Free Agent - Jerome Thomas
In a congested market place Jerome Thomas represents the high calibre candidate all managers want.
Last Updated: 23/07/09 4:32pm
In a congested free agent market place Jerome Thomas represents the high calibre candidate all managers are looking for as they attempt to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Having left Portsmouth after an injury-ridden 12 months at Fratton Park, the 26-year-old winger is looking to kick-start a career that was so full of promise and potential at Charlton.
Thomas started last season in then Pompey boss Harry Redknapp's starting XI but a freak injury, which saw him fracture two bones in his lower back, left him sidelined after just the second game of the campaign and contemplating just how short a footballer's career can be.
Using his lay-off to take stock of where his career was going, Thomas believes the injury may prove to have been a blessing in disguise.
"To be honest I'm just glad that my back's healed, that's the main thing. It was a reality check to miss out on the whole season," Thomas told skysports.com.
"It made me realise just how quick this career actually goes. I'm ready now, my back feels better and I'm desperate to play, wherever I end up.
"I feel just as good as I did at my best, but mentally I've got a different outlook after the year I've had off.
"It was a real reality check for me, next season I want to play all the games, be they Carling Cup, FA Cup, whatever. I can't wait for pre-season friendlies.
"It might have been a blessing in disguise, a wake-up call about just how short your career really is. I need to get my head down and really start working."
Prior to his South Coast sojourn Thomas was most readily seen scampering down either flank at The Valley, with his time at Charlton characterised by the type of exciting displays that once saw him touted for a potential senior England call-up, the only international honour to have eluded him to date.
It is such a background that has already seen him handed a week's training at Hull City, where Thomas is making a favourable impression having impressed and scored in two friendlies at the weekend.
Tigers boss Phil Brown described the player as 'bright and bubbly' after watching him first hand and Thomas admits a move to Hull is something he would seriously consider.
"I'm going down there to keep fit but obviously I know Hull are a great club," he added.
"They did brilliantly last season in staying up. Hull are a very big club and the Premier League is the top level to be at.
"If a deal can be set up then great, if it works for both parties."
While Thomas concedes his time at Portsmouth did not work out as he would have liked, his outlook remains optimistic as he weighs up his options for the future.
Confident that wherever he ends up he'll be able to win a first XI berth, it is with excitement, along with a little nervous apprehension, which he looks to the new campaign.
"I'm quite confident in my own ability, so whoever I join I'll go there, get myself fit and then I think I'll be able to break into their starting XI.
"I think it's just a case of keeping myself fit. If I'd stayed fit at Portsmouth I think I'd have been playing week-in week-out. I'm confident that if I can get a good pre-season under my belt I'll be able to feature. Then it's my job to keep myself in the team.
"I think the Premier League is probably the place to be at the moment, because of the way I play the game. I'm a high intensity player, I don't mind the physical aspect at all - I think it suits me.
"I think if I was playing more last season then I'd have been in a better position to negotiate but I'm only 26 so I think I've got another six or seven years still to play at the top level.
"I think I'm going to be coming into my prime this season.
"It's exciting and anxious. Exciting because you don't know what the future holds. I'm confident but you don't know where you're at until it all falls into place. I'm a little anxious because I'm ready to go now and teams have already returned for pre-season."
Thomas' long-time friend Jermaine Pennant, who also played at Portsmouth last season, found himself in a similar situation as his former Arsenal team-mate when he left Liverpool in the summer.
Pennant decided the time was right for a change of scene as he signed for Spanish side Real Zaragoza, and having adopted a 'have boots will travel' mentality, Thomas is refusing to rule out a move abroad.
"I do watch the three main leagues, Spanish, Italian and English - I'd enjoy playing anywhere to be honest.
"It's funny because a lot of people my age are in a similar situation, people I grew up with. Jermaine Pennant is an example, he was at Portsmouth with me, and now he's gone to Real Zaragoza.
"I think he probably feels Spain suits the way he plays. Good luck to him, I spoke to him the other day when he was on the plane going out there and he's really looking forward to it.
"I would say at this moment England is more likely but if something came up I wouldn't mind going abroad. I'm open to playing overseas, I'm open to going up north, I don't mind going anywhere.
"I just want to play football. I'm not averse to going abroad and if something comes up, great, I'd certainly consider it.
"I'm a London boy but I've grown out of that now. Maybe when I was younger it could have been a bit of an issue, held me back. I got caught up in breaking into the Premiership.
"All my friends were around me but I think it's fair to say in the last year I've grown out of that. Leaving London is not going to be an issue."
Having spent the close-season working with a personal trainer, Thomas is confident he has returned to optimum fitness and with two impressive pre-season games already under his belt, the scramble for his signature could be about to intensify over the next few weeks.
"I think everyone wants to achieve the most they can and everyone feels they should be in the team. If you're not striving to be at your best there's a problem.
"My immediate priority is getting playing again after the season I had last year. If I can get 40 games under my belt this season hopefully everything will fall into place.
"I need to get in a team, score and set up goals which is my job, and then people will start to remember what I'm capable of."
After his frustrations last season Thomas admits he has felt like football's forgotten man at times, but it's a situation he's confident will be rectified next term.
"I do (feel forgotten) but it happens. I don't see it in a negative light, these things happen. No-one knows how the injury happened; it's not exactly a common football injury. But it's happened, I've worked hard, the back feels great now and I'm 100 per cent," he concluded.
"Once I start playing I think people will start to remember. It's a case of finding the right club and the right manager who wants me to play my game. For me, obviously, I need to bring to the table my qualities. I'm an attacking option, I can play left or right, I can play in the hole.
"My game is about bringing the game further up the field and if I'm not scoring and setting-up goals, I'm not doing my job."
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