Life doesn’t always work out as one would hope or expect. Sometimes it appears that your destiny is written in the stars and whilst the success stories of people reaching the peak of their careers are the ones remembered the most, there are also countless other stories of squandered talent and missed opportunities. This is true in all aspects of life and football is no different. Premier League academies are filled to the brim with young prospects at every age level and for various reasons only a handful will be able to carve a career out of the game they love. It is an unforgiving sport where future stars can be tossed aside if their face doesn't fit.
In football, the stories that are the hardest to hear are those where a player has the world at his feet, the potential to go all the way, but is stopped by a career ending injury before he gets the chance to shine. Ex-Wimbledon and England Youth International Lionel Morgan would fall into this category, as would Dean Ashton. In addition to this there are the frustrating stories, those that consist of unfulfilled talent, missed opportunities or misguidance. Football is hard work and the path to success may not always be conventional but with determination and the right attitude, anything is possible (I feel like one of those motivational posters!).
Ligue 2 in France seems an unlikely destination to find someone, now aged 24, who was tipped as the next big thing in English football. It is here however where we find a man who broke into the first team at Crystal Palace aged 15 (I was still kicking a tennis ball around at school at that age!). It is in Ligue 2 where we find a man who made his debut in the Uefa Cup for Tottenham Hotspur aged just 16 and a man who captained England under 17s making 25 appearances. With credentials like this at such a young age, the hope of a nation would be that England had found a new Paul Gascoigne, Bobby Charlton or Glenn Hoddle, however for John Bostock, it did not quite work out that way and instead the priority became rebuilding a career and proving his doubters wrong.
Bostock was tipped to be a future England star and was one of the hottest young talents around when Tottenham snapped him up, aged 16, from the club he had supported as a child, Crystal Palace. The move was surrounded by controversy after Palace received what they believed to be a measly fee for the player, resulting in then chairman, Simon Jordan, tearing up Bostock's season ticket for the club. He also went on to accuse his agent of being a liar who was motivated by money as Jordan was left with a sour taste in his mouth from the whole ordeal. Prior to this, Peter Taylor had claimed that Bostock would become a 'great player' and Neil Warnock stated that he wanted to build his Crystal Palace team around the 15 year old. High praise for someone so young, so the question is, why did this not happen? Why wasn’t he able to forge a successful career in England's top flight?
Questions can be asked as to why his early promise was never fully realised. Perhaps he should have stayed at Crystal Palace to continue his development at the club who had raised him. Perhaps Spurs sent him on short loan spells too often causing him to never feel fully settled or wanted. It could be that in a game that is ran by money, some people saw him as a pay cheque rather than the talented young man he was. Or maybe the issue was even with Bostock himself and whether or not his mental strength was sufficient to deal with the pressure and expectation that was being heaped onto his young shoulders. Only the player himself will know what went wrong and I believe it is highly probable that even he can't pinpoint one exact reason as to why he isn't currently playing alongside Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen. Sometimes things just get away from us.
After being left out in the cold at Tottenham and a brief spell in Toronto, his career has, encouragingly, taken nothing but forward steps. His move to Royal Antwerp in the Belgian second tier, engineered by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, may have come as a shock to many but in fact should be applauded. To the neutrals such as myself, this move in 2013 signified that Bostock wanted a new challenge. More importantly, it showed that he was hungry to play football and had the confidence to take a chance overseas rather than drop down two or three divisions in England. Bostock was not playing this safe, he wanted a fresh start and backed himself to make it work.
After a successful season of first team football in Antwerp he moved to a club newly relegated to the second tier, OH Leuven. He scored 11 goals in 26 league appearances during his first season with OHL and was a fan favourite who proved to be a huge part of their promotion winning team, taking them back to the top tier of Belgian football. Although his second season at OHL ended in relegation, he was still a main stay in the starting line up and saw his reputation in Europe start to grow. Surely other clubs would be interested in taking him on?
In the Summer of 2016, French club RC Lens came calling. A two year deal was signed and with that, Bostock ended his three year stint in Belgian football to take a well deserved step up to a bigger club with more potential. His form has been superb so far this season and he is thriving under the pressure of playing for a club that has clear aspirations of returning to Ligue 1. RC Lens were the champions of France when they won Ligue 1 in the 1997/98 season and Bostock will be hoping he can play a big role in returning the sleeping giants to the big time.
What we know right now is that he is still only 24 years old and is more determined than ever. After being passed from pillar to post during his time at Spurs he has since found clubs that actually want him and allow him to play regular football. He has taken himself away from the intense pressure of the British press that found him seven years ago and has escaped all the negative connotations that some English fans may have when they hear the name, John Bostock. Above all, he is now free to enjoy his football and play with the freedom that he played with that led to him representing England's under 17s. It is RC Lens that are reaping the benefits of a happy and talented man.
In France, like he did in Belgium, Bostock is clearly flourishing and questions must be asked as to why the British football system could not nurture his early promise. Playing for England youth teams along side Jonjo Shelvey and Jack Wilshere, Bostock appeared to be the model professional as someone who has never touched a drop of alcohol. Whereas Wilshere was nurtured under a consistent regime at Arsenal, Bostock was at their North London rivals at a time when their manager was changing on a regular basis and players such as Luka Modric were being signed at the expense of young English prospects. Is too much pressure put on England's youth? Probably. Are clubs too quick to judge a player and therefore dismissing late bloomers? Undoubtedly (see Jamie Vardy).
Bostock has since revealed that he does hold some regrets over how he left Crystal Palace and that with hindsight he would have made different decisions. The road to return to the top will no doubt be tough but perhaps what he defines as 'the top' is now different from when he was 16. A husband, a father, a Christian and a Ligue 2 footballer, John Bostock is many things, but a sad story of wasted talent is one thing that he is not. Like Luke Steele, who we featured a few weeks ago, Bostock is finding his success away from these shores and all credit to him for having the mentality to try.
As a 16 year old he may have been naïve and he may have been mistreated. As a result it is unfortunate that the first chapter of his career did not go the way that he would have liked. A man cannot be judged however by what he achieves at 16 and should his career carry on in the same manner that it currently is, then he may well be in the French top flight within a year or two. If nothing else we should remember that this is a man with heart, confidence, a point to prove and unquestionable ability. If we don’t see him back in the English leagues in the future then I am convinced that it will be our loss as he is doing just fine without an English system that, in my opinion, failed him. One thing is for sure, Bostock is a man fast becoming one of those success stories that everyone loves to hear.
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