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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Andrea Borg adapting quickly to life as a professional footballer at Peterborough United

It has been a fast turnaround from living in Dubai to preparing to compete in the third tier of English football for the teenager.

Andrea Borg has swapped life in Dubai for the challenges of English Division One football with Peterborough United. Joe Dent / Peterborough United Football Club
Andrea Borg has swapped life in Dubai for the challenges of English Division One football with Peterborough United. Joe Dent / Peterborough United Football Club

Andrea Borg has just finished the shoot for the official team photo at Peterborough United, further underlining his rise from trainee scholar to a member of Grant McCann’s senior squad.

It is a week out from the beginning of the League One season in England, and Borg, the teenager who honed his skills in Dubai, cannot wait to get started.

With two first-team appearances at the end of the 2016/17 campaign and an inaugural pre-season as a professional under his belt, he is hoping for a place in the match-day squad for Saturday’s big kick-off against Plymouth Argyle.

Still three months shy of his 18th birthday, Borg concedes he remains very much in pinch-yourself territory.

“It still hasn’t really hit me yet,” he admits, relaxing into his seat inside the Abax Stadium.

“Not as much as you’d think it would. It’s just excitement all the time - a big step from the youth team going to the first team and playing league football as well. A massive step.”

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Indeed, it has been just that. A product of the It’s Just Football academy in Dubai, the Malta-born midfielder joined Peterborough as a trainee little more than 12 months ago.

By March, he had impressed enough to be promoted to first-team training, making the bench for the League One fixtures against Gillingham and Charlton Athletic. Within two weeks, Borg was rewarded with a two-year professional deal.

Then came a start against Fleetwood Town and a substitute appearance on the final day at Bolton Wanderers. It took a bit of getting used to.

“I was very nervous at first,” Borg says. “But it’s fine when you go onto the pitch: you just get excited and the pressure leaves and it’s great. It’s a nice feeling, seeing the crowd, but then you focus on the play.

“Obviously when you go in front of a crowd for the first time you feel nervous, because you don’t know what they think. But now I feel fine when I play in the stadium. I’d never really played against a team where there are loads of people watching. Normally it was just parents on the sidelines.”

Borg’s parents were there to see their son make his senior debut. They told him they could not make the trip from Dubai, but surprised Borg at the match and have watched online every minute he has played since.

They have recently relocated from Dubai back to their native Malta, meaning there will be more opportunity to see Borg play in person. Especially since the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Yeah, everyone was happy,” Borg says. “Grant gave me a pro contract for a reason, so it’s just carry on, be yourself and don’t get frustrated because it’s always going to be a test to see how you do, even if you don’t play.”

It speaks a lot to McCann’s faith in Borg. A midfielder, Borg showcased his ability last season after initially struggling to settle, scoring three of the six goals nominated for the youth team’s goal of the season.

As a former manager of the Under 16s, McCann has a clear interest in the club’s youngsters, so Borg was afforded the step up. His development has continued at pace.

“Definitely, my standard have gone up massively, because it’s a different level,” Borg says. “You just have to adapt as quickly as you can. And I’ve improved hugely, progressed loads more: technically, even tactically and mentally.

“Grant trusts the young guys. If you’re dong well and he believes that you’re good enough and you’re ready for the first team he’ll play you. He doesn’t care if you’re young - he puts you straight into the team.”

Borg has aimed to repay that faith since pre-season began on June 26. He spent the off-season back in Dubai before joining up with his teammates and then hitting Spain for a six-day training camp. From there, he has featured regularly in a series of friendlies.

Crucially, Borg feels like he belongs. “The first-team players have been great, giving tips and advice,” he adds. “Junior [Morias] has helped me massively. Even if I’m being annoying they still help me.”

Steven Taylor, the former Newcastle United defender, signed for Peterborough last week and has been quick to encourage, too. Not bad, coming from a guy who played almost 12 years at the highest level of English football.

“I used to watch him on TV when I was young,” Borg says. “He’s been very helpful, a very nice guy.

"It gives me loads more confidence, because trust is a big thing in football. And if people trust you then you feel good so play better. So it’s all good.”

It all points to Borg making the most of the opportunity. If he does not feature regularly in the league, then there is the FA Cup, the League Cup, the Checkatrade Trophy and the U23s competitions.

“Obviously, I’d love to play a few games for the first team, but I’m not expecting too much,” Borg says. “Because I’m still young and not that experienced.

"Hopefully every now and then I can nick a few minutes, even on the bench, just watching it and being involved with the squad. That would be great.”

There are other perks of being involved. As a member of the first team, Borg no longer has to do the daily chores given to trainees, such as cleaning the dressing room or scrubbing the boots of midfielder Leonardo da Silva Lopes, like he did last season.

“I clean my boots sometimes now, to stay where I am, not to get too big-headed,” says Borg, whose increased profile has prompted an increase in autograph hunters. Much like the player, though, his signature remains a work in progress.

“I’ve changed it already, because it was horrendous last season,” Borg says. “The first-team players got on to me as well, so I had to change it.”

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