Winger opens up about rebuilding his confidence after toughest year of his career.
The 2017/18 season is not one many of the Southampton squad look back on fondly, least of all Nathan Redmond.
All’s well that ends well, and the scenes of jubilation borne out of relief after Manolo Gabbiadini’s winner in south Wales will live long in the memory, but a fresh start could not come soon enough once the steep ascent to survival was finally conquered.
“Last year was probably the biggest learning curve of my life,” declares Redmond, whose loss of form and confidence fractured his relationship with some of the club’s supporters.
By his own admission, he lost his freedom of expression on the pitch. That might sound trivial, but for such a happy-go-lucky character as the Birmingham-born winger, he needs it.
Redmond is one of the jokers in the Southampton pack. He wears an infectious grin at Staplewood and brings teammates together with his energy and laughter.
He’s got a great life, and he enjoys it.
But up until the summer, the smile was ebbing away and his mind was clouded by negative thoughts. The criticism would stick.
Fast-forward to 2018/19 and the swagger is returning. Still with room for improvement – he is yet to score this season – but, more important than any statistic, he feels liberated.
“I feel like I’m in a more positive way of thinking, in terms of getting at players,” Redmond explains, as he goes into detail about the psychological change.
“I don’t feel I’m afraid to mess up or not get past somebody. I feel like I’ve overcome that point that I was in – especially last season where I was almost afraid to take somebody on, in the fear that I might lose the ball.
“My confidence was low, on and off the pitch, but I’m at a place now that I’m literally thinking as soon as I get the ball: what are my strengths? And then just doing it.
“I feel like I’m happy with my form, but at the same time I’m not happy with it. I’ve created a lot of chances for the team, but I had an expectation that I would have a couple of goals under my belt and a few more assists, because I’ve only got two in the cup.
“It’s about managing my own expectations and not letting them frustrate me to a point where I’m back in a place where I was last year.
“Now I’m solely focusing on doing what I’m good at, so I can put that into the team.
“I feel like I’m playing well, producing some of my best stuff in terms of going forward and working for the team, but it would be nice to have that acknowledged with the assists and the stats at the same time.”
The year 2018 started badly for Redmond, who did not make his first Premier League start until February 24th, having lost his place in the team after the Boxing Day defeat at Tottenham.
When he was involved, he was not always warmly received by sections of the home crowd, who could see he wasn’t meeting the standards he previously set, having scored eight goals – including the winner in the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Liverpool – in his debut season the year before.
A recent interview with Saints’ YouTube channel, as part of the ‘My Journey’ series, offered a platform for the 24-year-old to share some of his off-field struggles.
“There was a time when I was out of the team for a month and I was training with the Under-23s,” he recalled.
“Certain sections of the fans were booing me when I was coming on and whenever I touched the ball, so a lot of stuff came into it – off the pitch as well.
“It just became a point that was the lowest I’ve ever experienced in my career, but I said in the ‘My Journey’ interview, the only way for me was being around my friends and my family when I was out of the side. That’s what enabled me to pick myself back up.
“Some fans and critics are going to like me, some aren’t going to like me. That’s just the way life goes at the end of the day – not only in football.
“It’s not a point of not caring, but whatever they say, they’re going to say it.
“I just need to do what I know I’m good at, just for my own self-worth and self-belief, and for the boys as well, because they’re my family just as much as my real family.
“We’re around each other for six, seven, eight hours a day, every single day. It’s those guys you don’t want to let down, just as much as yourself.”
Back in 2017, having reached a cup final, Redmond scored twice in the following Premier League game at Watford, earning himself a first senior call-up to the England squad.
It was a natural progression. Redmond had played for England all his life, at every level from Under-16s upwards, and his 38 caps for the Under-21 team is the third-highest ever.
But in a cruel ending to his international youth career, his dream of silverware with the Young Lions came crashing down with his last kick in an Under-21 shirt – a missed penalty in the Euro 2017 semi-final shoot-out against Germany.
“Being in the England senior setup for one time really did give me the boost to want to go and get more,” he says. Ironically Germany were the opponents for his debut on a night when Saints teammate James Ward-Prowse also made his senior bow.
“After I had my call-up, I went back to the Under-21s for the finals, which obviously didn’t pan out the way I wanted it to.
“I’d played all the games, I was playing really well and scored in one of them as well.
“But we came to play against Poland and I came off at half time because I’d done a grade three in my hamstring.
“It was a point that I really wanted to be fit to play, but a grade three is pretty serious in a hamstring – after a grade four it’s a full tear, so I knew I probably wasn’t going to be fit up until the final.”
The semi-final was only five days away.
“It got to a stage where I was pushing myself for the semi-final against Germany,” he continued.
“I remember being there and part of me wanted to come back to Southampton, but part of me wanted to stay and try to get fit for the games.
“I remember coming on against Germany and in my first sprint I felt it straight away, but I thought ‘if this is my last tournament, I’m going to go out fighting’.
“In the end, I ended up missing the penalty, and after that I thought ‘I’ve got to go away, rest, recuperate and get ready for a big season’.”
Whilst Gareth Southgate, the man who gave Redmond his senior cap, was for so long tarnished by the same fate in a European semi-final against the Germans, public scrutiny on the Under-21s is minor by comparison, and by the time Redmond returned to club matters the following season, it was largely forgotten.
Just not by Redmond himself.
“When I came back, I tried not to let it get the better of me as much as it did,” he confessed.
“My family and friends are the only ones who know how I felt about it and how devastating it was for me at the time, but if I could write a message to my younger self, I’d be telling him it’s not the be all and the end all.
“That was probably one of the factors that pushed me into a starting place in the season where my confidence wasn’t as high as it should’ve been.
“With the team not picking up results as well, there was a lot that affected how the rest of my season would pan out.
“Last year was probably the biggest learning curve of my life.”
i tried not to let it get the better of me as much as it did. my family and friends are the only ones who know how i felt about it and how devastating it was for me at the time.nathan redmond
The always upbeat Redmond suddenly found himself descending into a spiral of negativity.
If being a young footballer in this day and age comes with more than its fair share of perks, one of the drawbacks must be the constant flow of notifications from Instagram and Twitter. It’s hard to withdraw yourself from the bubble.
When the messages become personal and abusive, it’s understandable that players should feel trapped, even overwhelmed.
“I think I let a lot of the stuff that I was seeing and hearing on social media affect me to a point where it was not positive for me at all,” Redmond admitted.
“Just appreciating the little things like coming into the training ground and being able to train is one thing that makes me happy.
“I’m training with my friends who I’m here with, and surrounded by great people and staff members as well.
“Taking a step back over the summer, I actually realised I’m in a far better position than most, which really enabled me to think about the things that were worth thinking about, and the things that weren’t.
“It’s about your perception of the whole situation. It’s the old saying ‘misery loves company’ – it’s easier to be negative and feed those kinds of thoughts than it is to be positive and thankful for what you’re actually blessed with.
“I think I lost track of that at that point in my life, but I feel like I’m in a much better place now.
“This is it, I’m here, I’m a professional footballer and I’m doing something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a kid.
“I know my family and friends are proud of me and I’m proud of myself for how far I’ve come, so why not try to showcase my abilities and what I can do, and hopefully bring wins to this football club.”
The social media phenomenon may not resonate with an older audience, but for many in their teens and 20s, it can become an addiction.
It was essential for Redmond to give himself space to breathe.
“I do it now,” he answers, when asked if he’d be better off putting the phone away.
“I stop focusing my mind on things I know I probably shouldn’t be doing – things like Instagram, Twitter and all these social media platforms.
“They’re unbelievable tools for people to be contacted, whether they’re celebrities, footballers, musicians, artists… they’re unbelievable if they’re handled in the right way. I think I learned that over the summer and over last season as well.
“Looking at things and thinking ‘I shouldn’t be looking at that’, in terms of football comments and stuff that’s been put on my page.
“Now I only go on Instagram on the morning of a game to post something, or I’ll go on it to post a picture and delete the app straight off my phone.
“It’s the same for Twitter as well, because at the end of the day there are more important things I can be doing, like working on my body outside of the training ground, spending time with my family and friends – moments I’ll never get back if I’m just sitting at home scrolling through Instagram, feeding myself unnecessary stuff.
“As I said, they’re an unbelievable tool to use, social platforms, but they have to be used in the right way to get the most benefit.”
The loss of form, the England scars and the social media spiral left Redmond at a crossroads come last season’s end.
His career couldn’t afford another year like that, so he devised a plan.
“Towards the end of the season when we knew we were safe – after Swansea – I remember having a sit down with my agent, my mum and a few family and friends,” he revealed.
“I was always going to go out to LA with my friends for two weeks, and then my friends would leave and I’d have two weeks of just getting my body right.
“It was in an environment where the weather was great and I had no worries – I wasn’t going back to a Championship season, it was the Premier League, so I knew I had another crack and a clean start.
“It was almost like I forgave myself for some of the things I’d thought about how I’d been performing and how I’d let family members down, myself down and the club down.
“I forgave myself for all of those things, came back and thought ‘I have to invest in my body and in my mind’, and I did all of that during the summer.
“Every little detail going into my mini pre-season before pre-season was key, and I was focused on it.
“As soon as I was there and I was training, I couldn’t wait to be back. I wanted to get the games going, get playing and see how efficient my body was now after conditioning it over the summer. I wanted to see how efficient my mind was after I’d sharpened it, in a way.
“I used techniques, started thinking about things differently and stopped harbouring stuff as much as I was.
“I was really impressed with not only my ability to bounce back, but also the start to the season I’ve had.
“I’ve said I’m happy with it, but I know I need my stats to be up. That’s probably the only thing I feel I need to be doing better.
“Stuff like spending less time on Instagram and more time with my family and friends, separating the football aspect from my normal life aspect, having that balance and enjoying coming into work every day... It’s put me in an unbelievable position to help this team fulfil what we need to fulfil.”
Redmond’s quest for his first Premier League goal and assist this season is ongoing, but not for the lack of trying.
It was he who supplied Charlie Austin with ‘the goal that never was’ last time Saints were here at St Mary’s against Watford.
At Fulham last weekend, his cross reached Stuart Armstrong to open the scoring via the head of Fulham defender Maxime Le Marchand. No assist was credited.
Then at Leicester in the cup, he rifled a shot against the underside of the crossbar, before Michael Obafemi shot wide on the rebound. No goal or assist again, despite Redmond proving his restored self-belief in scoring Saints’ third penalty in the shoot-out.
“I’ve seen some stats – I’ve dribbled past a lot of people this season and my chances created is quite high, so I know I’m continuing to do my job,” he surmised.
“If I had all these stats and one of the boys was on the end of the crosses, or the opportunities had gone in, we’d be in sixth or seventh position and we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
“But the reality is that I’m not sitting here saying that. I’m sitting here saying ‘I’m doing this and it should be better’, so it’s about creating more clear-cut opportunities.”
It’s reassuring that Redmond isn’t torturing himself over the numbers game, and testament to the work he has put into repairing what was a fragile mental state not so long ago.
His performances have earned praise from the supporters, too, who acknowledge the sheer will to get back to his best – even if, as a result of his trained mind, Redmond has become blissfully unaware of external opinion.
“I’ve not noticed, to be honest," he says. “I’ve taught myself to understand why they’re saying certain things – why, at a time when I wasn’t playing great football, they were saying and doing certain things as well.
“I’m not looking for acceptance from everybody else, because I need to accept myself first, and I’ve done that.
“I’ve accepted the fact that I know what I’m capable of and I know what I need to do to be at the next level to help this team, and to become happier on and off the pitch.
“Anyone else’s point of view can’t affect me, because I’m the one who has to wake up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror.
“I appreciate the support and I appreciate the criticism done in the right way, but I’m playing for this football club and this group of boys in the dressing room, because they’re my family away from my family.
“I see them every single day. We eat together, we travel to away games together, we have dinners outside of football together… we’re like brothers.
“At the end of the day, those are the guys I’m working for to try and help push this club back where it needs to be.”