Emmanuel on his Rotherham loan, Wembley dream and summer return to Ipswich
In just a few weeks, Josh Emmanuel will be back at Ipswich Town’s training ground looking to impress the club’s new manager - but he has a job to finish first.
The 20-year-old right back has been a hit during his season-long loan at Rotherham, winning the club’s young Player of the Year award, but the real prize is still up for grabs as they face Shrewsbury tomorrow in the League One Play-Off Final.
As fate would have it, he may well be facing his new manager at Ipswich, with Shrews boss Paul Hurst the man firmly in Marcus Evans’ sights, but that is not of Emmanuel’s concern right now.
His focus is firmly fixed on finishing the job with the Millers and bringing the most productive and successful season of his young career to a glorious end. What happens next can wait.
“It’s been a life-changing experience for me, both on and off the pitch,” Emmanuel said of his season at Rotherham.
“Living by myself and playing week-in, week-out is something new for me but there’s nothing like it. It’s been such a good year and a really God-ordained opportunity for me.
“It’s increased the talent I’ve been blessed with and I have enjoyed every second of it. And there’s still a bit more to come.
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“I expected to grow during the period I was at Rotherham but I didn’t expect us to do all of this because I wasn’t really looking too far ahead.
“I just took it as it came and it’s been an amazing experience for me.”
Paul Warne’s system has brought out the best in Emmanuel, with the youngster able to get forward at will, knowing he will not be leaving great holes behind him.
He left Portman Road last summer having shown great potential but with former manager Mick McCarthy insisting there are areas in which he needs to improve. Emmanuel believes he has done that.
“It’s every kid’s dream to be playing football every week and to do that in League One has been great,” he said. “I wouldn’t say the quality of it took me by surprise because it can be pretty similar to the Championship – fast-paced and up-and-down.
“Here at Rotherham we play attacking football and that’s what I enjoy, so it’s been great. It’s been so positive.
“I always want to try and get forward and in any format we play I try and exploit that side of my game – that’s part of me.
“The gaffer here encourages that and we have a team here where I am covered when I get forward and we have a good understanding within the team.
“The key word is experience because no game’s the same. It’s about experiencing different things, playing against different formations, different wingers and different approaches.
“Every part of my game has improved, as it should when you are playing week-in, week-out. It’s been great for me.
“To win the Young Player of the Year award was amazing and I’m so grateful to everyone who has put their trust and faith in me. The coaches here and the team-mates here have helped me get that.”
The move has worked out off the pitch, too, with Emmanuel settling quickly and still being able to enjoy the company of his family despite being so far from home.
“My wife doesn’t live too far away – she lives in Nottingham for university – so it’s been ok,” the defender said. “I’ve had company a lot of the time.
“My dad’s been another blessing because he’s come up for every game, so I’ve never been by myself and never lonely.
“It’s been a perfect move and everything just worked, so it’s just about finishing off the job now.”
The final phase of that job will come under the famous arch tomorrow, with Emmanuel expecting a tight, competitive contest against Hurst’s side following two similar encounters earlier in the season.
He said: “I’ve been there once for Arsenal against Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final last year. But this is going to be good.
“When we played Shrewsbury in the regular season we beat them at their place (1-0) and they beat us at ours (2-1), so it’s nicely poised.
“But we are looking forward to it. The away game (at Shrewsbury) was tense and that’s what I expect this one to be.
“They are very organised, which is good for us because we try and break teams down with possession and by using wide areas. I’m expecting a tight game.”
And then it’s back to Ipswich, where Emmanuel will return and compete for a right-back position alongside the likes of Jordan Spence and Barry Cotter, as a new era dawns at Portman Road.
“We will see what happens at Ipswich. I’m just focussed on Sunday now and hope to get the win,” Emmanuel said.
“I obviously not happy to see the gaffer and TC (Terry Connor) go but was very happy to see Bryan (Klug) take on the role as caretaker.
“I saw a few young players got opportunities at the end of the season and that’s really good.
“The club is obviously looking to move forward and I’m sure it will.”