Izale McLeod admits the opportunity to play again for the manager who gave him his big break was too good to turn down.
The former Derby, MK Dons and Charlton striker is one of 15 new signings at Crawley this summer.
At 29, McLeod can reflect on a career which has seen him move for £1.1million, score more than 100 Football League goals and win an England under-21 cap.
But he hopes there is still plenty more to come after signing a two-year deal at the Checkatrade.com Stadium following his release after a second spell at MK Dons – and McLeod believes Reds boss John Gregory is the man who can help make it happen.
It was then Derby County manager Gregory who gave 17-year-old McLeod his professional debut in a 1-0 win for the Rams away to Ipswich on September 28, 2002.
McLeod started in a Derby team which also included the likes of Rob Lee, Warren Barton and Mart Poom, with Georgi Kinkladze on the bench, and like any young player it was a day he will never forget.
He will always be grateful to Gregory for showing that faith in him and 12 years on McLeod hopes the same manager will help kickstart his career.
The big striker told The Argus: “I have previous with the gaffer as he gave me my debut at Derby County as a 17-year-old. The gaffer rang me up in the summer and sold the club to me.
“He said he wanted me to come, he wanted to build something special here and I wanted to be a part of it so I came.
“Every footballer will tell you that you never stop learning from 17 to 35. You always have something to learn, no one knows it all.
“The gaffer has managed at the top level, he has bags of experience so it is good for the boys here – the older boys and the younger boys – to listen and learn and take what the gaffer gives us.”
It has been a summer of change at Crawley with the bulk of last season’s squad leaving and lots of new players arriving.
It was a necessary rebuilding job to ensure the Reds can manage the financial pressures of running at League One level on small crowds.
But McLeod likes the look of the squad Gregory has put together.
He said: “We are doing really well. We have a small squad, the management side and the recruitment are looking for other players but with the players we have brought in we have got some good experience.
“We have some younger boys as well that are hungry and even the older boys are really hungry and want to win so we have a good mix.
“I think everyone is pushing in the right direction. We have an excellent man20agement team here who are making sure we are working when we need to work and resting when we need to rest. We went to Woking (on Wednesday) and it was a good test which will only help our cause.
“As you get closer and closer to the start of the season you want to be testing yourself physically, you want to be testing yourself technically and that game was exactly what we needed.”
McLeod is likely to start at Barnsley next Saturday alongside fellow summer arrival Gavin Tomlin.
The absence of Matt Harrold due to a minor knee operation has left Gregory short on attacking options but McLeod believes his partnership with Tomlin is developing nicely.
He said: “It is steadily coming along. Wednesday was only the second game we have played together but we seem to have a pretty decent understanding.
“We linked up a couple of times in the first half and the second half. I’m enjoying it so far.”
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