Aberdeen midfielder Callum Roberts says the pain at being let go by boyhood club Newcastle United left him on the verge of quitting football.
Roberts is among Jim Goodwin’s 10 summer signings so far, having joined from Notts County ahead of the Premiership campaign.
The move came as a reward for his impressive two-and-a-half year spell at County, however the 25-year-old has had to work hard to get back on the footballing ladder.
In 2019, Roberts was told he had no future at Newcastle, despite having scored on his starting debut in an FA Cup tie against Blackburn Rovers only months beforehand.
Trials at Burnley, Middlesbrough and Southend United followed and the uncertainty took its toll on Roberts.
Having lost his love for the game, Roberts contemplated whether to continue playing.
That changed when English sixth-tier side Blyth Spartans, then managed by Lee Clark, came calling to offer him a lifeline.
He netted 17 goals in 22 appearances to earn a move up a division to National League side County, where his fine form continued.
Having made the switch to Pittodrie on a three-year deal, Roberts is pleased his persistence has paid off.
Roberts said: “It was just at the point when I was having to go on trial with quite a few different clubs. I didn’t really like it or feel like I was getting anywhere.
“I was going through a tough time off the pitch as well and I just wanted to stay somewhere a bit closer to home.
“That’s why Blyth was ideal for me. It was just about finding that love for the game again. Thankfully, that’s what I did.
“One of my best mates from school, Rhys Evans, was with me at Blyth. Even before I actually signed, he was always on at me to come and keep fit, keep my chin up and try to keep enjoying it.
“I’ve absolutely no idea what I’d have done if I did give the game up.
“It was a real sliding doors moment for me. I was having to basically re-evaluate my whole life. But, thankfully, I gave it another go.”
‘More needs to be done’
Although he has managed to revive his own career, Roberts feels for other players who are left on the footballing scrapheap at a young age.
He added: “If you are at a Premier League club, people just think you’ve got an easy life.
“When you get released you go from pretty much everything to nothing. In those two or three months when I didn’t have a club, that was the time when I was going to stop because there was nothing there.
“There’s definitely got to be more done for young players that come out of academies.
“Whether it’s a life away from football or helping you get trials at a different club before they know your contract is going to come to an end.
“You see far too many players these days get to the end of their contract, they’re told they are getting released and that’s it for them.
“If they or their agent can’t sort anything themselves, there’s not much you can do.
“I’ve seen a lot of talented young players leave the academy system and then just fall away completely out the game.
“I was basically just at the point where I was giving it one last try with Blyth. In the end, it was the best thing that ever happened for me.”
Unfinished business in Scotland
Roberts is no stranger to Scottish football, having made 11 appearances during a loan stint with Kilmarnock in 2017.
Having been 19 at the time of the move, Roberts feels ready to make a bigger impact on the Premiership with the Dons.
Roberts, who made his Dons debut as a substitute in last weekend’s 2-0 loss to Celtic, added: “When I went to Kilmarnock, it was my first professional loan. It was all new to me, going into a new dressing room and going into the men’s game.
“I probably wasn’t the player or person I am today. I feel like I’ve got a lot of unfinished business here in Scotland to be honest.
“When you go on loan, it’s a learning experience both on and off the pitch. Moving away from home for the first time as a young lad, it was tough.
“I think I’ve probably got more consistency in my game now. Back then I was kind of in and out of the team.
“But you learn the mental side of the game as you get older. You’ve also got to be fitter and stronger, which I’ve worked on.”