What a story…From Penistone Church U7’s to Oldham Athletic via Man Utd!

Oldham Athletic have made a deadline signing with striker Zak Dearnley and joining on loan for the rest of the season.

Dearnley joined from Manchester United where he had been playing in the U23 squad for the Premier League club since the second half of last season.

Dearnley has featured once on the bench for his parent club which came in the final game of the 2016/17 season against Crystal Palace.

Zak was first spotted while playing for Penistone Church U7s, managed by his father and he told The Star in 2015, “We were playing a game at Dodworth when a gentleman, who I later found out was Garry Carr, tapped me on the shoulder and asked who our number seven was. I told him it was my son, and he invited him for trials for Manchester United.”

“I felt ten feet tall; it’s every parent’s dream, isn’t it?”

Zak impressed during trials at Stocksbridge, and quickly progressed to the advanced group at Huddersfield College.

From there he progressed to The Cliffe, onto Littleton Road, and finally to Carrington. Although the ride was far from smooth.

“We were told early on that this was Manchester United, and we’d be lucky if one boy from our group became a professional,” Zak said.

“There were 30 boys there. It was basically one-in-a-million,” they said.

“I moved to Manchester at 13, and it was tough – I almost quit at one point. I couldn’t handle being away from home, living with different people, training all the time. I was at a new school, making new friends, away from my family. I’m used to it now, of course, but it’s tough at the time. It makes you appreciate the sacrifices players make to get to the top; I’m a much more confident person because of it. And, to get to where I want to be, it’s just what needs to be done.”

Ian spoke to his son three times a day – morning, noon and night – following his move to Manchester. Zak cried every night for the first month or so, but didn’t let on.

“He told me a few months later,” Ian added.

“I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me? I’d have come and got you straight away’.”

“And he said, ‘That’s why I didn’t tell you, dad. I knew you’d have come and got me’.”

“All credit to him for sticking it out. It’s looking promising and, fingers crossed, that will continue.”

Nick Levett, Talent Identification Manager at the Football Association, shares a remarkable stat which suggests that 96 per cent of scholars signed at professional clubs when they are 16 are no longer playing there when they are 18.

Just two per cent of players that get a professional contract at 18, are still playing professionally past the age of 21.

“A lot of guys do fall by the wayside,” Ian concurs.

“They discover girls, or beer, or a different way of life. Even after all that, it’s not for everyone.”

“The mental and physical discipline is so important, and the biggest thing is just to enjoy the game.”

“If you don’t enjoy it, then there’s no point doing anything in life. I’ve said that to Zak since the age of seven… play the game with a smile on your face. Go out there and enjoy it.”

“If you can’t do that, then why bother?”

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