Doncaster Rovers: Smiling and striving for determined Issam Ben Khemis

Issam Ben Khemis
Issam Ben Khemis

In a squad packed with more than its fair share of nice blokes, Issam Ben Khemis is one of the genuine standouts.

Rarely - be it at the training ground, sitting in the stands or even on the pitch – do you see the Frenchman without a beaming smile on his face.

And he is always quick to offer a handshake, or stop for a chat in the supermarket aisles.

It has been clear from the first week that he arrived at Doncaster Rovers as trialist that he is delighted to be here.

But his affable nature and obvious enjoyment of life should not mask the fact he is putting a great deal of work into the business of being a professional footballer.

“A top player is working hard every single day,” he said.

“If you work hard, it reflects on the pitch.

“Football does not lie.

“It is my thinking. It is not only my opinion.”

The battle Ben Khemis faces is an incredibly tough one.

Currently, he is attempting to force his way into the first team reckoning on a regular basis.

With boss Grant McCann positioning him as part of the midfield three, Ben Khemis is up against the likes of Tommy Rowe, Ali Crawford, Herbie Kane, Ben Whiteman and Matty Blair.

Though Rowe and Crawford are currently sidelined through injury, those who have stepped in have impressed greatly, leaving the likes of Ben Khemis with an uphill climb to grab an opportunity of their own.

But he says the performances of his rivals for a place only spur him on to improve.

“I sat on the bench at Peterborough and I was thinking ‘the team was playing very good’,” he said.

“If I see players not playing good I don’t think ‘yes, I will play’.

“If someone does not play good, they are not helping their team on the pitch. There are 11 players.

“During the season a midfielder has played good, or we watch the clips and they have done good. I think ‘I need to work more hard’ because one day there may be a chance.

“I’m not happy to lose people if they are injured but it is a chance.

“Then if someone comes on and does well on the pitch, they may start the next game.”

Ben Khemis was a bright spot in Rovers’ Checkatrade Trophy defeat to Newcastle United last week.

But afterwards he could take little satisfaction. Rather, he consistently spoke of his disappointment at the result.

“It is difficult to judge my performance,” he said.

“Maybe I did ok. But it not only me.

“I think for me after the game. But at first I think of the team because we lost.

“I need to watch the game to be better. If you watch the game and concentrate on it, it is possible to be better in the next one.

“I will watch the game because I need to develop. 

“If I go back to the house and play Fortnite and eat, it is easy.

“If you want to be a top player, if you want to go to Championship or Premier League, you cannot stop working

“Romelu Lukaku, if he does not score goals in three games, do you think he is thinking ‘it’s okay, I will score next time’?

“I think he works every day, he watches his clips and he works to be better.”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

The smiles may never fade but neither does the determination of a player desperate to prove himself.