Young striker Zayn Hakeem says today is one of the best days of his life after putting pen-to-paper on his first ever professional contract at the club.
The 17-year-old frontman has been rewarded for his hard work in the youth team as well as his international exploits after recently being called up to the Antigua and Barbuda Under 20s squad, for whom he scored two goals whilst in the Caribbean.
And Hakeem, who joined the club’s EPPP programme at the beginning of the 2015/16 campaign, says today is a day he’s dreamed about since he was a child.
“It’s one of the best days of my life, it’s what I’ve dreamed about since I was young. Now it’s finally happened I just hope I can keep improving and show the faith that the manager and the club has put in to me,” Hakeem said.
The Leicester-born forward spent five years with the Nottingham Forest academy until the age of 16 and he has spoken of the gratitude he has for the first team coaching staff of manager Adam Murray and first team coaches Karl Hawley and Richard Cooper for helping him adapt from training with the youth team to training with the first team.
“The gaffer, Adam Murray, is very good with the players. He helps us, he almost guides us; he knows we’re not going to be the finished article at the moment but he helps us when we come in to get a bond with the team [and] to be confident.
“There’s a big difference from youth team to first team, obviously. The intensity of the first team is a lot more physical, a lot faster, a lot more demanding. It’s hard to get used to but when you keep training with them, you get used to it.
“I’m still getting used to it now but it’s better when you’ve got coaches like Karl and Coops who keep encouraging you and keep helping you. Even if you do have a bad session, they keep giving you confidence and you keep going every day.”
Hakeem believes his contract with the club will now give him the opportunity to continue to learn from Hawley, who amassed over 400 senior appearances, and the other senior strikers at the club.
“Whether it’s instincts in the box, making specific runs, moving my feet quicker, getting shots off, knowing where to be in the box, he’s (Hawley) just helped me with a lot and when I’ve taken it back down to the youth level, I’ve been able to score more goals or just help the team more and hopefully I can take that in to the first team one day.
“Obviously you’ve got Matty Green, you’ve got Pat Hoban, you’ve got Danny Rose, you’ve got Hendo (Darius Henderson) – they’re all good strikers, all experienced strikers, even if I just learn off them and be in with them day-to-day [then I can improve].”
Supporters can watch Zayn Hakeem’s first interview as a professional player on Stags PlayerHD.