’ve got Callum Harriott who was at Charlton with me and is at Colchester now. We had Matthew Briggs who was the youngest Premier League player, so there’s a few boys that they reached out to. Samuel Cox is a non-league legend and has been captain at clubs in the Conference Prem.

They called us up and we went over there, and it wasn’t great, I’ll be honest. Guyana’s not the richest country; I love it because my family’s from there, so it’s like home to me. We didn’t have many balls for training and stuff like that, but over the years, it’s just progressed, and because we’ve done so well in fixtures, our ranking went up, more players wanted to come, it was getting more funding. Now, the set-up is like a proper international team; how they pay for our travel, the hotels we stay in, the equipment we use, it’s top tier now, we’ve come such a long way. With us qualifying for the (CONCACAF) Gold Cup last year, we opened the tournament against the USA in Minnesota’s stadium in Minneapolis, playing against (Christian) Pulisic. Because I was there from the beginning, they know my qualities and what type of footballer I am, so that’s why I have probably been able to stay in the set-up, because as we’ve got bigger, they’re obviously looking for bigger players. So if I came on their radar now, I don’t think they would have looked at Margate and even given me a look-in, whereas if I went to a training camp they’d be like ‘oh my gosh, this boy’s good; it’s not about the level he’s playing at, he’s a good player.’ Yeah, so that’s my little Guyanese story.

Back to club level, before Margate, where would you say you’ve enjoyed football most?

Do you know what? It has been a long time; the best part of my football was growing up as a scholar at Crystal Palace. I had a good stint at Charlton, in my second year pro there, and I had a good four months at Woking. I really enjoyed Leatherhead with Jimmy Bullard.

We mentioned it with Jay Saunders giving you that freedom, but what else would you say about the kind of approach from a manager that you’ve found over the years gets the best from you?

I’m a confidence player, for sure. I feel like I need a manager that lets me play in the final third, lets me get on with it. I feel like I haven’t done so well under managers that put a bit of a leash on me, because my game is quite instinctive, so I react off things, off certain situations. I’m not the type of player who repetitively does a specific thing. There are players that are great at doing that specific thing over and over again, and that’s probably why they are higher, that’s why they’re good, but for me, I don’t feel like I have a standout, amazing thing that I do. I just feel like in different situations I do different things, and I think that a manager who allows me to express myself in that way gets the best out of me.

As well as the US game at the Gold Cup, for standout games you’ve played in overall, would winning with Welling at Tranmere (2-1 in the National League in April 2016) be up there? You got the winner as well…

That’s one that my mum and my dad actually travelled to, I don’t know why. They do come to loads of my games, and I know it was Tranmere, but I’ve played at similar standards before and sometimes better. They just decided to come to that game, I don’t know why; maybe because it was near Liverpool and we support Liverpool! They came and I scored, and I remember that moment celebrating, because we were major, major underdogs that game. That feeling was great.

Probably hard to top Jimmy Bullard at Leatherhead, so maybe that’s already answered, but any other memorable characters that come to mind from your time in the game so far?

He definitely tops it. This is one, though, that people probably don’t know, but I remember him so much: at Palace, there was a guy called Calvin Andrew. He was a striker in the first team and he was the funniest person I’ve ever met, inside and outside football; he just used to make everyone laugh. But yeah, really standout, big characters, Jimmy Bullard, just hands down.

Have we got a team DJ in the dressing room at Margate?

Yeah, that’s me…

Do you just play what you wanna play, or do you try and take some suggestions from the lads? How does it tend to play out?!

To be fair, I started off being very open and getting requests, and some of the boys didn’t like some of the music that people were requesting and it just got long. Over the season, you get a gauge of what people like, so I feel like now we just have a mix of what everyone likes; bit of house, a little bit of hip-hop.

Aside from football, aside from work, which other interests take up your time generally?

I stopped education quite early because I signed for Palace, but I was really smart, and I’m not just saying that; I got all As in my GCSEs. So I didn’t get to flourish in that side of me, and my mum always said to me I should do an online course or something, and I never really listened. I finished full-time football and I had a year where I was just playing part-time, and because the money was alright I didn’t feel the need to do anything else, but then it kind of clicked that I’ve got all this time on my hands so I need to utilise it. So I got a job, and I had even more time so I contacted the PFA and I’m doing my AAT online course; it’s just a way of going to university but you can do it online. If I complete that then I’ll be a qualified accountant. I’ve just broadened my horizons and tried to do other things so that when football comes to an end I’ll have something in place to do that I enjoy.

Finally, reflecting up to now, what do you think football and all these experiences have taught you the most so far? Have you changed since those Palace days, for example?

Yeah, definitely. I think football’s been probably my biggest life teacher; it’s humbled me. For me, it’s the best thing that’s happened to me. From the outside, people probably think ‘Kadell, he shouldn’t be playing at that level,’ but for me, it’s not about that. When I was younger, I had a bit of arrogance in that I knew I was good at football and I thought that was all I needed, so I put more of my focus into other things, like going out, girls, stuff like that. That was a downfall, but life humbled me in the way that when I got released from Charlton, I went down to Woking and things didn’t work out, and then I got relegated with Welling. It was just a spiral down and I was earning less money, less money, and all these things that I thought made me happy, didn’t. I had to reconnect with family members, I had to reconnect with friends, I had to rebuild relationships. I had to really look at myself, because I was stripped bare, basically. I was a good footballer and I was playing probably six leagues lower than I should have been at that time. I had to see what really mattered to me, and one of the main things for me is family, and I don’t think I would have really noticed that if I was still in the Championship and my head was up there in the clouds. I’m with a girl that I’ve been with for three years, who’s amazing, and so I feel like it’s taught me so much. I’m in a better place with working, playing, I’m better with money. I feel like it’s just humbled me to a whole different extreme and I’m loving life at the moment.

Interview by @chris_brookes

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