Enrique Russell determined to cement his place in Bermuda squad
Enrique Russell is hopeful the he has done enough to force his way into the Bermuda squad for the World Cup qualifiers.
The PHC striker did his cause no harm after enjoying a dream debut with a goal in a 3-0 victory in the first of two friendlies against Bahamas as part of the training camp in Florida last week.
For the 21-year-old, it was the realisation of a long-term dream, having previously pestered national coach Kyle Lightbourne about handing him an opportunity on the international stage.
“My debut was definitely everything I had dreamt of and wished for,” said Russell, who saw his burgeoning professional career with the Bournemouth academy dealt a blow after injuring his anterior cruciate ligament playing for the under-18s in a friendly against Milton Keynes Dons in 2017.
“It’s funny because I used to constantly message Kyle [Lightbourne] and send him highlight videos of myself showing him what I’m all about when I was in England in the hope of getting called up to the Bermuda squad.
“He always told me to keep working hard, and it was great to finally be given that chance and come away with a goal.
“As a striker it is obviously my job to go out and score goals, and that is my aim every game I go into. I always feel confident about being able to do that and I’m just so pleased I managed to come away with a goal on my Bermuda debut.
Reflecting further on his debut, Russell, who is his club’s leading scorer with eight goals this season, was delighted to pick up where he left off, having seen the Premier Division campaign curtailed owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I did what I had to and took the opportunity,” he added. “It wasn’t a particularly hard chance, but funnily enough they are my favourite type of goals. It was about being in the right position at the right time. I like to think it was a real striker’s goal.
“To be back out on the field just felt great and it was amazing to pick up where I left off in the league campaign. It felt like I didn’t miss a step and have just continued what I’ve been doing for PHC this season.
“As a striker I think a lot of it comes purely down to confidence and instinct, and for me I don’t overthink when I’m on the pitch. Obviously, international football is a big step up from playing domestically, but I feel I will score goals at any level.
“The best way to show I deserve to be involved in the squad is to take the chances I’m given, and hopefully I did that.”
Having shone in his first taste of international action, Russell is hopeful of being given the chance to continue his goalscoring exploits with a place in the squad to face Canada at the Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida, on March 25.
“Hopefully, I’ve done enough to show that I deserve to be in the squad for the World Cup qualifiers,” he said. “To be involved in the World Cup qualifiers would mean everything.
“I’m born and bred in Bermuda and have played at all levels so to have already scored for my country and now be in the conversation about being involved in the World Cup qualifiers is a dream come true.”
Covid-19 and Fifa restrictions look set to prevent Lightbourne from including some key personnel, including talisman Nahki Wells, for both the Canada encounter and the visit of Aruba five days later.
While Russell acknowledges the obvious void left by the absence of senior players such as the Bristol City forward, he is unwavering in his confidence about helping to deputise should the opportunity to do so arise.
“I’m confident in my ability at international level and I feel I can help fill the void if Nahki isn’t available,” he added. “Obviously, he’s a great player and they would be big shoes to fill, but I believe in my ability.
“We have some big players in the squad, but there are a lot of new players that can bring something different and offer another option.
“I’m confident about belonging in the squad and if some of the overseas guys can’t come back for the games, then I’m confident we can offer another option.
“Kyle has told us all to go out and stake our claim and give him some difficult options going forward. We could have a big chance to do that against Canada and we have to be ready for the challenge.”
It is a challenge that the striker believes Bermuda should relish, especially in light of new-found confidence among the squad after a host of impressive performances against some of the region’s powerhouses in recent years.
“There has definitely been a change in mentality in our national squad and the way other teams look at us now,” he said. “No one takes us lightly any more, especially after we came so close to getting positive results in games against Mexico, Costa Rica and Haiti.”
“Those matches could have easily gone a different way and we have another chance now against a big nation to come away with a result, which would be massive for the nation.”