Donacien's 'feeling the love' after returning from the Ipswich Town shadows
- Credit: Ray Lawrence
There’s a smile on Janoi Donacien’s face as we begin to watch the highlights of his season so far.
“This will be a short video,” the laidback defender jokes, sitting in Portman Road’s revamped reception area. “I’ve not seen anyone put something like this together about me before.”
Things are going well for the 27-year-old. The two-minute video has been made by an Ipswich fan and is packed with interceptions, headers, tackles and, most recently, assists. It's been watched nearly 14,000 times.
He’s laid on two goals in three games now, with his latest serving up the moment of the season so far, as he expertly touched the ball back for Bersant Celina’s dramatic Fleetwood winner.
A man who once joked, when asked to do a post-match interview last season, that ‘the fans genuinely don’t know who I am’ is now feeling the love.
“It’s all so good,” he says. “When you’re playing you want to feel like people want you to do well. I’m enjoying myself. I’ve wanted a run of games. That’s all I’ve wanted.
“I can feel the love because my mentions are blowing up on social media. I didn’t even know people followed me on Twitter.
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“After games when I go to my car, fans are there to say ‘well done’. To be fair, there are a few who have always sent me messages. I like to reply to the ones who have shown me love from the start.”
By his own admission, Donacien’s been in the shadows for long spells of his Ipswich career. Former boss Paul Lambert barely used him and twice loaned him out; once back to former club Accrington and then again at the end of last season, when he joined Fleetwood.
Remarkably, despite being with Ipswich for more than three years now, he’s still three games short of 50 appearances for Town. When he’s told he’s on 47, he’s surprised the number’s even that high.
A stat which perhaps sums up his time at Ipswich perfectly, is that he’s made more appearances for his two loan sides during his time in Suffolk than he has for his parent club. The scales should flip on all of those numbers soon enough, though.
The term 'Donaissance' has been coined to reflect the defender's ability to come back stronger every time he's suffered a knockback during his Ipswich Town career.
The man himself describes that as 'mad'.
“That’s football,” Donacien reflects, calmly. “One minute you’re there, one minute you’re in the shadows somewhere. It’s good that people are getting to see what I can do now.
“I came here hoping to hit the ground running at a big club in the Championship and obviously things haven’t worked out how I wanted them to. But hopefully now is a time I can show people what I can do.
“I came to a great club wanting to do well and I still do. It’s just about picking yourself back up after you take knocks. That’s not just football, it’s general life.
“You have to be strong. There are a lot of people who do doubt you and you hear everything, so you have to keep it in your head that you are the person you know you are. I feel like I’ve always worked hard, on and off the pitch. That’s showing now.
“At times it’s been really tough. I’ve been out on loan twice and all of your concentration then needs to go onto the club you’re at. Then you’re thinking about going back to Ipswich and proving myself again.
“It does get tough when you think about things. I’m not the type to overthink, I’m positive and don’t like to dwell on things because life is really short.”
Donacien rightly makes the point that every interview he’s done during his time at Ipswich has centred around him wanting a run of games to show what he can do, and whether he is indeed a right-back, rather than the centre-back former boss Lambert wrongly and stubbornly saw him to be.
There’s none of those questions this time. Now, the questions centre around whether we can expect to see the defender maintain these levels of production, especially in forward areas.
“I think so,” he says. “I certainly hope so.
“I still want to do so much more and want to improve with every game. There is a lot more I can do.
“I want more assists. The gaffer wants me to join in more. He knows I can defend so it’s about timing things, getting in there and helping out.
“I want to show what I can do going forward.”
Donacien was one of just a handful of Ipswich players to survive Paul Cook’s summer cull and, by some distance, has played the most minutes of all those who were at the club last season.
“I was at Fleetwood so hadn’t met him or anything but I came back and the gaffer told me to come back for pre-season and we’d see what happens,” Donacien says.
“If it didn’t work out, it didn’t work out and we’d go from there but the chance was there. That’s all you need, that bit of honesty from him. I took that all onboard, went away and worked hard and thankfully it all worked out.
“That’s perfect for me. The worst thing as a player is to be given false hope when it wasn’t really there. You can doubt yourself then. But the honesty makes his job and my job easier.”
Town now enter a big stage of their season, with back-to-back visits to top two Plymouth and Wycombe and matches against Sunderland and Rotherham on the horizon.
But when Donacien says he genuinely hasn’t looked at the league table, it’s easy to believe he’s telling the truth.
“I honestly haven’t looked at the table but I can just feel how things are going,” he says.
“I genuinely haven’t looked because I know what we can do, which means I’m not bothered about what other people are doing.
“You know what, I lie, I did look once. Before Lincoln away, someone said if we didn’t win we would have been bottom or something. I was shocked. No way. But we did win so it was ok.
“It’s about us. We know if we turn up on the day we can beat anyone.”
Donacien’s feeling the love. He’s getting the run of games he’s always wanted and there’s a banner with his picture on it flying above the main drive at Portman Road.
All that’s missing now is his own song and a new contract, given his current one expires this summer.
“Put in a word for me!” he jokes when asked if there has been any talk of a new deal.
“If I keep performing the way I am and someone sees and smiles down on me, then yeah, I’d definitely be up for that.
“Hopefully a few people can put in a good word for me.”