Zeli Ismail has today looked back on the “best feeling ever” of making his first team debut for Wolves at Chelsea, and vowed to stay fully focused on his football in the hunt for another senior chance.
The 18-year-old winger followed fellow Academy graduate Anthony Forde last season in making a senior bow at Stamford Bridge, coming off the bench for the last eight minutes of Tuesday’s 6-0 defeat in the Capital One Cup.
Clearly the result wasn’t good for anyone of a Wolves persuasion, but Ismail was at least able to reflect on a personal landmark after joining another Academy protégée Jack Price in the 18-man squad.
“We trained with the first team the day before the game and then travelled,” he says.
“I think when myself and Pricey realised there were 18 in the squad we knew we were going to be on the bench and when we got to the changing rooms our shirts were up there ready!
“We warmed up a few times and in the second half we were told someone would be going on and Frank went on.
“Then I went to warm up again was told it was me going on.
“It was one of the best feelings ever to get on the pitch, especially against Chelsea in front of almost 33,000 fans.
“It felt almost like a film!
“It was unbelievable, but I just had to block the crowd out and keep my concentration.
“It was only eight minutes, and I think I got on the ball once and won a free kick and did a slide tackle at the other end!
“It was an amazing experience and just makes you want to try and get another chance.
“The other senior players were really helpful, talking to me throughout the time I was on the pitch telling me when to drop off or go and press.”
The current tradition among the Wolves squad is to have to sing in front of the assembled group on your first away trip, and Ismail was no exception.
“I did have to sing, it was so embarrassing!” he reports.
“I did a little rap from Patiently Waiting by Eminem, but I forget the words about 20 seconds.
“I was going to carry on again but everyone started clapping so I thought I’d finish while I was ahead!”
The search for further opportunities is clearly going to be a difficult one with Wolves now out of the Capital One Cup and having a strong squad at boss Ståle Solbakken’s disposal.
At just 18 Ismail has time on his side, but is keen to follow the examples of the likes of Forde, Danny Batth and David Davis in graduating from the youth ranks to regulars in the first team squad.
“It was great because I’ve been at Wolves since I was ten and have managed to get on the pitch for a few minutes of a first team match to find out what it’s all about,” he adds.
“I am aware of the expectation around me from fans and for me I just try and block that out, keep my head down and concentrate on my football.
“I just want to do the best I can and whatever happens, happens.
“I just have to play as well as possible for the reserves to try and get another chance.”