There has been plenty of headlines and excitement lately over the recent return of a hugely popular player to his old stamping ground. This exciting winger has the capacity to keep fans on the edge of their seats. Yes, Sam Barratt is back in the black and white of Maidenhead United and making quite the impact in pre-season for Alan Devonshire’s men.
Speaking exclusively to Football in Berkshire, Sam reflected on the lengthy hiatus since he featured in the squad for what proved to be Southend United’s final game of the 2019/20 back on March 7th: “It’s been a strange transfer window, well it’s been a strange world since March really! I was still in talks to stay at Southend initially but we couldn’t come to an agreement.
“There was interest from elsewhere but with my circumstances coming off the back of a long injury and only managing to fit 9 appearances in at Southend before COVID concluded the season I knew it would be tough. I know from an outside perspective it could look like a step backwards to some, but I feel very differently about it. I’ve had to think about my current personal circumstances so after a conversation with Devs, I weighed my options up and it really stood out to be the best path to take!
“I felt I would be able to settle back in quickly, the gaffer knows what I can do on the pitch. It’s a club I love and want to give my all for them and I will be playing in my favoured positions to play to the best of my ability. I feel after almost 16 months out injured it was critical I was happy, enjoying my football again and playing regularly. I still have a burning ambition to get back to the pro leagues, but this season I really want to help us to have a great season.”
After that injury-disrupted spell in the EFL with Southend United, Barratt has played a significant part in the two pre-season matches the Magpies have played since re-signing. With Maidenhead trailing against National League South outfit Hampton, Barratt was introduced as a substitute and started the ball rolling with the Magpies opening goal from a free-kick in an eventual 3-2 win. Then on Saturday the recent signing played 90 minutes in a less-familiar role down the middle of the park and notched the only goal at Braintree, again from a set piece.
The former Bracknell Town player discussed that outing at Cressing Road and in particular the new role he was asked to play: “Playing at the top of the front three is definitely very different to playing out wide. We had to play quite direct at times and I had to try and bring others into the game by holding it up which is something you don’t do that much as a wide man so being used as a target man at times I had to adapt my game there. I think that I found my feet a little bit more with the position in the second half and it definitely showed as we had a much better half all round. We interchanged as a front three and I definitely enjoyed it, it is good to learn new positions and new ways of playing. But I don’t think I’ll be playing up there too much this year as we have some decent strikers at the club who will do a good job for us up there.”
As an attacking player, Barratt couldn’t pretend to us that he didn’t enjoy hitting the target in pre-season and took us through what goes through his mind when he strikes a dead ball: “It has been a good start to be fair with the two free-kicks! I have my natural run-up that always seems to be the same, the way I set up each free-kick. I just visualise where I want to hit and almost put a little target in the goal in the area I want to hit and visualise that as I am lining it up. Against Braintree, I knew the wind was with me coming across the pitch and used it to my advantage to catch the ‘keeper off guard. I do like scoring a free-kick, it feels good!”
Having been on the winning side in two pre-season friendlies, Barratt is getting a good understanding of the balance of Devonshire’s squad for the new season which is due to kick off at Sutton United’s Gander Green Lane next weekend: “I can see that we have a good squad and there are a few new signings including myself. I think once we all get to know each other better and once it clicks I think we’ll be a good team this season. I know from past experiences we can do a good job away from home and play good attacking football at home and on the counter so I feel there are a lot of good options this year.
“We will work hard and take each game as it comes and I do honestly believe we could have a successful year in the National League. For me personally, I always try and set my bar as high as possible. I am quite self-critical so I expect a lot of myself but I want to kick on and start playing regularly again and enjoy my football. When you’re enjoying it I feel you play at your best. I’ve got some targets and personal targets for myself, I want to start scoring some more goals. I want to do well and perform to the best of my ability for the club this year and try and have a great year all round”.
One other important consideration for Sam is his growing family, since his partner Lily gave birth to their first child with baby Rosie coming along this summer. The sleepless nights haven’t affected his football quite yet: “I think I’ll find my new routine after a few more weeks and months of being a father but it will be amazing when she’s there to come and watch me play! That is something I’ve always dreamed of, having my kid watching me play football so that will be a very special feeling.”
A fit and hungry Sam Barratt looking to make his family proud. Maidenhead United fans will enjoy the sound of that promising prospect as they welcome their returning hero back to York Road.