JOSH Dawodu is viewing his extended loan at Stalybridge Celtic as hugely important in his football career.
With his contract at Sheffield Wednesday expiring this summer, the 21-year-old right back was convinced he needed to leave Hillsborough to experience adult football for the first time.
“It is a big year and I had to make sure I went out on loan as I felt I had outgrown Under-23 football,” explained the former Arsenal academy player.
“The club wanted me and several others to go out to play first-team football. As far as I am concerned, any non-league football is above the standard of U23s.”
Dawodu arrived on an initial one-month loan which has since been extended to January 10 which will be a three-month stay.
And the opportunity to play adult football is one he is relishing.
He said: “I am enjoying it with Celtic which is a lot different to U23s football.
“In league and cup, the onus is on winning and picking up points and therefore it is a more aggressive.
“The U23s improves you as a player, but it is false as men’s football is all about winning.
“The U23s are fitter because they are young players training full time, but in that football you can go through the motions because it is more about development and winning is not the priority.”
Dawodu admitted he was struck by a whirlwind when he made his Celtic debut as a substitute in the home defeat by Bamber Bridge in mid-October.
“I came on for the last 20/25 minutes and was surprised how fast the game was. It was end to end and something I had not previously experienced,” he said.
“In the U23s we are taught to play out from the back, but I quickly learned you cannot do that at this level.”
Dawodu, whose football idol is former Barcelona and Brazil right-back Dani Alves, quickly became a favourite at Bower Fold providing several assists for goals.“I would like to think crossing is a strong point of my game while I also like to think I am a good one-on-one defender and comfortable on the ball,” he continued.
Dawodu has been hugely impressed by the standard of football in Northern Premier League, premier division.
He said: “I have come across players who have appeared at lots of levels, Championship, League One, League Two and you can see their quality. There are also a lot of players on loan from professional clubs.
“In terms of quality, it has been good. The only difference is fitness as at this level you only train two nights each week.”
Dawodu, who has been with Wednesday almost five years, still trains with them when he is not playing or training with Celtic which is basically every other day.
It has been quite a journey to Bower Fold for Dawodu who was born in London and raised in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.
He spent 10 years at Arsenal between the ages of six and 16 where his peers included England international Bukayo Saka and Xavier Amaechi who in now at Bolton Wanderers on loan from German club Hamburg.
Dawodu said: “Bukayo was a year below me but played up a year, so I knew him well.
“I knew he was special, and he would definitely play first-team football, but not as soon as he did.
“It was the same playing for England. I didn’t expect that to happen so quickly and for him to appear in the Euros.”
Dawodu had great memories of his time with the Gunners, explaining: “Basically I grew up there. I would to the club to train after school for the best part of 10 years.
“It was fun. I made lots of friends and still talk to many of them.”
He added it was disappointing not to be offered a scholarship by Arsenal aged 16.
“The one positive was that other clubs wanted me, and that lifted my confidence which had been hit when I was released,” he said.
It was the start of a new adventure when Dawodu signed for Wednesday where he was initially on a scholarship for two years before being given a professional contract.
“I was nervous moving away from home aged 16. I spent three years in digs, but luckily they were good ones,” he said.
Reflecting on his five years with Wednesday, Dawodu explained it has been enjoyable, but also frustration that he has been unable to force his way into the senior side
He said: “The challenge has been to break into the first-team which I have been unable to do which has been disappointing.
“Until this season, they had been in the Championship and had some very good players. And even in League One they still have quality.”
Dawodu trained with the Owls’ first team between pre-season and September when he returned to the U23s to get game time.
He said: “It was good experience to be around the first-team and I got to play in friendlies against Alfreton, Chester FC and Glasgow Celtic which was a step up from the U23s.
“Even in training with the first team, the pace is miles ahead of the U23s and a lot more serious. You have to make sure you are at the top of your game every day.
“I learned from training with them and hopefully that experience will serve me well going forward.”
As somebody who spent almost half of his life at Arsenal, surprisingly Dawodu does not support the Gunners.
He is a Manchester United fan as are most of his family and outside football he loves basketball and follows the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers his favourite team.