Liam Mandeville interview: Young striker reflects on his breakthrough season

Liam Mandeville, pictured in action against Grimsby in December.
Liam Mandeville, pictured in action against Grimsby in December.

It was mid-December last year, Doncaster Rovers played Grimsby Town at the Keepmoat Stadium in a League Two fixture.

That day a 19-year-old Liam Mandeville announced himself to be the future of Doncaster Rovers, capping off a man-of-the-match performance with an unstoppable free-kick to give Rovers all three points.

Mandeville, now 20, recalls that stunning goal as his favourite career moment to date.

“To score a goal like that in front of one of our biggest crowds of the season in that way was a real highlight (for me.) It was my first professional free-kick goal, thankfully I caught it really well and it hit the back of the net.”

However, since then Liam has experienced a number of injury problems, including two hamstring tears, keeping him out of the side that has managed to secure an instant return to League One and moved into pole position to win the League Two title.

Thankfully though, for Rovers fans and Mandeville himself, the striker is back in training and that means back in contention.

As we move into the final straight of the 2016/17 season, Mandeville could just be the injection that Doncaster need if they are to claim the League Two title.

With the news that Andy Williams is to miss out for the trip to Wycombe this weekend, Darren Ferguson could end up giving Mandeville another chance and Liam believes he is more than ready to step up and compete for a place in the team.

“Obviously I have been out with a series of injuries the last four months so I haven’t really been able to compete, which has been so frustrating!

“But I am back fit now, so I am looking forward to doing anything I can to help the team going forward.

“I think it really helps to develop myself as a player when I’m competing against top strikers like John (Marquis), Andy (Williams) and Alfie (May) for a place in the team.”

Mandeville made quite the impression in the first half of this season.

The hot prospect already has ten goals in all competitions to his name and is the proud owner of the November EFL Young Player of the Month award.

Reflecting on that exhilarating month, Liam still cannot believe that it actually happened.

He said: “The whole thing was just crazy, it felt surreal the month I was having, everything was just going for me. To win a prestigious award like that just topped it off for me really!”

It was only going to be a matter of time until the rumour mill began to start picking up pace with regards to Mandeville’s future.

When he was left out of the league fixture against Portsmouth in early January, people started to wonder. Thankfully for all concerned with Rovers, Darren Ferguson confirmed that his up-and-coming striker was suffering from a hamstring injury and not on the way out of the Keepmoat Stadium.

EFL Manager of the Season Ferguson has backed his young gun, saying: “He’s got a lot of attributes that I want from an attacker; he’s got good vision, he can finish with both feet and he’s very good technically.” With this glowing evaluation, Liam seemed over-joyed but also surprised when I informed him of this quote.

“To be honest I haven’t seen that before but it definitely fills you with confidence when your manager compliments you like that!”

Mandeville, who was signed as a youth team scholar to Doncaster at the age of 15 having impressed at Sunday league level, experienced the kind of story most prospective young players could only wish for.

“My journey to Doncaster began literally by playing in the Sunday league for local sides in and around Middlesbrough, like Leven FC and Boro Rangers. At that point, I had only been playing for fun; I was looking to go to college and then university but towards Christmas time while I was in Year 11 I was asked to go and train with Doncaster.

“I travelled down, went on trial for a few weeks and before long I was being offered a deal.”

For young players wanting to break into the game, the influence of senior figures in the dressing room has a huge impact on the development of their confidence and abilities.

For Liam, the influence came in the size of a six-foot-seven Corporal who coached Mandeville through the transition from youth to senior level.

“We’ve got loads of great senior pros at the moment who are all consummate, model professionals but the player who helped me most with the transition from the youth team to the senior team was definitely Rob Jones.

“We are from the same area in Yarm and he was the reserve coach when I was in the team. He was so influential so I really looked up to him while he was at the club.”

A professional footballer will inevitably go through low points as well as high points during their careers.

Mandeville may have experienced a fantastic breakthrough season, but the one blip in his season was a missed penalty against title rivals Plymouth Argyle. Not only did the youngster miss the penalty but also in the altercation afterwards James Coppinger was subsequently sent off for grabbing Argyle’s Luke McCormick by the throat.

“At the time right after the game it hurt me immensely, I felt like I had let the team down and was really disappointed in myself. However, I don’t really dwell on things at all, I feel like that’s one of my better qualities as a professional, being able to overcome setbacks and disappointment, being able to just keep moving forward.”

It is quite clear to see, having spoken at length with the striker, that Mandeville has all the characteristics of what a model professional should have and, thankfully, he has the skill to accompany the attitude.

With Rovers preparing for life in League One next season, Liam already has decided on his personal goals.

“Next year ideally, I really want to establish myself as a first team player next season and hopefully break past the 10-goal mark again but in the division above.”