By Will Unwin
Ross Jenkins was used to the home comforts of Watford where he was born, brought up and started his professional football career.
Now the former England Under-20 midfielder has taken the dramatic decision to head to the Romanian top flight to join Timisoara in the very west of the country.
Despite only joining League Two Crawley in September last year, the 25-year-old decided he could not turn down the chance to head abroad at this stage of his career, even if the move came as a surprise to him.
Asked how the move came about, Jenkins explained: “A Romanian agent phoned at the start of February out of the blue saying Timisoara were interested in me. I went to speak to the Crawley manager, Mark Yates, as I had a contract with them and was fully committed to playing for them, and told him the situation.
“We spoke for two days and agreed it was OK for me to cancel my contract with them. It all happened very quickly and I’d signed with Timisoara within seven to ten days from the first phone call.”
For a player used to operating in England, the unknown quantity of Romania, having just got back into football with Crawley after two years without playing a competitive game.
The time away made him fully understand the privilege he enjoys in being a professional footballer, making him realise he can’t pass up chances in life, even if he did have to let down Crawley.
“I considered the benefits of the move. It was a bit of a shock to be honest, as it was all a bit random. I had moved to Crawley to play games and show people what I was capable of. But I had to listen to their offer. I needed to consider the contract and different for factors about moving abroad. I decided it would benefit my career and that I needed to do it.
“I felt it would benefit me moving to Romania’s top league. I didn’t have weeks and weeks to research the club but I did look into them. They were a big club four or five years ago and had Costel Pantilimon. Everything happened so quickly I didn’t even think about contacting the players at Watford to speak to Pantilimon.”
Despite it being a bit of a rush to get to Timisoara, where he was joined by , helped by the fact he can fly straight from Luton airport, which is close to his home in England, Jenkins’ only concern was the potential language barrier, something that went out the window when he arrived to find a plethora of English speaking players.
“My biggest fear was that no one would speak English when I got here, but more than half the team do and Alex Nimely arrived on the same day – so it was nice to have the experience of playing with someone who had experience of playing in England. There are also people on the coaching staff who speak English, too.”
Jenkins is a passer of the ball, something that can go unappreciated in the hustle and bustle of the English lower leagues, but he feels the more technical style on offer in Romania’s Liga 1 will suit him.
There’s a strong mix of Romanians, Dutch, Spaniards and even two players from Curacao which means communication on the pitch doesn’t always come naturally but the team that has seen an influx on players recently is coming together.
“I prefer the football here compared to League One and Two. The football is played on the floor more here and you get more time to express yourself, which I think will benefit me, rather than long passes and fighting for second balls. Sometimes in England people are in your face all the time and it’s tough to show what you can do on the ball.
“We’re all learning how to communicate with each other on the pitch, but once you’re out there, football is football. There are some very good players in the league, no one should underestimate how many good players there are out here.”
Things started well for Jenkins with his hometown club, as he made almost 100 first-team appearances for Watford working with Brendan Rodgers and Malky Mackay before injury stalled his career.
“I worked with Brendan Rodgers and other technical coaches at Watford so I am used to this style of football.
“Both Rodgers and Malky Mackay wanted to play in a certain way, but due to the state of the pitch at Watford at the time, it was tough to play it on the floor, as it was quite sandy - so we had to be realistic at times. It’s not like the carpet it is now. I learned a lot from both managers which I think that will be help me out here.”
The two years away impacted Jenkins heavily, as he admits that not playing affected him mentally, but it’s not a matter he likes to dwell on.
“It was tough being out the game. I had a groin injury we couldn’t sort. We didn’t know where the pain was coming from but it was quite easy to fix in the end. As any player will tell you, injury is a killer.
“It can be depressing not playing for such a long period. It’s one of those things, you know it can’t be helped, but you look back on it knowing how much football you’ve missed and it puts a dent in your career. So now I’m looking to the future and taking the chances that come my way.”
Jenkins only knew one club for his whole career so when he was released it was all a bit of a shock for the midfielder, who was let down by people acting on his behalf. In the end he had to make his own phone calls to get back into the game.
“When I left Watford I didn’t really have an agent so I was trusting different people to sort things out, but, ultimately, I put my trust in the wrong hands. Things weren’t getting done. After wondering why I hadn’t got a deal anywhere, I phoned someone I knew in football. Crawley were interested in taking me. I thought it would be a great place to show people what I could do, prove to people that I am back and injury-free.
“Ask anyone who has been out for a few months, and they will say that you appreciate what you have more and it’s made me determined to now slip up.”
From the comfort of mid-table League Two, Jenkins, who has played three times for his new club, is now fully focused on keeping Timisoara in the top-flight, as the country tries a new split league system. The club are two points from safety, as they play in the relegation play-off group.
His arrival has not been helped by the fact he has suffered a bruised rib forcing him to miss two games and the sacking of their manager Florin Marin last week, with Petre Grigoraș being appointed as his replacement.
“We’re in a difficult position at the moment but we’re determined to get out of it. There’s just been a change of manager so we’re getting used to new ideas and tactics at the moment.
“He’s trying to work us all out at the moment, see where we can fit into the team best and how the team should play. It’s all about results now and hopefully the manager will give us the spark we need.”
The midfielder is contracted to Timisoara until the end of the current season and his brief taste of the game abroad has opened his eyes to the opportunities available to a professional footballer, something Jenkins is intent on taking advantage of.
“I’m very flexible on location and league in the future. I’ve always been interested in moving abroad and learning new cultures since I was young. I’ve always watched a lot of German and French football. We’ll have to see how it goes until the end of the season and take it from there.”
It might be a risk for the Englishman to enter unknown of the Romanian league but Jenkins is man making up for lost time and he’s not willing to miss out on any of the chances football has to offer.