The making of Armando Dobra: A young man with skill, drive, support and his feet firmly on the ground
PUBLISHED: 06:01 11 October 2019
Armando Dobra has made the jump into Ipswich Town's first-team at the start of the season. ANDY WARREN looks at his journey to this point.
We can all see how talented Armando Dobra is.
The three appearances he's made for the Ipswich Town first-team have given us a good glimpse of the skill, precision and swagger which makes the 18-year-old stand out.
A 45-minute cameo from the bench in the EFL Trophy win over Gillingham on Tuesday was the latest exhibition of his ability, following a whirlwind summer which saw him earn a place on the club's pre-season tour of Germany, score on his professional debut against Luton and then put in a man-of-the-match display against Tottenham's Under 21s.
But what we don't see is the hard work away from the bright lights, from the player himself and so many others, which has got him this far and continues to drive him.
He has a great support network, an excellent attitude and has remained grounded despite jumping from Ipswich's Under 18s to the first-team picture in less than a year.
You sense there is plenty more to come from this young man but that he's willing to take as long as is necessary to get there, just as his journey to Portman Road was a gradual one.
Queens Park Rangers, Tottenham and West Ham all had a good look at him during prolonged trial spells in his younger years, with much of Dobra's youth spent playing for local teams near his Barking home.
Their loss appears to be Ipswich Town's gain.
"Those times made me stronger and made me want it more," Dobra said.
"I could have easily turned round after not making it at those clubs and said 'I don't want this anymore' but you have to want it if you want to get to the top."
It's likely he wouldn't be where he is today were it not for the Finesse Academy in East London, which aims to give young players a chance to shine and potentially make their way towards the professional game. A young Dobra was taken to Finesse by a friend in his early teens and didn't look back.
He trained there on Tuesday and Thursday evenings alongside his school work, with games on Saturdays against other local teams acting as a showcase for visiting scouts.
There are Finesse graduates making their way professionally at Southend, Charlton and Leyton Orient while Dobra is one of 10 with connections to the academy currently at Ipswich. He's already beginning to show the other nine, scattered throughout the Blues' youth teams, that there is a pathway to senior football.
Ask the Finesse coaches and they will tell you of a young man who hates losing, to the point he found it difficult to shake hands with opponents after defeats, such was his disappointment. He still feels that pain but he's learnt to handle it.
They will also tell you that he would (and continues to) re-watch games, sometimes three of four times, looking for areas he can improve his game.
The academy helped focus his mind and sharpen his tools and, after being picked up by Ipswich just three months after joining Finesse, he continued to train with them two or three days a week alongside his scholarship at Playford Road.
Finesse will always be a part of Dobra and the founders of the academy, Ben Dixon and Ben Staab, remain in close contact and speak to him on a near-daily basis.
They were on hand at the end of the first year of his Ipswich scholarship to give him a much-needed pep-talk after things had not gone to plan, with those words having the desired effect as he returned the following season and ultimately broke into the Under 23 side as he began to make a name for himself.
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Anyone who has been to watch Dobra play for Ipswich's young sides at Playford Road will probably recognise his father Lulzim. Or his voice at least.
"My dad loves a little shout during games but it's a good thing for me." Dobra said.
"He comes to every game and watches everything. He's been bringing me up here since I joined the under 15s and it's great to have someone so close to me to tell me when I've played well or when I've played badly.
"He motivates me to play well."
Lulzim, who moved from Albania to England in 2000, a year before Armando was born, says his son's talent was clear when he was 10 years old and was even more profound by the time he reached the age of 12. He supported Manchester United then and played for local club Clapton FC but had a ball at his feet at every opportunity, be it in the street, in the park or after school with friends.
He was a good student, too, Lulzim made sure of that, with Dobra's father placing real importance on school work as well as football.
"He just loves football. More than anything he loves football," Lulzim said.
"We're not like a father and son, we're like best friends. I'll always push him because it's what he loves. I'm very proud."
Lulzim, who works in security and delivery, doesn't miss a game and has travelled the country watching his son, ferrying Armando up and down the A12 for the last four years in order to train and play for Ipswich.
He's been a literal, emotional and physical driver for his son throughout, focusing a football-loving mind onto the intricacies required when it comes to trying to make a career from the game.
It brought Lulzim great pride when the next step in that career came in February, when the Albania Under 19 international signed his first professional contract, having impressed in the Town youth sides.
This summer, strength and conditioning was the order of the day as he spent hour upon hour in the gym working on his upper body strength in a bid to make the leap to senior football. By his own admission he 'wasn't physically ready to make that jump'.
It's fair to say the hard work is paying off, but he knows full well he can't afford to rest on his laurels.
"I was hoping to train well, maybe go out on loan and then see how things go, but to be in and around the first-team for quite a while has been brilliant.
"I have to say thanks to the gaffer (Lambert), Stuart (Taylor, assistant) and Gilly (Matt Gill, coach) for putting their trust in me because without them doing that I wouldn't have made my breakthrough.
"My Under 18 coaches Kieron (Dyer) and Adem Atay have helped me a lot too because without then I wouldn't have made my debut either. They pushed me mentally and physically.
"I've got to keep my feet on the ground because there are so many who make it as far as I have and then just fall off," he said.
"I have to keep working hard and then hopefully I can break into the first-team.
"If I keep playing well then hopefully I can show the gaffer that I can be an option for him. I've just got to keep playing well.
"I need to do that because you will never know when you're needed. You have to be ready to play.
"Maybe some young players don't do that and get too carried away but, if you want to get to the top you have to do that otherwise you won't make it.
"Everyone tells me to keep doing what I'm doing and give it everything I can."