For someone still fairly early on in their career, Aaron Tshibola has been and done lots in his time in professional football. By the age of 25, he’s already played abroad twice, made multi-million pound moves and played for some of the biggest teams in the UK.
A breakthrough star at Reading, he battled injury to hit form and secure a big-money move to then-free spending Aston Villa. A series of loans and moves abroad have followed since his Villa move didn’t go quite according to plan, but that has only made him more determined.
Now he’s back at one of his former loan clubs, Kilmarnock, eager to make an impact, signing a one-year deal. Alongside boyhood club Reading, he regards Killie as his football home. A move was talked about in January, but nothing came to fruition as he moved to Portugal.
Back in familiar settings, Tshibola wants a place to settle. Initially for the midfielder, it was Steve Clarke who kindled his Kilmarnock love-in.
“He was a massive part,” Tshibola told NTOF. “I’d been in the Villa reserves for four months and it’d been a long, long time for me without football. Clarke gave me a call and asked if I wanted the opportunity, I felt like I had to do it.
“I came and Scotland was another chapter that was opening in my career. The last year previous had been a tough time so I had to find my feet, get up, go again. The gaffer knew my attributes, I just thought ‘who better to go back to.’
“I’ve never had any doubts in what I can do or what I can deliver. It has always been my duration at these places. MK Dons was not long enough, Nottingham Forest I didn’t play many games, Villa was a transition. I got to Killie, the gaffer was there, I felt good, comfortable. It took me a while to adapt and get on my feet in the Scottish game, but then I did. My name started getting about again. Then it was the national team, football’s a funny game. It wouldn’t have happened without the blessing of the gaffer.
“He set levels; you couldn’t slack in training. It was intense, competitive, fun, we had the right balance. When it’s go time, it’s go time. He wants everything done 100%. Even by the sound of his voice, you listen. He had experience in the Premier League, and you have to take onboard what he has to say.”
Feet on the ground
He knew a few SPFL names ahead of his first Killie move alongside Clarke. Jordan Jones had been a previous teammate; he is friendly with Glen Kamara. But most importantly, he just had to play games. He didn’t care what it was like, come hell or high water, he was going to play.
“I’m all for experiences, the great thing is that I was able to humble myself before going to these places,” Tshibola said of his various moves.
“I had seen the great things, but I’ve witnessed how low you can get in League Two. I’ve played places like York away, being at the Villa’s and Forest’s, you get used to certain things and facilities, it was luxury. Artificial pitches were new, but I just got on with it. If you cannot be humble and you think you’re bigger than you are, that’s when you struggle.”
Steve Clarke may no longer be in the Kilmarnock hotseat, but his Killie assistant Alex Dyer is. He is heading into his first full term as the Rugby Park manager and Tshibola is coming along for the ride.
He’s worked with him before – and Tshibola isn’t short of kind words for Dyer: “He was very instrumental. For example, if the gaffer were away, he’d take the sessions and implement his way into the sessions. He was the motivator.
“Everyone had the same respect for him as we did the gaffer. He wasn’t just watching everything, he put the foot down. The respect was always there, and it still is now.
“He knows how the gaffer worked, he brought back the core players like Kirk Broadfoot that were there with Steve Clarke. From what I understand, Angelo Alessio took a lot of the core players out and they lacked fitness. One thing I know is Alex Dyer will have been giving them a good kick up the a**e to give them the fitness they need, ready to attack the season.”
It’s another new term at another club for Tshibola. For him though, it’s not a completely new experience – he’s just returning home.
“There were discussions before with my agents and stuff, but that was it,” he explained of previous return talks. “I wanted to continue my adventure in Europe and there was an opportunity in Portugal I did not want to turn down.
“I was able to achieve playing against some big clubs so that’s why nothing happened in January. I feel like I am in a moment in my career where I need to settle.
“I’ve been abroad and done that, so maybe it’s time to come home. Other than Reading, I’d said Killie is my home.”
A full version of our interview with Tshibola can soon be found on the Banks and Black YouTube channel.