From rejection to ultimate redemption - The many real battles of Rollin Menayese
- Credit: Archant
In the last few years Weston have been blessed with talented players who have made the jump from non-league into the Football League.
Some of them have arrived on loan, while others have come just after being let go by their parent clubs.
In Decemeber 2016, Rollin Menayese, who had been with Cardiff City since the age of 14, was told he would be released by the Bluebirds after five years with the club, which came just six months after his twin brother Elvis.
“We’ve always played together, we both signed at Cardiff together and we were both let go together,” began Menayese.
“At the time it was kind of hard because he was let go just before me. It was hard to see him struggle to find another club.
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“I got released shortly after him and I was facing the same problems he had.
“When I finally got the chance to go and play at Weston it was the best blessing I could ever really ask for and if it wasn’t for them, I don’t really know what I would do now.”
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Now 22, Menayese is currently plying his trade for Bristol Rovers, where the defender has enjoyed a breakthrough season making a total of 20 appearances in all competitions, following loan spells with Swindon Town and Aldershot Town in the last couple of campaigns.
His good form with The Pirates has seen him be awarded a new contract to stay on with the club, but his journey into the professional game has been met with a lot of sacrifices along the way.
Menayese was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo in December 1997, just a few months after the First Congo War had ended.
Less than a year later, the country would once again be a war zone and the Second Congo War would last between August 1998 and July 2003.
“Although I can’t really remember too much about the inner conflict,” he recalls.
“I know about what was going on in that country and I understand what has gone on there.
“I’m grateful to be here right now and to be doing something I’m really enjoying every day. I’m really glad about that.”
Menayese still has family in Congo, but moved to Newport at the age of five with his mum and brothers in search of a better life.
“My mother wanted the best for us, to support us the best the way she could,” he added.
“She brought us over here to have the best chance in life, I’m grateful for that, she made a lot of sacrifices for us. I owe my mum a lot.”
His determination is the key reason why he has got so far, his ambition steers him to become better each day and because of his attitude he gets presented with life-changing opportunities.
At every youth level with Cardiff, Menayese was given the captaincy, a feat he took onto the international stage with Wales under-16s and under-17s.
He would play alongside future internationals Harry Wilson, Daniel James and Joe Morrell as well as current Rovers teammate, who is capped at under-21 level, Cian Harris.
“Those experiences were unreal,” Menayese said.
“It was probably one of the best experiences of my life.
“At a young age, going to different countries and playing in different tournaments, it was a really good insight into how people play football and I’ve got some good friends from that and I played with some good players as well.”
But after facing heartbreak following his departure from Cardiff in the winter of 2016, joy would soon take over as Menayese would be quickly snapped up by Scott Bartlett to sign for Weston.
The then teenager would go on to make his debut in the same month as his departure from the Championship club against Chelmsford City, with his new side having only picked up one win from their previous 19 matches.
“It was a real eye opener when I first came down there, they were struggling,” he said.
“I never really played against men properly in a physical game with points on the line.
“Especially in my position there was a lot of things I needed to work on.
“They gave me the opportunity and we started to win games and I found myself improving.
“I was looking forward to and excited for games. It was all about winning really and I like that competitive side. I think that brought the best out of me.”
After helping The Seagulls pick up a draw against The Clarets, which was their first point at home since their opening-day victory of the season over Whitehawk, Menayese would go on to play another 21 games in the second half of the campaign.
And the selfless actions of Chris Barker, whose death in January is still met with sadness by all the clubs he played for and coached, saw the Welsh youth international grow not only as a player but as a person too.
“I owe a lot to ‘Barks’ – he was one of the most genuine guys in football,” Menayese said.
“He told you how it was and he was just a good friend really.
“He helped me out massively, he picked me up to take me to training and he helped me improve my individual games.
“He always talked to me about it and checked up on me. He wanted the best for me and I really do appreciate it. I learnt a lot from him and I’m really grateful for all he did for me.”
Another person Menayese is thankful to is current Weston manager Bartlett.
“I love Scott, he gave me the chance when a lot of people said no,” he added.
“He showed me a path to have a career in the game and helped me progress.
“When I first joined the non-league set up, they were the only team that wanted to play football.
“I just loved everything that was run about it, the way the coaches wanted to play football and I bought into that quite quick.
“It taught me a lot about when to play and not to play. I wouldn’t be where I am now and I owe Scott a lot. He invested a lot of time in me and I appreciate that.”
Just months after it looked like his dreams had ended following his departure from Cardiff, Menayese secured a transfer to Rovers in the summer of 2017. A move which helped him realise his childhood dream.
“Every kid wants to be a footballer growing up, when you get told at the end of the day you are not good enough, you get your reward coming down,” he said.
“Weston gave me the opportunity to go out and play. To get myself back in the Football League and play games now is a dream come true personally.
“It’s making my family proud, to do what I am doing and what I love.
“To train Monday to Friday is a blessing. I couldn’t have imagined doing anything different but it’s a dream come true to be a footballer.
“I know and I understand I’m nowhere near yet and there is a lot of work to do, a lot of improving to do and to be at Weston, to where I am now.
“I’ve just got to make sure I take the opportunity and keep on improving and keep progressing.”
Despite doing it the long way round, Menayese has learnt an important lesson in making the most of every opportunity around him and his journey has helped him realise more people should do the same thing he did.
“A lot of people develop at different stages,” he added.
“Someone who has just come up from the academy from a young age, non-league is really where you can go and show yourself against men and real competitions and teams that matter.
“It’s where you improve the most and there’s always a lot of people watching.
“If you believe in yourself and you work hard, I feel it’s a great opportunity for you to go out and play in front of a few people and just get the development you need.
“At the end of the day, I feel nothing beats a game at three o’clock and three points to play for.
“I was lucky enough to get that opportunity at Weston, it was probably one of the most beneficial times in my career so far I’d say.”