BY SAM SMITH
Jack Rudoni’s intelligent analysis of his own game is a clear indicator that he immerses himself in football. When he is not playing for AFC Wimbledon the 19-year-old is kicking a ball around at home, consuming clips and analysis on YouTube, or seeking tips from his senior colleagues.
Without his inquisitive nature, there may not have been a first League One career goal at Wigan Athletic at the start of the month.
Rudoni cleverly flicked in Nesta Guinness-Walker’s cross after making a run that had been routinely practiced with the likes of team-mate Joe Pigott, former manager Glyn Hodges, and Mark Robinson – the latter appointed the club’s new head coach on Wednesday.
“It was something I was struggling with, the ball was never landing to me [in a scoring position],” Rudoni told the South London Press. “I spoke with Piggs, because I’m close with him. He teaches me and helps me out a lot. He was saying that it comes with learning the game, playing the game and analysing your own game. I’ve been trying to analyse the top players, ones like James Maddison, and how they get into the box at the right time.
“I remember coming in from the right side for my goal. Usually I would hold out at the back post. I saw Nesta coming in and I drifted into the box and nearer to the front post and goal area. Luckily, it worked and he found me in the box.
“I’m a Chelsea fan, so I always looked up to Frank Lampard. As I got older and learnt a bit more about football, I used to watch stuff on YouTube. The person who I looked at the most was [Zinedine] Zidane.
“A lot of my game is about technical, on the ball stuff. Zidane is in the top two or three most technical players ever, with Messi and Ronaldinho. Looking at him as a midfielder was helpful.
“I want to finish the season with at least seven goals. That’s a big aim but if I work hard, I can get at least five and push for seven or eight. Hopefully, I can pick up some more assists along the way.”
Rudoni has experienced the highs and lows of pursuing a career in professional football – despite already clocking up 37 senior appearances for the Dons. A bad experience while on Crystal Palace’s books shattered his confidence. He regained his love for football when Jeremy Sauer [now West Ham’s assistant academy manager] took him to Wimbledon.
Following a loan at Tonbridge Angels to experience men’s football, a cameo against Doncaster Rovers in December 2019 presented a first taste of League One. Rudoni has featured regularly ever since.
“I didn’t like it at Palace – I had a coach who was really bad,” the teenager reflects. “He didn’t treat me and some of the other players well at all. It destroyed my confidence. That wasn’t a great experience for me.
“I’m sure Palace as a club has moved on a lot from there. I just think I had a bad coach. He was my coach the whole time I was at Palace and it just wasn’t good for me. To go to Wimbledon and build my confidence as a fresh start was the best thing I could have done.
“Because I was only nine or 10, I didn’t think how I do now. I didn’t understand a lot of it. I just knew that the coach wasn’t doing the right thing – but I didn’t understand my game.
“I remember when I got released – I was crying and it was the worst thing in the world. But it was actually the best thing that could have happened to me – and Wimbledon have done a lot to help build my confidence back up. They’ve helped me to express myself more and helped to bring the player out of me.”
Expressing himself is what Rudoni enjoys.
A tweet from 2017 – a 25-second clip called The Neymar Challenge – has had almost 26,000 views. During lockdown, he uploaded a video of himself completing 10 kick-ups with a toilet roll before volleying it into a box positioned a few metres away.
“All my life is football. I just love it. I watch all the games, clips, and analysis on YouTube,” says Rudoni, who was born in Carshalton.
“All of that helps you to understand the game. Even when you watch people like Jamie Carragher talking about players, you take that into training and you can work on it.
“I just naturally pick stuff up from watching so much football and analysing people, so you can know what to do in certain positions.
“I’ve played lots of positions this season, apart from centre-back. I even played wing-back.
“I’ve always said: ‘If you can deal with the ball well, sharp and neat, then you can play any position. You just have to learn the position’. People have always said that I know what it takes in all positions. I know the jobs I need to do.
“It didn’t used to be natural for me, but growing up in the academy they used to play you in different positions. It helps a lot.
“I was a left midfielder at Crystal Palace – and I never played anywhere else. I moved to Wimbledon and they were playing me in all different positions. At first, I was unsure, but then I realised that it was very good for me.
“I know I can now help the team in any way possible. I want to play at the end of the day – if I’m good in this position or in that position, I want to be on the pitch playing.”
Rudoni has a chance of marking a half-century of Wimbledon appearances before the end of the season. Despite feeling a valid member of the first-team squad, he plays down the suggestion that he has cracked the senior set up.
“I wouldn’t say I’m established. I feel part of the Wimbledon team, but as a footballer I don’t think anyone is established until you get past 100-150 games.
“I feel a big part of the Wimbledon team and I want to do a lot for them and feel like I’ve done quite well for them. There’s a lot more to come but I still feel like this is very, very early on.”
PICTURES: PAUL EDWARDS + SEAN GOSLING
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