Kian Leslie: Making a name for himself
“Go and make a name for yourself” was the line directed to Clyde loanee Kian Leslie as he emerged in front of the BBC cameras for the very first time in October.
A man-of-the-match performance in the Scottish Cup enticed rave reviews led by former stars of the game such as James McFadden, concluding the latest scene in the 18-year-old’s audition to star for the Killie first-team.
Kian is one of the class of 2023 who have been projected into the spotlight of first-team football over the past year, alongside a cast of familiar faces including David Watson, Bobby Wales and Aaron Brown.
Leslie told the Killie Magazine: “We’ve always said that our age group has been one that has stuck together. We all joined around the same time in 2014 and have been here ever since. Even back in the day, all of our parents were close and it was just like a big family: everyone got along with everyone. Outside of football, I think we’ve got even closer over the years. We go for coffees, head up to Nandos and just do all of the normal stuff.”
Having spent the best part of 10 years together on a journey across the academy, the four youngsters recently approached a fork in the road on their route towards the main stage at Rugby Park.
“You’ve got to look at it as if we’re all on our own journey. David has gone straight to the first-team. Aaron went out on loan last year, whereas I stayed and enjoyed my football with the Under-18s. I don’t think you can really have a set plan, you’ve got to just work towards your short and long-term goals. Hopefully it results in getting to the first-team, as that’s where you want to be.”
The latest leg of Kian’s journey led him down the M77 to Clyde, in a quest to gain valuable senior minutes after experiencing the thrill of Killie’s pre-season camp in Belfast.
“It was a massive step up, but I enjoyed it and learned a lot from even just a week of training. Getting minutes against Linfield was enjoyable as you felt like you had worked and got a reward at the end.
“Tough but fair is exactly how I would describe the experience. The first-team boys like Danny Armstrong are always making sure I’m doing the right stuff on and off the pitch. I want to get to his level and he’s making sure I can get there. The experience of playing with them helped the transition over the summer.”
It’s been a whirlwind period for the winger since joining the League Two side in July. Originally signing for former Killie academy coach Brian McLean, Kian is now playing under his third manager of the season.
“I saw that Brian was the manager and former teammates Cammy Mulvanny and Jon Craig were going to Clyde: I thought it could be the perfect move. I was told they were interested and didn’t even think twice.
“I’ve learned a lot in the space of four, five months. It’s a totally different experience to the Under-18s: You now have to win games, deal with changing managers, changing formations, different players and everything that comes with it.
“You’ve just got to go with the unexpected and keep focusing on the football.”
Kian explains that he is learning from every moment of a challenging league campaign, but it was a Scottish Cup Second Round tie in Musselburgh which placed him under the spotlight.
“It was the first time I had ever played on the TV. One of the staff at Clyde said: This is the chance to go and make a name for yourself. I told myself to play with freedom, without fear. It ended up working out very well for me. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve watched the highlights!
“With interviews and BBC cameras, it did feel good. You just want to do it again, and do it as much as you can.”
Alongside featuring for Clyde, Kian is continuing to catch the eye of Derek McInnes while training at Rugby Park as often as the coaches will allow.
“The gaffer is good at looking out for loan boys. If he thinks you’re doing too much he’ll take you out of a session, but you want to be here as much as possible. You get better every day training with these players.
“The best advice I’ve received is: It’s not difficult to just train hard all of the time. If you come in with that mentality every day, you’ll be fine.
“I’ve said to the coaches that I just want to play football and – whether it’s this season or next season I’m challenging for the first-team – I want to play for Kilmarnock.”