Joe Sbarra says he has a “massive” year ahead at Burton Albion as he looks to become a first-team regular.
The 20-year-old made 20 appearances in all competitions during the 2017-18 season – including 17 in the Championship – in what was a breakout campaign for the Albion academy graduate.
But an ankle injury just three League games into 2018-19 saw the versatile midfielder lose ground in the battle for a starting spot in Burton’s central midfield three or as one of the wide forwards – and he did not start another League match for the rest of the season.
Now the fleet-footed youngster’s focus is firmly on the campaign ahead with Burton, when he hopes to seize whatever chances he is given by Nigel Clough.
“It was a massive learning curve at Solihull because it’s such a contrast between playing styles,” he said.
“It was a very eye-opening experience, because that was my first move away, having to get to know new people as well, which was strange, walking into a changing room full of strangers.
“It was really good and I really enjoyed it. But I just want to get back to Burton now and kick on, especially after last year.
“I think personally this year’s massive for me. After last year, I was very disappointed in myself and how it panned out, because I was on such a high after the Championship year.
“I know we obviously got relegated, but I personally had a great season, and I felt after the injury that my standards slipped, which I was disappointed in myself with on reflection.
“This year, I’ve just got to kick on. I’ve come back in good shape, I’ve come back fit and strong, I’ve been in the gym – and I’m trying to improve every day playing football.
“So I think it’s putting me in good stead.
“We know we are not going to have 30 or 40 players in our squad, so the chances are the opportunities are going to come, it’s just whether you take them or you let them go.
“This year is massive for me, I’ve got to take every opportunity.
“If it’s two minutes at the end of the game, whether it’s a start, whether it’s three starts in a row, you never know.
“You’ve just got to be ready for whatever comes to you and make sure you take it.”
Last season, Sbarra was part of a quartet of Burton academy graduates who amassed 122 appearances between them, alongside Marcus Harness, Ben Fox and Reece Hutchinson.
That makes Sbarra the oldest and most experienced of the homegrown players in Albion’s squad, notwithstanding John Brayford, who started at Burton before their academy had been opened.
“It feels weird to be fair, because I’ve always had people ahead of me,” added Sbarra.
“You’ve got to enjoy it.
“I was gutted for Foxy, obviously being really close to him. I was gutted for him because I felt, as well as for me, this year is big for him, because he had a good season last year and he could’ve really kicked on.
“Marcus as well, I get on really well with him so I’m gutted that he’s gone.
“But if it means his career develops, then all the best to him and I wish him the best of luck with it.”
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