‘It’s been a mental thing, trying not to over-think things’ – Toto Nsiala opens up about testing debut campaign with Ipswich Town
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Toto Nsiala has been reflecting on a testing debut campaign with Ipswich Town. STUART WATSON spoke to the 27-year-old defender.
Q: How has this season been for you? Paul Hurst, who signed you for a third time in his career, ended up leaving just 10 weeks later. That can't have made the transition to the Championship easy?
A: It's just part of life, isn't it? You don't expect these things to happen and you've got to adjust as quickly as possible.
But it has been tough, both in the sense of where the club is at the moment and that from a personal point of view I've been part of it.
You've just got to find yourself, pick yourself up and carry on to go again.
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Q: This is your first season at this level. What have you made of the step up in standard?
A: It's just ruthless. There's not a lot of difference between the teams but one mistake and - bang - you're punished. That's what we've struggled with all season. We've not been ruthless enough at either end.
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Q: How do you judge your own form? A: I've not been at my best but it was always going to be a bit of a tough step-up, especially without having pre-season with the club (signed for Ipswich on August 8 after the campaign had started) and coming into it straight away.
I've always felt I've been chasing things fitness-wise but at least that will be different next season.
Q: You started 58 games for Shrewsbury in 2017/18. It's been 18 starts for Ipswich this season. How hard has it been not playing regularly?
A: It's been tough. It's been hard. But you've just got to keep going, train properly and wait for your chance. Whenever I've been asked to train or play with the Under-23s I've tried to do it right.
Q: What's been the biggest learning curve?
A: It's just been a mental thing coming here, trying not to over-think things. I tend to shoot myself by reading comments and seeing what people say about me. It can lead to you starting to doubt yourself and that shows out on the pitch.
Recently I've just stopped letting it get to me and I don't care what people say. I've just tried to perform as well as I can and look to become mentally stronger.
I did see a sports psychologist, probably about six years ago, and what has stuck with me is that you're only as good as what you think of yourself.
There are a lot of people with opinions and they say stuff that you don't always agree with, but if you let it get to you then those people are going to be winning. You have to do it for yourself.
Q: How much has Championship football improved you? Paul Lambert said recently that he feels you've made real progress.
A: I've got to be honest and admit the results would say 'not a lot'.
But with the manager's help and having better players around me I've had to be switched on and I believe I have learned a lot, especially in the last couple of months. I'll be taking that into next season with me.
Q: You must be frustrated not to be able to continue to develop and prove yourself at Championship level having worked so hard to get here?
A: You never know what the future holds. We could start well next season, go straight back up and I could get another bite of the cherry in the Championship. We just need to put everything into it and see where it takes us.
Q: Do you and all the players who stepped up from the lower leagues last summer feel they can show what they are all about next year?
A: I don't think it really matters what league you've come from. I've seen and heard a lot of people saying the lads from League One and League Two have not had the best step-up but I don't think that has really been the case.
At other clubs players from the lower leagues have stepped up and played really well in the Championship, so that's just another excuse. I actually think it's a bit harsh and disrespectful to the lads in question.
They've all tried their best but the team hasn't worked. Now we've got to find a way of gelling, getting stronger and finding a way of winning games next season.
It's got nothing to do with players coming from League One or League Two. There are players in those leagues that I'm surprised are still playing there and haven't stepped up yet. There are players in the Championship that I've been surprised aren't playing lower.
Q: You helped Shrewsbury to the League One Play-Off Final and Checkatrade Trophy Final. What is life in the third-tier like?
A I started 58 games and still missed four with an injury. There are a lot more games. You don't get the international break. It's Saturday-Tuesday, Saturday-Tuesday every week.
We'll need to have the right squad for it with enough players who can come in at any given time and do the job.
It will demand a lot of the boys, both physically and mentally, but I'm pretty sure we have strong characters here and they will pull through.
Q: Can you get promoted in League One trying to play passing football? A: Yes, 100 per cent you can. But you need to have the right blend and be physical enough when you come up against those teams who are more physical in their approach.
But you can do it by predominantly playing football though. Last season at Shrewsbury we played against teams like Charlton, who played really good football, and they were near the top. They're up there again this season by doing the same things.
Q: Can Ipswich come straight back up? Are you confident?
A: Yes. With the squad and the players we've got, plus a few new additions, and what I know of the league and the teams that are there, I really do believe we can come straight back up again. It can be done.
Q: First, you must be looking forward to a break? A: I'm going to turn Instagram off! I've been on there a lot, looking at comments from players at teams that are getting promoted or in the play-offs.
It actually hurts to see some of my friends doing well. Yes, I'm happy for them but I want to be in the same situation as them.
I'm going to stay away from it for a couple of weeks then I'll recharge the batteries and refresh again ready for next season.
Q: And have you settled in the area?
A: I have. There's not much to do. I ended up in Unit 17 one night - that won't happen again! But it's a nice area and it's not as cold and wet as Liverpool.
The lads are really, really nice. We've bonded a lot recently. With most teams in our situation, bottom of the table and getting relegated, there would be a split in the dressing room and a lot of unhappiness.
But here we have a lot of togetherness - we go to the cinema together, have barbecues, things like that - and we've all said that whatever happens we stick together and kick on next season.
Even the lads that are not involved, they are still rooting for the lads who are, and that is not always the case at clubs that are relegated. It has surprised me but it's something I have really liked.
That's what we had at Shrewsbury and that's what's building here. That's why I think it could be a great season for us next season if we can get a few more lads through the door early.