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Waiting for his big break

Jason Stokes is like many young players looking for his big break.

The 21-year-old Birmingham-born utility player is trying his luck in Belgium, as he aims to show what he can do towards earning a pro contract back in the UK.

Stokes is currently playing with Royal Racing Montegnee in Belgian Promotion D, one of four sections at the fourth level of the Belgian football league system.

Like many young players, Stokes has been looked at by a number of English professional clubs.

In March 2010, as a 19-year-old, he had a successful trial with Southport, but chose instead to try his luck as a student athlete in America.

In February last year, he had a one week trial with Leeds United, then had trials at Boston United and Lincoln City. Stokes had a six-week spell at Boston under manager Jason Lee and played in Boston's reserves, before being offered an opportunity to play in Belgium.

He spoke to Total Football editor Mark Roach about his battle to make a name for himself, his experience of playing in Belgium, and his aims for the future.

How did you get the opportunity to play in Belgium?

A scout saw me play in November for Rossington Main in the North East Counties League and asked if I would be interested in playing in Belgium. So I went on trial for a week and was offered a contract.

What level of football is the fourth tier in Belgium equivalent to in England?

It's hard to say, because it's a totally different style of play, but I would probably say Conference, maybe Conference North or South. It's a lot more technical though, with good levels of fitness and pace.

What are the main differences you have noticed with the style of play in Belgium – and do you think the style of play has helped you as a player?

The main difference for me is that in England, teams love to be direct, either getting the ball out wide with the wingers getting at the full backs to get early crosses in, or hit a target man and play of him. This suited me as a wide man because I love getting at my full back as much as possible, and also cutting in to shoot.

In Belgium there is a lot more build up play, including a lot of sideways and backwards passing if teams can’t go forward. Also a lot of the teams include my team play different formations. For example we play a 4-2-3-1 most of the time and tend to try and pass through teams.

I had been playing on the left side of the three, but this formation does not really suit me so I have been playing right back and right wing back. This gives me more chance to get forward. Even the centre backs over here are very technical and try to play football from the back. It's definitely a lot more technical over here and less physical.

I do think the style of play has helped me, even though I would love to be playing in my natural position on the left side of midfield. But as for the technical side of things, yes I do think it has helped me with the patient build up side of the game. You cannot beat experiencing different systems and styles of play.

What is life in Belgium like?

Belgium is very similar to England, just a little quiet at times. The language issue can be a problem now and again and the social scene is based on restaurants and eating, unlike the UK where the pub scene is the norm. This is not a problem as I don't drink therefore training and a few games of ten pin bowling and of course FIFA 2012 on the play station keeps me busy.

The club supplies me with a nice house which is comfortable and in a nice area in the town centre.

You’ve have some experience in England but also ‘just missed out’ a few times – are you disappointed about that or encouraged?

Of course I'm going to be disappointed, but encouraged to prove people wrong at the same time. I am a firm believer that I am good enough, and that a lot of the breaks in football can be put down to being in the right place at the right time, with a little bit of luck thrown in.

I also felt let down by Barnsley when I was a 15-year-old there. Being released from the club for all the wrong reasons was very disappointing as I was one of the best technical players. At that time in football they wanted big strong athletic players. This didn’t help me as I was a very late developer.

You’ve played in several positions, do you think that has helped you?

As an attacking type of player, it's great to be called upon to help out in a defensive roll at full back when required, this helps me understand what it’s like to be defending instead of attacking. So playing full back has been made easier for me because I have a good idea of what the winger wants to do.

What is your aim this summer?

Keep at peak fitness and secure a new contract at either my current club or at a good level elsewhere.

What is your long term aim?

To play at the highest level possible and to develop my skills, I am confident in my ability that I can play higher.

Would you consider staying in Belgium, or would you consider playing in other countries?

I wouldn’t mind playing in Belgium again and one or two clubs have shown an interest in me. But I would definitely consider playing anywhere, as football is my passion and I can also gain more experience.

How would you describe yourself as a player?

I am a player that possesses a lot of pace. I am on old fashioned winger that likes to get at his full back as much as possible. But I also have the ability to play in the middle and make things happen. I like to operate on the left side as I can cut inside on to my right foot, or get to the by-line and get my cross in.

For more information about Jason visit his website: www.jasonstokes.webs.com


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