Anyone who has watched defender Dynel Simeu’s performances from afar over the last few weeks could be forgiven for thinking he’d come through the ranks at Brunton Park and that he’s now playing for the club he’s supported all his life, such is the level of passion he’s shown as each of the last four vital victories have been notched up.
But, of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth, with the imposing centre back having had his grounding at one of the biggest clubs in the country – Chelsea – before heading back to his hometown of Southampton, from where he is currently enjoying his loan to the Cumbrians.
Nine appearances in, he quickly admitted that it hasn’t all been plain sailing when he spoke to the media after the win against Northampton on Saturday, but that he’d taken to life up north like a duck to water.
“I’m just loving my football at the moment,” he said. “I thought it was tough coming to the club when it was in bad form, and it wasn’t the start I wanted.
“Huge credit to the lads, they’ve made me feel so comfortable. What doesn’t break you makes you stronger, and I’ve just had tunnel vision really.
“I’ve focused on myself, but I’ve had the whole team behind the scenes reminding me what I’m good at. I think working hard every day and having that focus has helped me to develop into a better player.”
His full-blooded approach has certainly struck a chord with the fans, who have taken to cheering almost every touch he makes, particularly if it’s a block or clearing header.
“I just think I can’t be satisfied with what I’ve done, I’ve got to keep going,” he insisted. “When I came here I said I was going to embrace the challenge, and I was going to be full on.
“To have this interaction with the fans, I just try to enjoy every minute I can. The one goal of mine I have through it all is to develop as a player and help the team. The team comes first, and if I’m going to develop properly I need to be a team player.
“I can’t shine if the team doesn’t help me, so all of them deserve real credit for what they’re doing for me. I don’t know how many players there are, it’s not just the starting 11, it’s Tobi coming on and scoring. It’s all so important.
“Even the injured lads, like Rod, a centre half with a load of experience, he’s been superb for me. He’s given me encouragement for every game and even though he’s just coming back from injury and gutted not to be involved, he’s helping me.
“It’s little things, like the skipper Callum Guy who is always helping, and Mark Howard has been huge for me. He’s such an experienced keeper and he talks me through the game on and off the pitch.
“The lads love to banter me because I ask so many questions, but I’m here to learn so that’s not going to stop. I think I just need to keep learning from the lads because they’ve got so much experience and I’m only going to become a better player for it.”
Touching more on the tough start to his half-season loan with the Blues, he commented: “I think I’ve just got really high standards and that’s been set from my background and where I’ve come from.
“I’ve always kept that with me, my standards are high, and I think we’ve set high standards as a team as well. It’s about sticking to it now, and I know the areas where I need to be better.
“When I watch back the goal Northampton scored, I’m not too sure if I could have done more, but as a defender I can always do more. I just think I have to be really critical about my game, because I’m learning, I’m not going to be the finished article.
“The fans have been patient with me, I came in and had to find my feet, but now I’m enjoying my football and I’m getting more comfortable, but it can’t stop there. I need to get better and better.”
The celebrations with the fans, the mutual respect shown from pitch to terraces when the final whistle blows, and the outpouring of love he receives on social media has all got to be new and exciting for a player who has literally only just turned 20 [yesterday].
“I just love the club, the fans are great,” he smiled. “The adrenalin rush I get from interacting with the fans is something you can’t beat. It means the world. I’m loving every minute.
“We went through some tough times but I always wanted to clap them because without the fans we’re nothing. They keep the club going, they’re the heart of the club.
“I’ve seen messages over the last few days about how much the club means to the fans and it means a lot to me. I play with my heart on my sleeve and if I’m here I’m going to give my all to the team.
“At the end of the day it’s about the fans. Yeah, I love Southampton, I’m from there, but I love this club too. This is where I’m at, my focus is here, and who knows what the future holds.
“It’s huge to be experiencing this. I love it, just love it. As a young player it’s so welcoming to know that they’re all behind me. It gives you momentum and fire in your belly. I love them all.
“If I have a bad game I’ll get stick, but that’s football, that’s reality. When you do something wrong you expect to get critiqued, but when you do something well they’re the first to get behind us and the first to say well done.
“The sooner you realise that the better, because they’re huge and I think we should keep thanking every single one of them. It was such a big crowd and it’s people who are spending their hard earned money to come and watch us.
“We’re just trying to give everything back and everyone in the changing room wants to do that. We want to help the team stay up.”
Under-23 football provided its own type of learning environment, but the enthusiasm he has for this current challenge is there for all to see as he accepts that he can perhaps be a ‘bit of a pain’ when it comes to building up his knowledge bank.
“It’s the best place I could be,” he said. “I was speaking to Omari the other day, and like I say they go on at me because I just ask questions after questions.
“I just feel I’m at one of the best places to learn, so I need to soak it up. I’m like a sponge, so I’m going to ask questions a lot. I might be a pain in the neck, and I might sound annoying, but I really want to learn.
“There’s no point in just going through the motions, I need to embrace the journey. I’m sure I’ll look back in the future and this will be a huge part of my career if, hopefully, I have a long one. You’re never too old to learn.
“What’s important, and I keep getting reminded about this, is it’s about the future. I need to have one set goal, I know what I’m good at, and I’ve come here to learn other things.
“First and foremost I need to defend, and it took me some time to learn and adapt, but the best place to do that is out on the pitch. I can watch 20 clips of us playing and think I’m learning, but you need to be on the pitch to experience it and know where to be.
“You need to accept the fact that you’re going to make mistakes, and I will always try to minimise that. I’m a defender, so mistakes can be really costly. I need to be reliable and I need to think positive.
“We’ve had some disappointing results but you quickly have to get onto the next. Tuesday is coming quickly and it’s another chance to make things better.”
“But the difference from under-23 football is massive,” he continued. “The main difference is that you don’t really get the atmosphere at 23s and the pressure doesn’t build.
“As much pressure as you can put on yourself, the external pressure in the league is huge. 8,500 fans, that’s incredible and it’s pressure in itself, along with the expectations you put on yourself.
“Even the table, a few days ago we had big problems, we still aren’t clear, we still want to win every game, but being down there is reality.
“Within the first month unfortunately we weren’t doing too well, we saw a manager go, which wasn’t nice, but I’m learning that things like that are real. You don’t see this side of it in the academy.
“So much has happened so quickly and it’s about staying focused. This is men’s football, it means so much to so many people. This is Carlisle’s club, this is a community, and it’s not just a kickabout.”
“That’s why these four wins are so important,” he continued. “What that’s done is boosted us from the bottom, but there are 11 more games to go so it means we haven’t done anything yet. We haven’t achieved anything.
“I think it shows how quickly things can change in football. Four games ago it was so negative. The morale wasn’t good, but all we’ve done since then is play four more games.
“We have to keep going so all we can do is play each game one at a time. We’re confident, we’re going to stick together and everyone is going to work hard and hopefully we’ll finish the season strong.”
And as big as the crowd was at Oldham, and as noisy as it was at Orient, it was the first time he’d ever experienced a win in the manner in which it was claimed on Saturday afternoon.
“All of those fans, incredible support,” he agreed. “The noise, the adrenalin rush, Gibbo’s ice in the veins to convert the penalty, everything was crazy.
“I loved every single minute of it and the reason we play football is for that feeling. As bad as the lows of football are, the highs are great, and that’s what you want to feel every time you go out there.
“You can’t recreate the feeling you get when you win a game, it’s just such a good experience. It’s a lot to take in all at once but I’m trying to enjoy every single moment, the highs and the lows.
“I’m really grateful that I’m here, at such a big club and with such great fans. I think I’m very lucky to be in a changing room like it, and the culture in there is great.
“And me and Morgs are really enjoying playing beside each other. I love Morgan, he heads everything. I think that guy would head a missile.
“We all love defending, first and foremost we’re defenders, and we’re all ready to put our bodies on the line. I think it’s really important to congratulate each other when we do that because for a defender it’s equivalent to scoring a goal.”
But where has the current upturn in form come from?
“I don’t know, you know,” he admitted. “I think firstly it’s the standard we’ve set ourselves. Punctuality, everything, we’ve set a bar and the fans expect us to deliver.
“The more you win the harder it gets, and as professionals you know you have to be at the top of your game.
“The manager has been great, he demands from us and I think we’ve got a great togetherness in the changing room. Everyone has bonded, and it was always going to be tough.
“I don’t know how many players we had come in, and it was so hard to gel. Everything is coming together now.
“It’s been a rollercoaster, to be honest. I’ve enjoyed the tough times, and the good times, and it’s been really important for myself to not go into my shell. It’s easy as a young player to do that if things aren’t going right, but people like Gav and the gaffer have been great with me.
“They keep encouraging me and I know now it’s about how I react when I make mistakes. It’s also about learning as quickly as possible because the team relies on me so much in the position I play.
“I’ve just had to mature so much, simplify my game and make sure that I can be relied upon and trusted.
“But nothing’s done yet. We know where we are, we’re not even clear of relegation fully yet. We need to enjoy it, this is why we play football, but come Monday when we’re back in we need to switch our focus to Newport at home.
“It is important to enjoy the good moments but we have to remember there are still 11 games to go. I’ve said from the first day I got here that I thought we had so much quality in the dressing room.
“I’m young so this is almost my first proper first team environment, and I couldn’t understand why we weren’t getting results. On our day our squad is as good as any.
“It’s easier said than done, you need a lot more than to just have a good squad. You need to produce it out on the pitch. I see some great quality in training but we need to bring that onto the pitch for every game.
“That isn’t easy but when things aren’t going right we need to stick together, get the basics right, which I think we’ve done in most games so far.”
And the most important thing – what did he do for his birthday on Sunday?
“My family have come up for the first time, because it’s so far, so I think I’ll just spend my time with them,” he explained. “I want to enjoy that because it’s so important to have family around you.
“I can’t do too much, because of the Newport game, but I’ll chill with them.”
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