El Mizouni on his Town progress and Tunisia targets
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Idris El Mizouni is threatening to make his big Ipswich Town breakthrough. The French-born midfielder discusses his journey to date.
Idris El Mizouni is determined to make every chance count.
The Paris-born midfielder impressed for Ipswich Town in their 2-0 win at Gillingham in the Papa John's Trophy on Tuesday night.
That performance followed on from some equally good ones against Newport (Carabao Cup) and Sheffield Wednesday (League One).
Paul Cook may have a plethora of options in the middle of the park, but academy graduate El Mizouni is beginning to make himself difficult to overlook.
“It’s a tall order," said El Mizouni, when asked about his chances of getting more regular game time ahead of the likes of Sam Morsy, Lee Evans and Tom Carroll.
"They are all very good players and they have a lot of experience in the game. I am actually trying to learn from them because they are three different players and there are parts of their game that I could bring to my own.
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“I think I am a good technical player with good energy. I’d say I am a box-to-box midfielder and I enjoy getting up and down the pitch. I can tackle and I’m also good on the ball.
“I just need to keep working hard and then, when I am picked to play, I must make sure that I show the manager what I can contribute in terms of playing in League One against any of the other teams at that level.
"These (Trophy) games should mean a lot to all the players who play. If the manager makes changes and brings you into the team it is your chance to make an impression so that the next time he is sitting down to pick a side he has your name in his head."
Reflecting on the start of his journey to this point, the 21-year-old said: “I was playing in France for my Sunday League club and the Under-16 manager at the time knew an agent who knew people at both Ipswich and Leicester.
“He arranged for us to come over to England and play against both the clubs and it was after the Ipswich game that they said they liked me and two others (Allan Viral and Lounes Foudil), and they invited us to come over again in the summer for trials.
“I came over and they offered to sign me as an academy scholar but I was only 15 at the time and I had to be 16 to be a scholar. So I would come over from France when I had a holiday from school and the next year, when I was 16, I was able to sign.
“It was a big move to leave my family in France but I was so excited at the opportunity that I didn’t make a big thing of it.
“All I could think was what a big chance it was for me because we all know how big the game is in this country. All over the world people look at the Premier League as being the biggest of them all.
“I was being offered a chance to join a Championship club, just one level down, so of course I was very excited and didn’t want to miss out. I was able to speak English as well so that wasn’t a problem and for my football it was the best chance to take.
“The people in Ipswich were great with me. From the other players to the staff at the club, they couldn’t do enough to help me and I never really got homesick."
El Mizouni's game began to flourish under the guidance of Adem Atay and Keiron Dyer in the U18s. Paul Hurst and Chris Doig started to involve him with the first team at the start of the 2018/19 season, with Paul Lambert subsequently handing him his senior debut as a substitute in a 1-1 draw at Bristol City.
Three more Championship outings followed, as Town suffered relegation, then El Mizouni was in and around the first team during the opening month of the next campaign.
Game time gradually dried up though and he was subsequently loaned out to League Two club Cambridge United in January.
A key figure for the U's, he scored a brilliant free-kick at Scunthorpe only to see his season ended by a knee injury at the end of February.
More loan spells followed for him in 2020/21. First, he was back at promotion-chasing Cambridge where, this time, starts were harder to come by. Recalled in January, he was then reunited with Hurst and Doig at Grimsby Town, where he played six times for a team that were relegated out of the Football League.
“My loan spells did not only help me as a player, they also benefited me mentally and in terms of my character," he said.
"I had been at Ipswich from a young age so when I went on loan I was out of my comfort zone.
“I knew no one, I was a stranger in a new area and it was up to me to make it work. In my first spell at Cambridge it worked well in training and I was playing regularly.
“But then I got injured, plus the lockdown came. I went back to Cambridge for another loan spell but it didn’t work out as well as I wanted it to.
“I was more of a substitute coming off the bench, rather than a regular starter, and that was why I chose to come back to Ipswich in January this year.
“After a few weeks I went to Grimsby because I knew Paul Hurst and Chris Doig from their time at Ipswich. That loan was working well on the pitch but unfortunately I picked up a hamstring injury that ended my season. That was a situation that helped my mental strength, though.”
El Mizouni returned to Ipswich out of contract in the summer, with new boss Cook having vowed to be 'demolition man'.
But while so many players were released or sold, El Mizouni's one-year extension option was taken and he was given the opportunity to show what he's all about.
“I had never met the gaffer before so I was a bit apprehensive about the big changes that everyone knew were coming in the summer," he said.
“I had no idea what was going to happen. The gaffer had never seen me train, never mind play, so I didn’t know what to expect.
“But when I went to see him and he said the club was going to take up their option I was very pleased and since then things have worked out pretty well to be fair.
“I can only be positive about Paul Cook. We have a great relationship, I love him and he is very good for everyone at the club, always trying to be positive and trying to help the players, which isn’t easy because of the size of the squad and he obviously can’t pick everyone. For him it’s all about players working hard in training and in the gym to earn their place.
“The gaffer has been good with everyone in the squad. He has been trying to give everyone an opportunity but at the same time it’s up to each and every one of the players to earn the right to play. It is always a boost when the boss says good things about you.
“It’s also encouraging that the club are giving homegrown players a chance. There’s Luke Woolfenden as well and I think the fans appreciate it when a player makes his way through from the academy to the first team. It has happened a lot at Ipswich for many years and I am delighted to be one of the players to do it.
“Obviously there are a lot of new players at the club but I think there will always be room for homegrown players if they can show they are good enough."
And it's not only making an Ipswich Town breakthrough that El Mizouni has his sights set on. Adding to his single Tunisia international cap, which came as a late sub in a 2-0 home friendly win against rag back in June 2019, is also an ambition, with Tunisia currently preparing for the Cameroon-based African Cup of Nations in January and attempting to qualify for next winter's World Cup.
“My mother is French and my father is from Tunisia," he explained.
"From his side I have a massive family. He has nine brothers and sisters, and they all have kids, some of whom I don’t really know yet.
“It would be unreal for me if I could play for Tunisia in a major tournament like the African Cup of Nations or the World Cup. I would make my dad proud, but also my mum and the whole family. That would mean absolutely everything to me."