By Joshua Richards
NOT many 21-year-olds can count the most capped English full-back in history as their friend and mentor. But not many have the background of Aziz Deen-Conteh, who has travelled from Sierra Leone to Port Vale, via London and Crete.
The left-back signed a two-and-a-half year contract with the Valiants last week, returning to English shores after a year with Greek Superleague side Ergotelis.
Growing up in Deptford, after moving from the West African nation as a young boy, Deen-Conteh joined Chelsea aged 13 and graduated to be named in Roberto Di Matteo’s Champions League-winning squad in 2012.
During this time, he struck up a friendship with fellow left-back Ashley Cole. Former England U19 international Deen-Conteh explains: “Whenever we trained with the first team John Terry would always talk to the young players. I looked up to Ashley Cole, who ended up becoming a good friend.
“We used to hang around together. It was a bit surreal at first, because he was a hero of mine, but you get used to it. He used to talk to me a bit about my game. Modern fullbacks are all about your ability to go forward, but he would drum it in that defending comes first. It sounds obvious, but it’s become such a specialist position where you are scrutinised just as much for what you can do at the top end of the pitch. Ultimately, though, you are a defender.”
Despite being capped for England at youth level, Deen-Conteh expressed his desire to represent Sierra Leone at full international level. However, that dream became a nightmare last year.
“I went over when the squad played Tunisia, but I only had a valid British passport at the time,” he explained.
“Before every African game you need to show your papers and passport, which they didn’t tell me, so I couldn’t be involved.
“They made me go all the way out there and I couldn’t play. They didn’t speak to the FA to get my clearance. It was so disorganised.
“I was very young when we left Sierra Leone, but I’m proud of my roots and decided I wanted to represent them at international level. I don’t think that will happen now.”
Deen-Conteh had been without a club after leaving Greece in the summer. But the former Millwall triallist didn’t panic and was content to play the waiting game in order to find the club that matched his ambitions.
“Port Vale have a great manager and great players,” he said. “I feel at home here. I wanted to come back to England to play my football. I missed that feeling at 3pm on a Saturday – that hunger to get the points.
“In Greece the attitude is totally different. They don’t have the same aggression.
“My family came over once in a while to see me. Most of them live in London, but my grandma is still in Sierra Leone and some are in America. We get around!”