AFC Telford United's Reece Styche eyeing more international action with Gibraltar
Representing your country at international level is generally considered the peak of a footballer’s career, with few ever getting the chance to do so.
Even fewer semi-professionals pull on their nation's colours, jetting off around the world while having to take time off from their day job back home.
But this is the life that AFC Telford’s Gibraltar international Reece Styche has become used to over the past five years, and the life he is so desperate to get another taste of this season.
“It’s a privilege to play for them, and I know how fortunate I am to have had the chance to represent the country,” Styche said. “I don’t ever want to close the door on it because I’d like to think I’ve done well enough to be appreciated there.”
He continued: “I’m hoping to keep myself in contention and look for a call up in March or June, whenever it may come.
“There will always be younger players coming through but I’m still thankfully playing at a really good level and hopefully I can keep showing myself in a good light.”
Styche, who qualifies for the country through his paternal grandmother, has been left out of the Gibraltar squad for their Euro 2024 qualifiers against France and Netherlands, the third time this year he has missed out on a call up.
The next opportunity for the 34-year-old to make Julio Cesar Ribas’ squad will be in March 2024, 10 years after his first call up under former boss Allen Bula.
His first international appearance came in a 4-1 home defeat against the Faroe Islands, and for reasons out of Styche's control it would be four years before he’d pull on the country’s colours again.
The striker was recalled to the squad in 2018 just days after scoring a hat-trick for Darlington against Brackley, who were managed at the time by current Telford boss Kevin Wilkin.
Having been told by Ribas that he 'needed to lose weight' to feature regularly in his side, a fire was lit inside of the forward to make his mark internationally.
And Styche was keen to stress that all the credit for Gibraltar’s recent remarkable rise should go to their Uruguayan manager.
“The manager now has brought in a real professional mindset and wants the best possible players playing for Gibraltar,” he said. “It’s been the best five years that you could wish to have.”
Styche added: “Julio changed everything and it’s him that the credit should all go to - the professionalism and accountability he’s instilled in players, he just changed people’s mindsets.
“Everything that we didn’t have on my first call up is there now and the success that we’ve had since he took over, for such a small nation, is there for all to see.”
Ribas, who was manager of Lincoln Red Imps when they shocked Celtic 1-0 in the Champions League in 2016, has instilled an underdog mentality in his side, challenging them to play their game and not the occasion against some of the world’s best players.
“I can’t speak too much Spanish, but when he talks it creates this feeling of ‘we can do it,’” Styche explained. “We won our first game in Armenia, and it was quite funny actually because the hostility of the Armenian fans was mental, absolutely mental.
“They didn’t like the fact that little old Gibraltar had come, and then we went and won 1-0.”
Styche has shared the pitch with some of the best players in the world, be it Virgil Van Dijk, Christian Eriksen or Erling Haaland.
Despite often playing non-league football days before, the striker explained he never lets such occasions get to him on the pitch.
“It sounds far-fetched but it’s not, I genuinely don’t go onto the pitch thinking ‘Oh my god that’s Haaland or that’s Van Dijk,’” Styche said. “I just don’t get starstruck like that, I just think you’re another person who happens to be better at football than us.
“At the end of the day it’s just two humans and that’s how I see it, I don’t get overawed by things.”
He could be forgiven for being overawed at the prospect of facing some of Europe’s most notable defenders, but instead the 34-year-old believes his game allows him to get the better of the majority of international centre backs.
“I was really confident when it came to the physical side of things,” he revealed. “European centre backs don’t like to go touch tight and when they do I can hold my own in that sense.
“Van Dijk was strong, and I could feel it whenever I tried to pin him, but there were others who really struggled against me.”
The Birmingham-born forward has three international goals to his name, netting against Switzerland, Montenegro and most recently Erling Haaland’s Norway.
And despite the Manchester City talisman firing in a hat-trick against Gibraltar, the Telford striker did not buy into the hype straight away having shared the pitch with him.
“Haaland wasn’t great in the two games I’ve played against him, I thought Sorloth was the better of the two,” he said. “As a neutral if you watched that not knowing which the £200m striker you’d probably have guessed it was Sorloth.”
The 34-year-old’s experience on the international stage was a big attraction to Telford boss Kevin Wilkin when he began his striker search in September.
And remarkably, the opportunity for Styche to join Telford came as a result of his international recognition.
“While I was away in September I think Matlock won four times, and the two strikers did really well,” he explained. “It’s only fair as a footballer that when things are going well, and people are scoring goals that things don’t change.”
He added: “I’ve found in the past that when you go away on international duty, and someone takes your place in the team and does well that you’re screwed basically.
“It was a detriment to me sometimes.”
Matlock’s loss was Telford’s gain, with the striker making a positive impact since arriving at New Bucks Head.
And with four months till the next international break, the Bucks will be hoping Styche can find the goal scoring form that fires him back into international contention.