Former England and Portsmouth prospect eyeing return to big time

Sam Magri - England U16

Having previously had spells with Crystal Palace, QPR and Portsmouth, the Dover Athletic star is now being linked with moves to League One and the Scottish Premiership.

Sam Magri - PortsmouthSam Magri in action for Portsmouth vs Chelsea

He was challenged with man-marking Didier Drogba in a pre-season friendly against Chelsea at the age of 17, seven years on and Sam Magri is finally back trying to shut out the best in the business once again with Malta. A lot has happened in those seven years for the defender, who won 31 caps for England at youth level.

Despite showing so much promise as a teenager, being capped by England at four different youth levels, he never got a break into the first team at Portsmouth, QPR or Crystal Palace. His teammates at England youth level include £49 million man Raheem Sterling, the £35 million rated Jordan Pickford and 2017 Premier League champion Nathaniel Chalobah.

HITC Sport spoke exclusively with the 23-year-old who is out of contract at Dover Athletic this summer, and has already rejected a new offer from the Whites, with interest in him from League One and Scottish Premiership sides. Magri joined Dover in July 2015, having impressed on trial following an exit from Crystal Palace where he had been training on a month-to-month contract.

Plymouth Argyle's Curtis Nelson in action against Sam Magri  (R)Magri tussles with Curtis Nelson in his only first team appearance for Portsmouth

A long way from the world of trials at Liverpool and facing up against Memphis Depay in international youth tournaments, it has still been a good couple of years for Magri, who has had to drop down in order to gain invaluable experience. In two years at the Crabble Athletic Ground, the youngster has made just shy of 100 appearances, finishing in the play-offs in 2015-16 and just one place outside in 2016-17.

"I never got the breakthrough into mens football, I needed experience," Magri said, adding, "In the first six or seven games I struggled with fitness, cramping up and stuff, but you soon get accustomed to it."

So many players who have had to drop down to England's fourth, fifth and sixth tiers have found the physicality difficult to cope with. Magri hasn't faced such problems though. A big ball-playing centre-half, he's been played exclusively at right back or right wing back in the National League.

England's Raheem SterlingThe 23-year-old played alongside Raheem Sterling for England at youth level

Whilst there is much interest being shown in the 23-year-old, he is quick to point out that negotiations are still ongoing with Dover, and whilst he believes he is capable of playing at a higher level than the National League, he is insistent that playing football and showing what he can do remains a priority at this stage of his career. 

Magri named Didier Drogba as the best player he has ever played against, despite coming up against players such as Serie A star Josip Ilicic last November and €25 million Monaco signing Youri Tielemans a year before that. The top class opposition will keep coming for the defender, with Malta set to face the Ukraine, Scotland and England between now and the 4th of September.

Magri said he felt the international game "suited him better as a ball player" than the National League, but admitted it would be an unusual feeling coming up against England on September 1st, telling us, "I don't know how I'll feel on the day, but I'll be playing for Malta so I'll do my best for Malta."

Didier Drogba v Porto 2004Magri describes Didier Drogba as the best player he has faced

Malta have lost in each of Magri's three outings for the country, with defeats coming at the hands of Slovenia, Slovakia and Iceland, although little blame could be attached to the non-league star. The small island of less than 500,000 inhabitants have won just one of their last 26 games, against Lithuania, losing 21, and they sit bottom of their World Cup Qualifying Group.

It is still invaluable experience for a player like Magri though, looking to climb his way back up the ladder, presenting him with the chance to mix it with some of the best players Europe has to offer. And whilst Malta lose routinely, they are rarely embarrassed, conceding just once to Italy, once to Croatia and twice to England in recent times. Magri is getting married this week and has a busy summer ahead as he either signs a new deal at Dover or moves elsewhere. 

Sam Magri - England U16Sam Magri strikes the ball for England U16

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