Experienced Kozluk to pass down his wisdom

Rob Kozluk
Rob Kozluk

At a club known for its ability to attract and tutor quality young players, seeing a 35-year-old boasting over 350 league appearances walk through the door might seem a little surprising.

Talismanic striker Gary Ricketts aside, Ilkeston FC’s squad is largely full of teenagers and early 20-somethings eager to use the Robins as a stepping stone to greater things.

So when former Sheffield United, Derby County and Barnsley defender Rob Kozluk arrived a fortnight ago, a few eyebrows could well have been raised.

But Kozluk arrived with a brief. He’s there to not only add vast experience to the Robins back line on the playing side of things, but also to use that experience to coach the club’s academy products, something he anticipates being a hugely satisfying thing to do.

“I know what it’s like for them as I went through a scholarship at Derby and am aware of what it takes to break into the professional game,” he said.

“I’ve got a lot of experience behind me which I think helps gain respect from the youngsters and gives them the confidence to trust what I say to them.”

But how did a man who, like Robins manager Kevin Wilson and his assistant Darren Caskey, played in the top flight and at international level too, end up in Ilkeston?

“I was at Bradford last season and hoped to get another year there, but whilst they felt I was still good enough I think clubs look at age at the end of the day and opt for younger players,” he said.

“So I trained with Chesterfield and Burton and when I wasn’t there I was doing my own fitness work every day anyway.

“Port Vale manager Micky Adams then offered me a job as youth team coach which I was ready to accept, but the FA said I didn’t have the right qualifications, nor could I attain them whilst in the role.

“That’s frustrating because I feel with 15 years professional experience behind me, that qualifies me far better than a text book would, but in the end I had to look elsewhere.

“I used to live not far from Kevin and still know the family, so having heard a lot about Ilkeston I asked him if there were any opportunities here. He got me to come in and have a look and that’s where it started.”

Kozluk was swiftly impressed by what Wilson had to show him. With a flourishing academy and an ever-growing set-up in place, the former England under-21 defender was only too happy to help out by both coaching the youngsters and playing for the first team.

He added: “To be honest, the set-up here would put a lot of professional clubs to shame.

“I’d heard good things beforehand and it’s apparent the club knows what’s needed to keep the youngsters happy both on and off the pitch.

“I’ve been impressed by the lads I’ve seen so far and although we’ve said that we’ll see how things go in terms of how long I’ll be here for, there’s no reason why it can’t be long-term if all is good and I’m enjoying it.”

On the playing side of things, Kozluk is confident he still has a lot to offer, not least the experience and knowledge gained from having played in all four divisions of the Football League.

And while he’s aware non-league football can be very different to the professional game, Kozluk believes he will have little trouble adapting.

“In the Premier League you get lots of time on the ball but it’s your decision making that can hurt you. Make a mistake at the back and more often than not it results in a goal,” he said.

“As you get lower the physical side of things takes over and mistakes are less likely to be punished as severely, but I’ve always adapted well.

“The one match I’ve been involved with so far showed me the competitiveness can be ferocious but also that Ilkeston like to get the ball down and play which is good.

“I’m as fit as I’ve ever been despite not having played many games. It’s almost like having been out injured for five months in terms of the rejuvinated feeling you get when you return.

“So I’m raring to go and looking forward to all aspects of being here.”

by Mark Duffy