Ex-Leeds United and Atletico Madrid starlet Kebbie: My career starts now in Norway

Elliot Kebbie played for Salford City, owned by Gary Neville. Credit: Elliot Kebbie

By Will Unwin

Few know better about the highs and the lows of football and life than former Leeds United defender Elliot Kebbie.

The full-back left Yorkshire as a bright-eyed 17-year-old in order to join Spanish giants Atletico Madrid in a dream move for the teenager.

A debilitating illness would halt his professional career and his very existence, as he was left wheelchair bound for a period. The after effects of the Epstein-Barr virus had a lasting impact, as Kebbie was left with chronic fatigue which he couldn’t rid for two years.

Kebbie got himself through some dark times emotionally, which left him contemplating suicide, as he fought his way back to full fitness via short spells at Hull, Salford City and most recently Championship side Barnsley.

Now, following a conversation on Facebook with former Leeds coach Shaun Constable, Kebbie, who is still just 22, is ready to restart his career in the Norwegian top-flight with Sandefjord, a club managed by ex-Nottingham Forest and Blackburn midfielder Lars Bohinen.

Elliot Kebbie has moved to Sandjeford. Credit: Sandefjord

“My old coach from Leeds United, Shaun Constable, is the assistant manager here [Sandjeford]. He got in touch with me just before Christmas and told me there’s a really good opportunity to get some regular first-team football here and it was a bit of a no-brainer as that’s something that I’ve needed,” Kebbie told ITV News.

“I was at Barnsley at the time and the opportunity to play first-team football there wasn’t quite materialising. With me coming back from illness, it was always going to be tough for me to get into the squad. Shaun got in touch with me over Facebook, and I literally snapped his hand off at the opportunity.”

Bohinen is a cult hero in England thanks to his time in the Premier League, something that has influenced his managerial style, helping Sandefjord to promotion last season.

Lars Bohinen was a cult hero at Nottingham Forest. Credit: PA

“When I was told about him [Bohinen] being here and what he’s trying to do with the team and the formation they’re playing – 3-5-2 - it was something which really appealed to me, playing that wing-back role, which is what I’m all about; I can get forward, I can defend and so it was a no-brainer to come here, get games under my belt and develop."

His first impressions of the club, league and the sedate Scandinavian country in general are all positive from a man who has known the hustle and bustle of the Spanish capital.

Kebbie, who has signed a one-year deal at Sandefjord, knows this period is make or break for his career. After so long without playing a professional game, the Yorkshireman is under no illusions what he needs to do in order to make good on his early promise, which earned him a two-month trial at Barcelona.

Elliot Kebbie Credit: ITV

The defender is convinced better times are ahead and knows he just needs the chance to prove to himself and to the rest of football what sort of qualities he has to offer.

“I’m only 22, I’ve still got the rest of my career ahead of me. Sometimes I forget that as I did come into success really early and it feels like I’ve been in the game for ages. I’m only really just getting started. I think in terms of my development, I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’ve got a long career ahead of me.

“I just really want to get a good season under my belt. Hopefully I can be here for a year, a year and a half and then move onto a bigger club, and then see after that.”

His six-month spell at Barnsley didn’t produce any first-team football, but it was a chance to be a professional footballer again following his spell in non-league with Salford City and Bradford Park Avenue.

“It was about being back in a professional environment, training every day – and the sessions were tough. The way Barnsley play is with high intensity so we trained really hard and it did me the world of good coming into this club now.

“I think the issue with English football at the moment is that the best players don’t necessarily get a chance as managers are always under so much pressure and you have players who have played a certain amount of league games will get selected over other players.”

The illness held Kebbie back, leaving him, aged 22, without a first-team game to his name in the top five divisions of English football. Kebbie, whose partner is expecting a child in April, has received offers from bigger clubs than Sandefjord, but he’s fearful he wouldn’t have afforded time on the pitch, leaving him to focus on what’s better for the long-term.

“The difficulty with me was that due to the amount of time I had out of football recovering from the virus I had, it was always going to be tough. My CV speaks volumes and it always gets interest from clubs all over the place, but it’s the lack of first-team football that has slowed the process down and stopped me from getting regular games.

“That’s why coming abroad was the right answer, as clubs abroad see things a bit differently. They see the ability and they’ll give you a chance; Lars and Shaun have obviously seen me and Shaun knows about me, I did well on my trial and I’ve done well throughout pre-season. There’s no doubt that I’ve got a really good chance of playing a lot of games this season,” Kebbie explains.

“It’s the only thing [lack of games] that has stopped me signing for some really big football clubs. I’ve had quite a lot of interest from big clubs, but it’s a tough one, as I’d probably go in and end up being a squad player and end up playing the majority of the games in the reserves, which is not what I want. The trouble is that you can sign for a big club within England but then over the next three years of my career I might have played three or four first-team games and by the time you’re 25 you’re out of the game.

“The point is that I need to be getting 20 to 30 games a season playing regularly and that will no doubt open the doors of all the clubs that were interested in me before.”

If Kebbie can turn his self-belief into the luck that a player who has suffered such misfortune deserves, then Sandefjord will have a star on their hands.