Ossama Ashley reflects on 'surreal' summer: Released by AFC Wimbledon, signed by West Ham

19-year-old midfielder was released by League One club but quickly earned professional contract at West Ham

Ossama Ashley
Image: Ossama Ashley won a professional contract at West Ham after a successful trial this summer

On the face of it, Ossama Ashley being released by AFC Wimbledon at the end of last season was not news that would have caught the attention of many supporters.

The 19-year-old midfielder had just a few minutes of first-team football under his belt with the League One side and now, without a club, he could have been forgiven for thinking his dream of becoming a professional footballer was at an end.

However, the last few months have turned Ashley's career on its head in a story that once again highlights how talented players are in danger of falling through the cracks in a game of subjectivity and opinion.

Just weeks after leaving AFC Wimbledon, Ashley now finds himself in starrier surroundings and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Declan Rice after being given a one-year contract with West Ham following a successful trial.

So, how does a player go from being told he is not good enough to keep his place in a League One club's U23 team to signing a professional contract with a Premier League side? Surely AFC Wimbledon made a mistake?

"I wholeheartedly believe that," Ashley tells Sky Sports News. "They weren't giving me a sniff.

Ossama Ashley
Image: Ashley made just one brief appearance for AFC Wimbledon's first team

"When you're stuck in youth football and 23s football and then go to train with the first team, it's two completely different things. There is a massive difference."

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Ashley is clearly disappointed with his lack of opportunities at AFC Wimbledon and he is also unimpressed with the way the club handled his departure.

"My contract was coming to an end and they weren't telling me whether I could go or whether they were going to offer me [a new deal].

"I kept saying to them, 'what do you need me to do to get a new contract? Are you going to extend?' I would go and have a conversation with them and they would tell me, 'we see you as a prospect for the future and we can see you in our first team'.

"Then literally two weeks after that they said they were going to let me go. That's it. They said, 'we're not offering you a new contract, all the best,' and just hung up the phone. I'd been at the club for three years."

The wealth and privilege that elite-level footballers enjoy is often used as a stick to beat all professionals with, but the impact on a teenager, who is just beginning to make his way in the game, being told he is unemployed can gain little consideration.

Ossama Ashley
Image: Ashley describes himself as a 'box-to-box midfielder' who tries to 'do it all'

"I was gutted," recalls Ashley. "In a sense, I felt useless. I had no time to plan about it. They were giving me all this positive news - not one thing was negative.

"It was a 30-second conversation. I didn't know what to do, what my next plan was, how I go about it. I felt, 'that's it'. Especially with COVID - I'm sort of just stuck."

Fortunately, that wasn't it for Ashley. He went on trial with West Ham and immediately impressed with the energy and combativeness he brought to their midfield.

Despite being able to quickly impress his new coaches, Ashley admits to being taken aback by his new setting, as well as the calibre of some of his new colleagues.

"I've spoken to Mark Noble and I'm mutual friends with Declan Rice, so we've had a few words here and there," he said. "It's all positive. Just being around them is inspiring.

Declan Rice
Image: Ashley admits to having to adjust to having team-mates like Declan Rice

"It's so surreal. You watch these guys on TV and the next thing you know, you're in and around them. It feels too good to be true sometimes.

"It's an eye-opener. Being around players like that is a big step in my career. I'm around these players every single day and you learn things from them.

"It's a massive thing for me. It's so surreal, especially after being told I'm not good enough for Wimbledon."

The unexpected twist to Ashley's career has rebuilt his confidence and he now sees no reason why he can't break into David Moyes' first-team plans at the London Stadium.

He said: "I want to adapt to a higher standard because it's a whole other world of football. With the coaching, the facilities, the players around me, I've got no excuse to not do what I can to become one of the top players.

"Eventually I'd like to find myself in and around the first team. That's my end goal. It has to be - there's no other way."

While he has understandably been focused on making a name for himself at his new club, Ashley is a sportsman and could not have failed to notice the recent boycotts that shook sports in the US.

WNBA team the Washington Mystics wore T-shirts spelling out the name of Jacob Blake, who was shot by police in Wisconsin last week
Image: WNBA team the Washington Mystics wore T-shirts spelling out the name of Jacob Blake, who was shot by police in Wisconsin

NBA and MLB players refused to play scheduled games, while NFL sides cancelled pre-season practice in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man who has now been paralysed, by police in Wisconsin.

He backs the actions of those US sports stars, saying: "Honestly, they have my full support.

"A lot of things have happened and regardless of whether people think it's wrong or right, it's all down to equality. We're all the same.

"If things continue to happen the way they are, then us as a community need to do things to change that, to make people who might not be aware know what's going on."

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