Shrewsbury's Toto Nsiala battles strikers – and lack of self-belief
While Wigan lifted the FA Cup in 2013, Toto Nsiala was without a club, failing to earn himself a contract after numerous trials.
In the end he went on a holiday to Vietnam, where he played first and second tier football. He finally started again with Southport in January 2014.
In three years he has climbed two divisions, and is now a crucial part of Paul Hurst’s Shrewsbury Town backline in League One.
He is charged with keeping fellow unbeaten side Wigan out at Montgomery Waters Meadow.
But despite the rapid rise, the chirpy member of Town’s dressing room, who is never missing a smile on his face behind the scenes, struggles with confidence and belief.
In a fascinatingly honest chat, he revealed how Hurst and No.2 Chris Doig – who he worked with at Grimsby – are central to him having any ounce of self-belief.
“I’ve not always had faith in myself, no,” said Nsiala.
“I had a bit of a dip when I went to Hartlepool (in 2016), I don’t believe in myself as much as they (Hurst and Doig) believe in me – put it that way.
“I’m glad I’ve got the two of them that believe in me as much as they do.
“I’ve got a lot of self doubt. It’s good to have the belief coming from the gaffer.”
After being let go by Everton at the age of 20, he joined Accrington Stanley but was soon deemed surplus to requirements. Nothing would fall into place for the Congo-born stopper.
So he got away to travel.
“That was a nice holiday!” Nsiala smiled in reflection. “I went for a couple of weeks away and I got told I could play, I thought ‘why not?’ and I did – it was really nice.
“First it was with Ha noi FC and then I ended up playing for Dong...I can’t even say it! (Dong Thap FC) But it was football. It was fun. I didn’t really have anything else here so it worked well.”
Despite his smile, it wasn’t easy. A negative reputation was getting in the way
Toto added: “It was a really down period. I was trying to get anywhere I could.
“I went on trial with a lot of clubs. It’s probably my own fault but I had a bad reputation at a young age, it didn’t help me. I went to Torquay who were in League Two, it didn’t work out. I went to Dundee and Partick Thistle and it didn’t work out.”
“I started again at Southport and now I’m here.”
Even today Nsiala’s perfectionist demons kick in. He added: “I do beat myself up after an error.
“Even when we beat Rochdale 3-2, I gave the two penalties away, it didn’t really feel like a win to me.
“I had the gaffer and Coyney (Danny Coyne) telling me to get my head up.
“When something goes wrong for me...I just like winning and playing good.
“If it’s not a good day for me I really beat myself up, a bit too much really.”
Now Nsiala and Wigan go head-to-head. Testing himself against the top oppositions means plenty to one of Town’s fans’ new favourites. He said: “They’re still a massive team with a lot of good players and a big budget. When you say ‘Wigan’, you know they’re a big team. It’s a game I’m really looking forward to.”
“Any player thrives against bigger teams. Say it was Man United in the FA Cup, you’ve got to step up your game and test yourself.”
Meanwhile, Hurst revealed full-back Joe Riley – who returned spectacularly following a four-month absence with his added time winner at Coventry – could be ready for a place on the bench.
Midfielder Bryn Morris is recovering after knee surgery.
He has started running and is expected to return to full training in two weeks.