Paul Ifill has reflected on his release by Watford in the mid-nineties and on how he battled back despite being told in no uncertain terms that he wasn't cut out for the professional game.

The release by Watford affected Ifill's love for the game at first but did not have a debilitating effect on his career or life as he still made it to the big time.

In fact, Ifill's route into professionalism has been circuitous and as unconventional as admirable as he defied the odds to recover from his Watford heartache to go on and play for clubs like Millwall, Sheffield United and Crystal Palace.

Young footballers' conviction of making the big time and then suddenly getting released is a recurring them in football academies all over the world.

With little or no qualifications to rely on if things don't go to plan, some of those players' lives spiral out of control if they fail to make the grade and their dream of turning pro is snatched away from them. And it's fair to say that not all of them possess Ifill's mental toughness to battle back from adversity and carve out a successful career by the back door.

Ifill has slammed football clubs for the way they run their academies.

"I think that the way some of these things are handled is so poor. When I was at Watford one guy decided that I wasn't good enough and I was gone, there was no explanation," he said.

"There was no 'This was what you need to work on', there was no after care. I had been with the club for over two years and I was released and told 'See you later'.

"That's how professional football is. Unfortunately it has to change. Teams must really take these matters seriously and look after their players."

Having been one of Watford's under 16s standout performers and then being released only because he wasn't one man's cup of tea is something that rankled with Ifill for years, if not decades to come. And whenever he came up against Watford in later years, he shone. He excelled. Determined to show everybody that they were wrong about him, he doubled his efforts against Watford. And he often had the last laugh, too.

"I was 15-years old and on schoolboy terms with Watford," he said. "I was doing quite well but then the club actually changed their head of development officer and they changed to a new one, whose name I cannot remember.

"That season I had been going sort of every two weeks to play for the under 16s and scored I think nine goals in 11 games so I was doing quite well.

"He came and watched me play once and after the game he basically said to me that I wasn't good enough to make it as a pro. And that was the end of that. I was released as a 15-year old and then I decided I didn't wanna be a footballer. I then sat down and spoke to my mum and her message was to go out and show people that they were wrong and sort of just add the fuel to the fire really. And that's what I did.

"I went back and I played just locally with my friends and then found the love for the game again really before I started playing for a local team called Saltdean United, where I scored a few goals in the men's team. Before I ended up at Millwall. Then every time I went out to play against Watford it was like I had a point to prove, that's how I saw it and generally during my career I had decent games against them. Once I signed for Millwall I scored more goals against Watford than any other club in my career as a pro."

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On reflection, Ifill believes that being released by Watford at the age of 15 was the best thing that could have happened to him. With hindsight he feels it was a blessing in disguise that probably laid the foundations for the sort of career he went on to have.

"It's hard to know whether I would have made it had they kept me but I think ultimately I would have made it at some point," he said. "But I think the timing was probably good, it was a good knock back to have, it made me sort of regroup and go again and probably work a little bit harder because I had been a little bit complacent up to that point. And I think every player needs a knock back. It's easy to say after facts, but it wasn't a great experience at the time."

Ifill, who is still doing the business at 41 in New Zealand these days, urges clubs like Watford to be more patient and not jump to conclusions too early.

He was not the only budding teenager the Hornets let go prematurely with now England star Jadon Sancho being sold to Manchester City and Southampton striker Michael Obafemi released two decades later.

"In terms of my development, they definitely let me go too early," he said. "However, I wasn't the only one they let go at that time who ended up making it as a pro elsewhere. Jadon Sancho and Michael Obafemi? I think Watford should be looking at the way they do things maybe."