Scott Sinclair has one nugget of advice he would like to have shared with his 16-year-old self when he first set sail from Bristol Rovers.
‘I’d say, ‘slow down a little bit’,’ smiles Sinclair, recalling five years at Chelsea, a hat-trick in the play-off final for Swansea, a goal in the Olympic Games, a losing fight for recognition at Manchester City and non-stop success with Celtic.
‘It goes too quick because you’re young and in the moment, always striving for more. You want to be further ahead. You want to play higher up. You want to play week in, week out. To be at the top, to stay at the top. You want more trophies. Always pushing. Never satisfied.
‘When you’re older, you look back and you’re telling the young players how it was in your day and thinking, ‘what a time that was, I should’ve enjoyed it a bit more’ so I’d say, ‘relax and enjoy the moment and don’t be rushing off to where you think you want to be’.’
At 33, Sinclair’s voyage of discovery has come full circle. The Bath-born winger is back at Rovers, where it all began with a debut at the Memorial Ground against Leyton Orient at the tender age of 15 years 277 days.
Scott Sinclair returned to Bristol Rovers in October 2022 – almost 17 years after first leaving for Chelsea
The winger first made his debut in 2004 for Bristol Rovers before departing for Chelsea
That was Boxing Day 2004. Six months later, he was signing for Chelsea. ‘A no-brainer,’ as he puts it. ‘I went from Bristol Rovers, training at an army camp and bringing my own packed lunch, to Chelsea where they had three or four chefs catering for your every need.
‘It was so exciting, at the time one of the best things you could imagine. It sounds silly but even the ball seemed like a better ball.’
The professional habits acquired at Chelsea have nourished Sinclair through a long career. He decided against alcohol, a vow kept until his contract expired at Preston, last year, and he approached this season without a club.
‘Nothing mad,’ he is quick to add. ‘I’d been teetotal my whole career. I made those sacrifices. Even after scoring a hat-trick in the play-off final, I didn’t have a drink. On my birthdays, I didn’t drink and ate the right things. So I thought I’d have a drink with my mates.’
Those lifestyle choices were made at Stamford Bridge, where he saw standards required to perform at the top of the game. Under Jose Mourinho, Chelsea were Premier League champions when he signed. They had defended the title, reached the Champions League final in 2008 and added various other trophies before the young winger moved on.
‘I was around a winning team,’ says Sinclair. ‘I remember the dressing room when we won the FA Cup against Everton. The music was on and everyone was dancing with the trophy. When people talk about the winning feeling, that’s it. That’s the winning feeling.
‘Learning from players like Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard. You’re around the best, you see the pressure, you see their routines.
‘You can see the top and it makes you want to work harder. For me to be around all that at such a young age really spurred me on. I wanted to be part of that.’
Sinclair joined a Chelsea side that had just won the Premier League under Jose Mourinho
Half a dozen loans served up different experiences. There was a wonder goal for Plymouth against Barnet in the FA Cup, dribbling from deep inside his own half. ‘That really put me on the map,’ says Sinclair.
A £6.2million fee took the Bath-born winger to Manchester City
There was a dart into the play-offs with Crystal Palace and a role in promotion for Birmingham before lift-off with a permanent move to Swansea in 2010, scoring 27 in his first season including the Wembley treble against Reading.
His Swansea form earned a call up to the GB Olympic team for London 2012. Elder brother Martin, who was born with cerebral palsy, was in the Paralympics team making it extra special.
Then came the £6.2million move to Manchester City.
‘That’s what I mean about not living in the moment,’ says Sinclair. ‘I look back and see Swansea was one of the best times in my career but I was thinking that I wanted to be playing Champions League football.
‘You want to the next thing. City had just won the Premier League and I wasn’t going to turn them down but that was a time in my career when I only played a handful of games.
‘They had so much money to buy players and you could see they were a club in a hurry from the numbers continuously coming in and going out.
‘It was tough. I didn’t play much and I would’ve liked a bit more of a chance. I was mid-20s and looking to peak and it felt like I came to a standstill. It put me on hold.’
Sinclair managed only 19 games for Man City across a three year spell at the Etihad Stadium
Sinclair bagged a hat-trick for Swansea at Wembley against Birmingham to take the Swans to the Premier League
After 18 months at Aston Villa, featuring an FA Cup final defeat and relegation, everything clicked again at Celtic with Brendan Rodgers, his former boss in the Chelsea youth team and at Swansea.
Sinclair revealed that his spell at Celtic was ‘probably the happiest time of my career’
‘Probably the happiest time of my career,’ says Sinclair. ‘Swansea was great, but until you play for Celtic you don’t understand what it really means. From the moment you put on the shirt you feel what a massive club it is and that never leaves you.
‘You walk out against Rangers and you hear the roar from the fans. You know everyone in Scotland is watching. It is so intense. There’s nothing like it.’
Sinclair won PFA Player of the Year in his first season and Celtic swept all three domestic trophies in each of his first three seasons in Scotland to win the treble Treble.
‘An amazing achievement,’ he admits. ‘I don’t think Celtic will do that again, but at the time it just felt normal.
‘Winning became second nature. Every single week was about winning. How many can we win by, we just had this surreal momentum.’
On the blue side of Glasgow at this time, albeit briefly, was Rovers boss Joey Barton. ‘We did play against him once,’ says Sinclair, lowering his voice to a whisper and glancing over his shoulder just in case. ‘I think it might have been the 5-1.’
Indeed, it was the 5-1 at Celtic Park in September 2016. Sinclair scored one and made one in the first Old Firm SPL clash for four years. ‘I haven’t mentioned it yet. I might keep that quiet. We were better than them at the time, simple as that.’
At Celtic Sinclair won the Treble Treble – three consecutive seasons winning the Scottish Premiership, Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup from 2016-19
Sinclair played alongside the likes of Aaron Ramsey for Great Britain in the London 2012 Olympics
These days, Barton and Sinclair are on the same side. Both still driven by their enduring love for the game and thirst for success.
‘I’m in good shape and I feel like I can play to 40,’ says Sinclair, who signed a short-term deal in October and extended it in January, tying him to Rovers until the end of next season.
‘I’ll take my coaching qualifications but I’m still enjoying my football and the gaffer is brilliant. That’s why I signed longer term. Players take to him. He wants us looking up, aiming towards the Championship.
‘And that feeling when you come in with three points is still the same. You can’t get that anywhere else whether it’s in the Champions League or League One. I’m enjoying the journey and I’ll keep going. I’ll know when it’s time to stop.’
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk