Shittu eyeing Wembley final

Danny Shittu has been talking for the better part of an hour about the strength of the pound and his time in England’s volleyball team.

 The  conversation turns to Wigan. The FA Cup semi-final is today but Millwall’s captain is not especially worried.

‘What can scare me after I’ve marked Lionel Messi and he didn’t score?’ he says. ‘I learnt not to fear anyone.’
He’s laughing. That’s what he does.

‘I joke about it but that day gives me inspiration whenever I face a challenge on the pitch.’
That day was June 11, 2010, when Argentina opened their World Cup campaign against Nigeria in Johannesburg. Shittu, who had not played a single game for Bolton that season, was told to ‘keep an eye’ on Messi.

‘My friends were texting me saying he was going to score five, all the papers said he was going to destroy us,’ he says. ‘In the end we were disappointed to actually lose 1-0. People still send me pictures from that game, showing me tackling Messi and I save them all on my computer.’
He laughs again. Like he does when he recalls the time he sold 30 iPads to the Nigeria squad and made a killing on the currency conversion. And when he mentions the time he tried flogging watercoolers to his team-mates at QPR.
And when he shares his thoughts on the 700 or so ‘Danny Shittu, That’s What We Do’ t-shirts that have been sold in the club shop since he scored the quarter-final winner against Blackburn last month.

‘Richard Langley at QPR used to tell people that football was just my second business,’ he adds. ‘I love, absolutely love, being a wheeler dealer. I’ll buy and sell anything.’
Welcome to the world of Danny Shittu, the 32-year-old man who has one of the most familiar names in football, and also one of the quirkiest private lives; a man who once snubbed a youth-team contract at Fulham in favour of a GNVQ in finance. 

‘I didn’t really like football as a kid,’ he says. ‘I liked playing it but watching it was never really my thing.’
Shittu, the second youngest of seven children, moved to Bow in East London when he was eight. Computers were his thing; he didn’t go to watch a live game of football until he signed for Charlton at 18.
‘I remember my mum buying a computer for the family and it cost a couple of hundred pounds, which was a lot,’ he says.

‘Within a couple of days I had broken it. I was like, “Oh my god, I can’t tell my mum”. One of my mates knew how to fix computers and I watched him open it up and fix it and I was so interested in it, seeing how it works.

‘But after that different parts of it kept breaking so I was finding all these broken computers, taking out the components and trying to fix it myself. My mum never found out.’

Football was little more than a hobby. ‘As far as sports go, I was into volleyball,’ he says. ‘I used to like playing football with my friends, but that was it.

‘I remember the manager of the local side I was playing for took a group of us to a trial at Fulham when I was 16. I was playing in the game and I was so tired. I was thinking, “Oh my god, these people want to play for 90 minutes. No thanks”.

‘Fulham actually offered me a two-year YTS contract. I said I’d be back, but up until today I never turned up.’
He starts laughing again. ‘Now, volleyball was a game I loved. My older brother played professionally in Belgium, Qatar, Italy.

‘People say I have a big leap on me and I’m telling you, it came from volleyball. That’s the technique I try to teach youngsters.

‘I think I was pretty good. When I was about 16 I was in the England junior team. I went to America with them once. I loved volleyball as a kid, that and computers. Oh, I was into music as well.’

He’s talking about the time in his life, in his mid and late teens, when he was known as DJ Tiny.

Multiple award-winning rapper Dizzee Rascal grew up nearby and describes Shittu as a ‘big brother’, a ‘major inspiration’ and the man who sorted his life out.
‘He had some issues as a kid, went to a lot of schools, and I tried to steer him straight,’ Shittu says.
‘I used to have a turntable and he’d be round mine all the time using it. It kept him focused – in life you need to have a plan.’  

Shittu’s plan was college. But college changed his plan. ‘I went to study business and finance after I did my GCSEs,’ he says. ‘I liked it and I did well. I passed it easily and I was thinking I’d like to go on to university and study computer science, but I started getting these thoughts about football.
‘I started to regret turning down Fulham. I guess it’s because I wasn’t playing much. I just missed it. So I started writing to clubs begging for a trial.’
Charlton wrote back and he signed his first contract in football at 18. He has since had spells at Blackpool, QPR (three times), Watford, Bolton and Millwall, where he is in his second stint.
He’s been promoted to the top flight twice and is regarded among the best defenders in the Championship, but there’s a persistent feeling that he can’t go up a level, not least because in two of his four top-flight campaigns – 2009-10 with Bolton and 2011-12 with QPR – he did not play a single Premier League game.
He talks cryptically about the ‘politics’ involved at Bolton, and the ‘foolishness’ of QPR’s mass squad overhaul after they went up in 2011. ‘I look at the Premier League and I know I am better than a lot of the defenders there,’ he says. ‘But like I said, football is a hard game. You are never sure of your place – that is why I have my other interests.
‘I came so late to the game that I have always wanted a back-up. You never know when someone might decide they don’t want you and you are out of the game.’
It’s a thought that seems to scare and inspire him. Two of his numerous ‘projects’ are football academies, one in Nigeria and one in London. He won’t elaborate on his financial input, but Sportsmail understands he has invested more than £50,000 in them.

‘In the London one, we run an Under 16 team and an Under 18 team and train them from January to the summer. Then we put them in games in the summer against professional academies from Tottenham, West Ham, QPR – most the London teams.

‘The lads have mostly been overlooked, haven’t had much of a chance. We give them a chance to impress professional clubs. It’s a difficult career to establish so kids need all the help they can get.

‘I go to all the games. I love getting hands on, seeing something develop, figuring stuff out. I’m like that with all my businesses.’

There are the 10 properties he currently owns – ‘I bought most for about £60,000-£70,000 and they are worth more now’ – and his fascination with financial spread betting. ‘That stuff keeps you up all day and night. You have to read a lot to do it.’

He also runs a computer repair company and backs a film production unit. He employs a PA. ‘It’s about the buzz more than the money, I think,’ he says. ‘A lot of players train, go home and get on the PlayStation. That’s not for me.’
He mentions the T-shirts that have become so popular since the quarter-final win, when he shouted his ‘That’s What We Do’ catchphrase into the camera after scoring the winner against Blackburn. There’s a plan to launch a spin-off range of shirts.

‘Maybe we will if we reach the final,’ he says. ‘Wigan are a good team but so are we. And I’ve marked Messi.’

Among other things.

Originally published by Mail online


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