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From non-league to La Liga

Ikechi Anya
Ikechi Anya is living the dream after help from Glenn Hoddle

By Gareth Jones

Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka may have dominated the headlines this summer, but one of the most surprising transfers to La Liga may just have passed you by.

While Ronaldo and Kaka swapped Manchester United and AC Milan for life at the Bernabeu, the rather less heralded Ikechi Anya is settling into life at Sevilla after recent spells at non-league Oxford City and Halesowen Town.

The 21-year-old former Wycombe striker signed a two-year deal with the La Liga side in July after a successful period at the Glenn Hoddle Academy in Spain, a haven for young footballers who have lost their way in the game.

Five months on, and Anya is still struggling to come to terms with the turnaround in his career.

"I'm enjoying life here very much," Anya told BBC Sport.

"It's a dream come true to come to Spain and I feel that I am doing quite well on the pitch so far.

Playing here is a dream but I'm just trying my best as I have done at every team I've been at

Ikechi Anya

"I've started more than a dozen games for the B team and have only missed one through injury. I've even picked up a few man-of-the-match awards."

Former England boss Hoddle's academy played a defining role in reshaping Anya's career, which was floundering after a promising start.

Having become Wycombe Wanderers' youngest player in 2004, Anya struggled after manager Tony Adams left the club and by 2008, he found himself at non-league Halesowen Town and looking for part-time work.

Fortunately, the opportunity that did turn up was an offer to join Hoddle's academy in Andalucia.

Fast forward 19 months and the player has made vast improvements after a change in position from the wing to a more central role.

The academy staff select younger players who have been released by English clubs, aiming to improve their abilities through an intensive training and analysis programme.

Anya is full of praise when asked about the 12 months he spent working with Hoddle and his team, which includes former stars of the English game like Nigel Spackman, Dave Beasant and Graham Rix.

"The academy had a massive role in my development as a player," he said.

"They train twice a day: some of it is based on training as a team and then I also got a lot of individual attention.

"They managed to make my whole game better and certain aspects improved a lot.

Born: 3 January, 1988, Glasgow
Clubs: Wycombe Wanderers (2004-07), Oxford City (2007-08), Halesowen Town (2008), Northampton Town (2009), Sevilla (2009-present)

"One of my downfalls when I was younger was my mental toughness. Now I'd say the mental side of my game was on par with my ability on the football pitch."

This new-found confidence, together with good performances for the academy team and a short spell at Northampton, helped Anya earn the move to Sevilla.

He has established himself as a regular for the club's reserve side who play in the Spanish lower leagues, but is keen to take things gradually as he tries to rebuild his career.

"I see players like Diego Capel and Jesus Navas train almost every day," said Anya. "And a young player we have, Diego Perotti, has only been out the B team for one or two years and just got called up for Argentina.

"It's a massive boost to see that if you are doing well for the B team then they will put you into the first team but for now I'm just focusing on the level at which I am playing."

Ikechi Anya
Anya has impressed his new coaches with his pace and trickery

If things keep going well in Spain, Anya might have a tricky decision to make. He qualifies for England, Scotland, Nigeria and Romania and, until recently, he had not given the matter much thought.

"I never thought I'd be in a position to contemplate playing for any of the four nations," he said. "But, if any team showed interest in me, I'd be honoured."

He is having to come to terms with a new culture in Spain, but is beginning to conquer the language barrier that puts off many players from moving abroad.

"I've been here four months and for the first two I didn't really have lessons because the club's Spanish teacher was on holiday," he said.

"I've only just started learning but when I don't have lessons I study two hours a day and it's coming along quite well.

"There are three or four people here that I get on well with because they can speak quite good English and they've really helped.

"They translate what the manager wants to say but luckily the improvement in my Spanish has meant that I've been able to communicate by myself the last couple of weeks."

The diminutive striker is concentrating on making the most of the two-year contract (which has an option for two more seasons) at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

"I've always been a level-headed person," he added. "And, although some people are shocked when I say I do not want to play for the first team yet, I'm just taking it as it is.

"I'm focusing as much as possible on working hard on and off the pitch and seeing how far I can go really.

"If I keep on playing the way I am at the moment, as I think I'm playing quite well, and people think I am good enough for the first team then I'll be more than happy."

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see also
Anya seals dream Sevilla transfer
07 Jul 09 |  Europe
Football rejects get second chance
12 Jan 09 |  Newsbeat
Feature - Hoddle academy offers second chance
10 Jan 09 |  Football Focus
Northampton snap up winger Anya
02 Mar 09 |  Northampton
An Englishman abroad
05 Nov 08 |  Football

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