Christian Eissele has a highlight reel showing the skills to become a potential threat to meanest of defences in the world. He shows a poacher’s instinct inside the box, an eye for goal outside it and a neat touch to link the play to boot.
At the age of 21, Eissele’s career has only just begun but he has come a long way since playing for his local university, University of Central Florida, in his homeland, the United States of America.
He has never had any doubt as to what he has wanted to become. His football adventure started a new chapter at the age of 18 when he made the bold step of moving to the UK.
Eissele signed for the Richmond International Academic and Soccer Academy (RIASA), an academy which offers Americans a chance to experience football in the UK or Europe whilst also earning a degree. The move to England proved a vital experience.
“I’ve always wanted to play professional football. It’s been a dream since I was five years old and I guess I just never let that out of my sight. English football was much more physical, so I learned to be tougher.”
Despite a decreasing number top clubs willing to put their faith in English coaches, the 21-year-old has only praise to offer.
“I also had some fantastic coaches that encouraged me to develop tremendously. English coaches have more knowledge of the game and its tactics than most American coaches.”
Whilst in the UK the forward had the opportunity to train with then League Two side Bradford City, where a former student of the RIASA, Nahki Wells, is currently top scorer. Although there was interest in a deal from both parties international rules prevented such from happening.
“Bradford City showed a lot of interest while I trained with them. However, being an American, a work permit was nearly impossible.”
It was a setback, but only a minor one. Eissele dusted himself off ready to write the next chapter in his career. After being part of RIASA in England for a year and half, an opportunity arose for the American in Scandinavia. Eissele hints at the importance of your contacts in football.
“At the time there was one American that got us in on trial. Football is about who you know, and that one American was my opportunity – so I took it.”
That opportunity was a move to Finnish third division side Kemi Kings, and provided a massive culture shock for youngster who admits it was initially hard to settle in.
“The culture [in Finland] is very different. The people, the weather, the food, and the town [are all] very different. Those things were hard to get used to. I also signed there with another American that I had known previously, so that was important for the transition.”
Despite the vast change in lifestyle the former Florida student was an instant hit on the pitch. Kemi Kings were looking to put the disappointment of relegation in the previous season behind successful season.
Although the side failed in their ambition to top the league, the American had success in front of goal. 20 goals in just 21 starts and five substitute appearances made him the club’s top scorer at the end of the season. Following failure to return to the second tier at the first time of asking, there were many changes in the off-season.
The biggest change of all was the appointment as manager of West Ham United legend Tommy Taylor, who made over 300 league appearances for the Hammers.
Taylor had managed in Grenada and Spain as well as England before arriving in Finland and Eissele, after admitting it was hard to adjust to a manager who spoke a different language, has no doubt on the immediate impact the former Hammer had.
“Coach Taylor was an amazing player and he’s such a good manager. He understood his players and always considered them in his decision making. I’ve learned so much from Tommy that will stay with me going forward. It’s always great to be exposed to new trainers that will teach things you might not have thought of on your own.”
As well as a new manager, in came a host of new foreign players to try and boost the squad in its quest for promotion. Amongst them was English striker Billy Ions, who instantly hit off with the American.
“Billy is a great guy and an excellent striker. We had an understanding right from the beginning. He ended up playing winger for a lot of the matches, but we still were able to find each other a lot.”
Bolstered by new players and a manager with fresh ideas, Kemi Kings headed into the new season full of optimism. They did not disappoint.
The Kings finished top of their league with Eissele, Ions and a fellow foreigner, Canadian Tyler Pasher, all on top form. The then 20-year-old was in lethal goalscoring form once again, firing home 24 goals in 26 matches.
Finnish football’s third tier is split into four regional leagues with the winner of each entering the playoffs for the two promotion spots into the second tier. Unfortunately two narrow defeats HIFK in these playoffs prevented a dream first season for Taylor, but Eissele admits he has learned a lot so far in his two seasons.
“Finnish football is mostly played on the ground. In the UK, I found more teams played a lot more direct. The same is true in the USA. But Finnish football has made me focus on my passing and first touch.”
The season is now over but the American’s career is ready to begin its next episode. He has already trained with one of Finland’s biggest clubs, HJK Helsinki but his ambitions do not stop there.
“This next season I am hoping to get into the top division in Finland or some other European country. I turned 21 in June, so I’m hoping to keep working and climbing the ladder as far as it will take me.
“Football is an interesting game. What I mean by that is you never know where you will be headed. Long term, my goal is to play in one of the top leagues in the world and represent my country.”
Eissele certainly has had an eventful career but this is just the beginning. If he carries on scoring as he moves up ladder, he could well be donning the famous national team jersey and providing an additional attacking threat for Jurgen Klinsmann.
“I always try to set really big goals. Dream big, right?”
By Cam Melling
This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona