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The Tilehurst End Interview: Ibrahima Sonko Part 2

The second part of our chat with Championship winner Ibrahima Sonko, on his controversial departure from Reading, what he is up to now as well as plans for the future.

Talk me through why you and Emerse Fae refused to play in a reserve team match which got you fined suspended by the club. Do you regret that decision?

"Yeah, I regret that. It hindered my Reading career. If it didn’t happen, even though we went down, the manager would have still kept me at the club going forward. It was frustration. I was out for so long, then I came back, then I went to the African Cup, where I was promised that I was going to play, which was the reason I went. When I got there I wasn’t playing which frustrated me even more because I would rather have been with Reading  if I wasn’t going to play. So when I came back, Reading were in a kind of situation, and I just wanted to be on the pitch trying to help. I had the opportunity once, we lost and then I wasn’t given the opportunity again. I was literally side-lined and I didn’t know why – I wasn’t even part of the 18 that travelled to Wigan.

"So when they turned around and said ‘you’re playing in the reserves’, I said why? I couldn’t get an answer. After the few years I’d had in football, I thought ‘why are things turning this way for me?’. I needed an explanation. Fair play to Brian McDermott and Gibbo [Nigel Gibbs] who gave me the advice of: ‘listen, play the reserve game and then go and speak to the manager’. But I decided that I wasn’t going to do it that way, I wanted the manager to explain to me what I had done wrong because I couldn’t understand it. They [McDermott and Gibbs] warned me ‘listen, play the game and speak to him after’, and I said ‘no, if the manager call me and explain to me why, I’ll go and play’. The manager didn’t call me, I didn’t play the game. That was really stupid from me.

On Monday morning Nicky Hammond called me saying the manager says that you’re suspended for the rest of the season, which brought even more pain to everything that was happening around me, plus I was just hoping that the team would maintain their position in the Premier League. Unfortunately we didn’t. We did well at Derby, beating them 4-0, but then Fulham scored in the last few seconds in their game. That’s how well I remember everything. It was so painful that I think I will never forget about it."

Why didn't your move to Stoke City that didn’t quite work out?

"I was so frustrated. At first I didn’t want to leave Reading, but when Stoke came in for me I went to the manager. Because I owed so much to him, I wanted him to say ‘Sonks I want you to stay’, but he said ‘you’ve been injured, you’re frustrated, you deserve to play in the Premier League and have a proper go, so my advice to you would be to go and play as you deserve it and worked so hard to get there’. As much as the manager’s words were probably the right words to say to a player, in the state of mind I was, I just wanted him to forgive me for what happened a year before and say ‘listen, if you want to stay, then stay, if you want to go, then go’. Then the choice would have been mine. But I felt like he was maybe still annoyed about what had happened and thought it was time for me to go, so I did decide to go.

"I got a good reception at Stoke, they did everything to make me feel comfortable, but it wasn’t working out. The first three games I got injured a couple of times. My knee was playing up. Then after the sixth game, I was off the pitch four times during the game that frustrated the manager [Tony Pulis] which I can understand as if you buy a player then you want him to play. I was starting games, but coming off through injury, and the manager can’t afford that as he was one sub down the whole time and you don’t want to change the back four unless you really need to. So the manager started playing Shawcross and Fae and putting me back in as and when he needed me. But it was always the same thing. I got frustrated sitting on the bench for the season, make only a few appearances. At the end of the season, Rob Huth came in, Shawcross was still playing often, Faye was still there so the manager told me that the best thing for me would be to go and play football and show him that I could deliver."

How are you enjoying life in non-league with Harlow Town?

"I terminated my contract early in Turkey because our manager moved to Galatasaray. The new manager came in and decided that he wanted a new team and got rid of about 12 of the team who had finished eighth in the league the year before. Nobody understood it. The president told the manager that he didn’t want me to go, and I stayed but I wasn’t playing. So I stayed until January, he got the sack because we weren’t doing well. The new manager came in, Roberto Carlos. At first he said he wanted me to stay as I was in his plan, but a couple of weeks later it turned out he was going to go on without me and needed to sign a striker. I had just had my daughter, newly born, so I couldn’t do it anymore. My family was in England and I was in Turkey. My daughter was growing up and I wasn’t doing anything. The money was great, but I needed to spend more time at home with my family so I decided to pack my bags and agreed with the chairman to cancel my deal.

When I first came back home, I thought ok, I can probably play in England but it seemed like everyone was unsure because of my age and the fact that I had been in Turkey. Obviously there was nothing I could do about it and I had six months without playing, just training on my own. My agent had been working for Harlow Town for 15 years, so he said instead of training on my own I should go and train with the boys to at least give me a bit of football. I started playing the friendly games, and the manager asked if I wanted to start the season with them until I found somewhere, and I accepted. There were a few offers from League One and the Scottish league but I didn’t want to go too far from my family so I turned them down. I got more and more involved with the club, and I thought to myself, you know what, I’m going to be turning 35, and it’s probably time for me to start thinking about the future anyway. I started asking them if I could coach some of the kids to get a little bit of experience and get my badges. I wasn’t getting paid for it, but I wanted to do it for the future anyway. Then I started doing a bit of agency work. I thought if something comes in, great that’s good, but if not then I’ll stay here. I’m happy, I’m playing football, and I have time to prepare for the future. I wasn’t ready to pick up a challenge and do it all over again in the Championship or League One."

What plans do you have after retirement, can you see yourself becoming a coach, perhaps at Reading?

"As I said, I’ve been coaching the kids here at Harlow and trying to get as much experience as I can. I need to start my badges. But especially what I’ve been doing is agency work and it seems like I’m doing quite well because I managed to take one of the Senegalese boys from Senegal to Turkey with me, before he then moved to Russia. Now he’s at Everton, all in the space of three years. So it seems like I’ve got an eye for players. Another player I signed from Cameroon to Turkey, and now he’s playing in Greece. It’s something I enjoy – looking at players, seeing if they can achieve something and trying to help them. Hopefully that can take me somewhere."

Many thanks to Ibrahima for taking the time to speak to us, he was a true hero of the 106 point side. You can check out part one here.