Ethan Gage joins a small handful of Canadians that are trying to break through at their respective clubs in England for the 2011/12 season. The 2010 Canadian U20 Player of the Year was signed by Reading FC earlier in January and has made his way into the team for their campaign in the Championship.
A versatile player who already has significant experience in Canada, the next step in his career has long been to compete overseas. After trials in Germany not panning out, Gage is now with a club that will compete for promotion to the Premiership.
RedNation Online discusses his transition to the English game, his expectations for the upcoming season and how the thinks playing for Reading will benefit his career as a footballer.
RedNation Online: You are a versatile player who can play as both a midfielder and defender. Which position are you playing for Reading??
Ethan Gage: For Reading I am playing as a central midfielder, and sometimes when needed as a right back.
RedNation Online: You recently had to make the choice between continuing your professional career with the Vancouver Whitecaps, who were making the jump to the MLS this year, and making the move to the super competitive environment that is England. Why did you make the choice that you did?
Ethan Gage: Since I was a little boy my dream was to be playing overseas in Europe. So when I had this chance, I did not want to pass it up.
RedNation Online: Did your decision to go to Reading have anything to do with their potential in terms of getting into the Premiership?
Ethan Gage: No, it didn’t to be honest. Both the Championship and Premier League are very high levels of football and both are very, very challenging.
RedNation Online: Upon joining up with Reading last year, what were you early impressions in terms of the training sessions and team events that you were part of?
Ethan Gage: Even when I first arrived to the club I noticed immediately that everyone was very kind and they welcomed me with open arms. The training sessions have been awesome. They are always very competitive, which is something that I love.
RedNation Online: How did preseason with Reading go for you?
Ethan Gage: To be honest, preseason for me has not been my best. I've had to deal with a lot of stuff mentally and that has set me back a bit.
RedNation Online: At 20 years old, it’s probably a safe bet to guess that Reading, who were competing in the English Premier League not too long ago, have signed you with some development. What has the Reading management team told you about your role with the team and their plans for you in general?
Ethan Gage: They told me that I’m here to compete and to try and win a spot on the first team. I have to prove myself here and it has been a very hard challenge. We have a lot of center mids at the club and a lot of them have played in the Premiership, so it’s a tough one.
RedNation Online: English football has a very distinct culture to it. How have you adapted to it and did you experience any difficulty in terms of earning the respect and acceptance of your new teammates?
Ethan Gage: No, to be honest, the team has treated me like family and that has made things a lot easier for me. We have a great group of guys here.
RedNation Online: You have been quoted recently as saying that your only goal this year is to crack the first team squad. How do you think you are progressing on that?
Ethan Gage: To be honest, I've had some setbacks. I've been so keen on achieving my goal that I have mentally beat myself down and I have been thinking about it too much. I have to learn to relax a bit and take things a bit lighter.
RedNation Online: Reading’s manager, Brian McDermott, was a midfielder with Arsenal at the start of his career. Does it make a difference when the skipper knows your position so intimately?
Ethan Gage: Brian was a player, he was a scout for many years and now he is now our coach. He knows a lot and he knows when he sees a player if he is good or not. So I do look to try and impress him as much as possible.
RedNation Online: Reading is coming off a season in which the club made it to the promotion playoffs, but lost a heartbreaker to Swansea. How prominent has the message of promotion been so far through preseason?
Ethan Gage: The lads have forgotten about it. That’s what you have to do, as you can’t change the past. You have to move on and that is what we have done.
RedNation Online: Bobby Convey was a Reading player for about five years (2004-2009) and arrived there around the same age that you have. Given that he is a North American player who got to the Premiership with the club and who is now is a successful top level MLS player, does that reassure you that Reading is a good choice for your development and overall career?
Ethan Gage: Many players have come to Reading and developed and improved tremendously from the youth to the senior levels. Everyone I have talked to has said that this is a great club. Reading’s records illustrates that fact, and, now that I’m here, I can see it as well. I am where I should be in my mind.
RedNation Online: The Championship is a very tough grind in terms of amount of matches – have you spoken with any other Canadians competing at that level about to what to expect?
Ethan Gage: I was here for about half of last season and saw what it is all about, but no, I haven’t spoken to anyone really. I would love to be able to talk to Owen Hargreaves about it. I look up to him, because he’s done what I want to do.