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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 May 2006, 22:05 GMT 23:05 UK
From boot room to boardroom
By Julian Shea

Ansell Henry
Henry made it down to the last four in "The Apprentice"
Over the past few months, Ansell Henry's face has become a familiar sight to viewers of BBC 2's "The Apprentice," as 12 business high-flyers compete to try and land a job working for Sir Alan Sugar.

However, not many viewers realise that, but for a knee injury, Henry could have been trying to impress England football coach Sven-Goran Eriksson and earn a place in his World Cup squad this summer, rather than Sir Alan.

Henry, 34, reached the last four of the reality show before hearing the dreaded words "Ansell, you're fired."

But he has already shown he is capable of overcoming adversity, after seeing his dreams of a career as a professional footballer ended at the age of 20.

"I signed schoolboy forms for Millwall at the age of 14, and I thought that was it, I would be a professional," he told BBC Sport.

"I was there in the Teddy Sheringham and Tony Cascarino era, when they were doing well in the old Division Two.

"It was one of the club's greatest ever teams and a great time to be there. I was still there when they got promoted to the old Division One."

It was a crushing blow - it's what I had worked for since I was 10, and for the next year or so, I didn't know what to do with myself

Henry was a central midfielder, a self-described "bit of a workhorse", who likens his style of play to Chelsea's Claude Makelele.

"I grew up in Wandsworth and had a few clubs interested in me, but the reason I chose Millwall was that they looked after their youngsters a bit better and gave them a chance.

"When I was 15, I was playing for South London District and suffered a medial knee ligament injury, which was a big injury then - I've still got a six-inch scar. That's where the problems started.

"I had a couple of operations and by the time I was 20, they said: 'we don't think you're going to go forward, so it's time to call it a day.'

"It was a crushing blow - it's what I had worked for since I was 10, and for the next year or so, I didn't know what to do with myself."

Ansell's dedication to football meant he left school aged 16 with just two C Grade GCSEs.

But as one door closed, another one opened, into the world of sales, where his teamworking skills proved invaluable.

"What I remember from my football days is the importance of team work, camaraderie, and discipline," he says.

"The other thing I remembered was that you can be young and successful and earn money beyond your dreams.

The last four contestants in The Apprentice
And then there were four - Ansell, Ruth, Michelle and Paul

"I retained that when I went into sales and realised it was up to me how well I do, and this meant I was able to perform well."

At 34, Ansell had risen to be head of sales for a security firm, a job he had to leave to enter The Apprentice.

And in the show's often ruthless environment, his softly-spoken approach marked him out.

"Throughout the show I've not cried or shouted or thrown my toys out of the pram," he said.

"I've pulled teams together but when there's a chance to shine, I've taken it.

"You can be the greatest individual player in the world, but you have to get back and cover the defence some times. There are some amazing comparisons between the two worlds."

I'd like to do some mentoring for young people who don't know what they want to do or have had a setback

Ansell's approach was based on the ability to get on with people and bring them round to his way of thinking.

"There are other ways of doing business and motivating people apart from whacking them over the head with a mallet - that's what I did the whole way through," he said.

"When I had to put my word across, I made sure I did it but in a way that everyone knew where we were, without being harsh."

Ultimately, this approach was not enough for Ansell to make it down to the final two candidates on the show.

But his business apprenticeship has clearly had as much impact on Ansell as his footballing one.

"The show has confirmed a couple of things I'm good at and obviously things I need to improve," he said.

"I want to use the experience to help others. I'd like to do some mentoring for young people who don't know what they want to do or have had a setback, like I did with football, helping them set up a career afterwards.

"I wish I'd had that, someone who could say 'no worries, look at what you can still achieve'. That's what I hope to do."

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