Ross Jenkins: Playing abroad requires you to use your brain to find solutions on the pitch

It’s been nearly three years since Ross Jenkins last played a match in England. After more than 100 appearances in his homeland, mostly for Watford, the midfielder has played in four different countries, all with their own story to tell.

Jenkins broke into the Watford team with a bang and his first season with his local team remains arguably one of his most successful to date. Making his debut in August 2008, he went on to play 32 times in his breakthrough campaign with the Hornets.

The following couple of seasons he remained a useful part of Watford’s squad, staying with the club until 2014, a period which included a couple of loan spells in League Two with Plymouth and Barnet. Even from these brief spells away from Vicarage Road, the midfielder could notice a clear difference in the style of football in operation further down the pyramid.

“The main thing that stood out was the differences in tactics and philosophies,” he says. “Coming from a Championship club with high level of players and coaches it was definitely noticeable. There is less build up play and possession based football and more about getting the ball up the pitch quicker and picking up second balls.

“Every manager has their tactics and styles but as player I wanted to build from the back and be in possession of the ball rather than chasing.”

After leaving Watford, Jenkins joined another League Two club, Crawley Town, this time on a permanent deal. However, after half a season, he knew it was time for a change and decided to return to a route he had previously thought about.

“I wasn’t enjoying my time in England and wanted to put myself in a new environment and play a different type of football and test my ability and footballing brain.

“I had a number of options abroad after leaving Watford but I wanted to play a few games and see where it went. After a few months my decision was made and I cancelled my contract [with Crawley] and went for the abroad route.”

The team which Jenkins had decided to make his first abroad were Poli Timișoara, a team which two years previously had another Englishman, former Middlesbrough youngster Wilson Kneeshaw. The Romanian club were back in the top flight after having lifted the second division title the year before and wanted the former Watford man to help them solidify their spot in the top division.

On the ball for Watford

Joining part way through the campaign, Jenkins featured nine times, as he slotted into playing abroad well, even if off the pitch it was not so easy.

“Romania is different, that’s for sure,” he says. “But I wanted to challenge myself and it was definitely a challenge I enjoyed. The language barrier was tough at times but I understand football and I knew how the manager wanted to play so it was easier on the pitch than off it!”

The midfielder managed to find the scoresheet once during his time in Romania and his side also managed to avoid relegation through a technicality after one of the supposed promoted clubs folded. That would not affect the Englishman though as he was soon on the move to another country.

Next up was Bulgaria. Again joining halfway through the season, the former England U20 international signed for top flight side Pirin Blagoevgrad and went straight into the starting lineup. His arrival gave the club an instant lift as he played the final eleven matches of the season, a spell in which the club lost just three times and qualified for the European play-offs to see which side would earn a spot in the Europa League for the following campaign.

After playing in two different countries, Jenkins was really started to enjoy his new career path.

“I enjoyed the style of football abroad and the tactics that go with it. It’s a lot more technical and tactical and requires you to use your brain to find solutions on the pitch rather than kicking it long and hoping it lands to someone in front of goal.

“I’ve had a lot of praise since playing abroad and playing in top divisions you play against Champions League and Europa League teams and that’s a great way to judge yourself against some of the best teams out there.”

Jenkins in action in Bulgaria

The midfielder wasn’t finished for 2017 though and quickly signed for another side after leaving Bulgaria. This time he was joining Norwegian side Viking who were managed by English boss Ian Burchnall and also had former Everton youngster George Green on their books. The experience would cap off an enjoyable two year spell abroad.

“I would have to say Norway was my favourite country to play in. Lovely people, in a great little city, very clean and I enjoyed playing for the club so it had it all for me. Apart from the weather at times.

“The country has a bit of everything, we played some great football in possession and had players who can attack at pace so the league had a good mix of styles and tactics.”

He made 12 appearances during his time in the Norwegian top flight before returning to the UK to finish off last season in Scotland with Hamilton Accademical.

The 28-year-old is now a free agent and on the lookout for his next adventure. He certainly seems to have enjoyed the time he has spent abroad so don’t be surprised if he heads overseas once again. He just has one bit of advice to pass on to his fellow footballers who could be tempted to make the move.

“I had a few issues [with my contract] but nothing that didn’t get resolved over time. The main thing is to make sure the contract is correct and all above board.”

Jenkins has played in five different countries so far so you can take his word for it.

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