THE BIG INTERVIEW: Stephen Kingsley
9th April 2016
It is not every day you hear a Premier League legend sing your praises. Then again, it's not every day you make your top-flight debut at the Emirates Stadium, go up against household names in Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud, and come out on top. But it does happen; Stephen Kingsley is proof of that.
In his own words, it's been a "whirlwind" past month for the Scottish left-back, who helped the Swans beat Arsenal in their own back yard before following up his league debut with another impressive performance in the crucial home victory over Aston Villa at the Liberty Stadium.
His club form then earned him a call-up to the Scotland Under-21 national team for their European Championship qualifiers against Northern Ireland and France.
"It's easily been the best of month of my career so far," smiles Kingsley, reflecting upon what has been an incredible period for the Stirling-born defender. "It has been a whirlwind month. A lot has happened in a short space of time, but that's football for you - it can all happen so suddenly.
"There's a lot of things going on at the moment, but thankfully all the hard work is paying off on the pitch. It's definitely been the most challenging but also the most rewarding period of my career."
The icing on the cake was the praise he received from Arsenal legend and Sky Sports pundit Thierry Henry in the build up to Swansea's fixture against Aston Villa.
"It was a bit strange hearing Thierry Henry talk about me," admits Kingsley, shaking his head as if still in disbelief. "My dad mentioned it to me first and then my sister sent me a text soon after. It was very surreal.
"I recorded the Aston Villa game to watch it back. It was a shock but very nice to hear. It's a great compliment having someone of that stature praise you and it's a huge confidence booster."
It was the kind of praise that would be enough to send the head of any average 21-year-old into the clouds. Kingsley, however, is under no such illusion.
"You never feel like you've made it," he adds. "I will always look to improve and get better. I know there's a lot more work to be done, and I always reiterate to myself that it's a long road ahead.
"I have a lot of things I need to improve on and work on in my personal game. My aim right now is to keep on improving in training and hopefully that leads me to where I want to be."
Kingsley is a wise head on young shoulders. He states his belief that 'you can never take anything for granted in football' and explains how, through his time coming through the system at Falkirk, he has witnessed 'brilliant' players fall by the wayside because they didn't have the 'right attitude'.
He is fortunate enough to have a supportive family, who help keep him grounded, while he has benefitted from the perfect mentor throughout the early stages of his fledgling career. Kingsley certainly won't be getting ahead of himself.
"My family - my mum, dad and sister - have been hugely influential on my career, but in terms of the footballing world, Alex Smith at Falkirk was a big inspiration and a great mentor to me," says Kingsley. "I'm still in contact with him and he is always reminding me that the hard work is still to come, and it's good to have that.
"He's very knowledgeable and knows a lot of people in the game, so, somehow, he found out that I was starting against Arsenal and came down for the game. It was really good of him to come and watch me. He's extremely proud of both Jay (Fulton) and I, so it was a really nice touch."
Smith's apprentices Fulton and Kingsley both arrived at Swansea from Falkirk in 2014 - Fulton moved in the January, while Kingsley joined his compatriot six months later.
For players so young, Swansea's Scottish duo have experience beyond their years. Like Fulton, after making his senior debut at the age of 16, Kingsley featured over 100 times for Falkirk prior to his switch to South Wales.
Making his first appearance as a substitute in Falkirk's 2-1 win over Partick Thistle in the Scottish First Division, the youngster soon became a regular fixture in the Bairns' first-team before earning recognition for his encouraging performances when he was voted in the SPFL Championship Team of the Year in 2013-14.
He insists it's that experience of playing for points in the "tough" Scottish league that has aided his development.
"Getting that experience of senior football at a young age and understanding what the pressure was like to pick up the three points when you've got a crowd pressurising you as well was massive," says Kingsley.
"Playing in a hard league in Scotland, you need to be in top condition physically. It was difficult, but it made me think about my game and how to improve it, as well as helping me to toughen up.
"I don't think youth players get enough opportunities in football. It's starting to get a little bit better now, but any player would benefit from first-team football at a young age."
Kingsley's 108 games at Falkirk laid a solid foundation for his big move to SA1, while loan spells with Yeovil Town and Crewe Alexandra in England's third tier further prepared the young Scotsman for a crack at the big time.
"It is a massive jump," Kingsley admits when discussing the challenges of Premier League football. "Even when I first came down to train after I signed for the club, it obviously took a bit of time to get used to.
"Being that my league debut was against Arsenal, you expect the jump to be big against a side of their quality, but I felt ready and prepared for the challenge. It was what I expected in terms of the tempo and quality, as well as the pressure of getting results, which is something I really enjoy.
"I've been one to get nervous about games, but nothing changes when you go into first-team matches - the nerves come, but then they go as soon as the first whistle is blown. Then it's just like any other game, and you just have to make sure you have prepared well enough and that you're ready."
Kingsley proved he was more than suitably prepared. So much so that he was singled out for praise by first-team coach Alan Curtis in his post-match press conference.
"He came up to me before the Arsenal game and told me not to be surprised if I was starting and that they had every faith in me," Kingsley continues. "Then he showed me clips of Joel Campbell, Alexis Sanchez and Hector Bellerin, which is when it sunk in.
"But Alan gave me confidence. He told me I was more than capable of playing at that level, so just to go out and do my thing.
"The other players were brilliant with me too. Ash (Williams), in particular, was great. He's the leader and captain, so I knew he was going to be that player to help me through it. He talked me through the game and made me feel settled. When you're playing alongside players like that it makes it a lot easier."