“This will be a really big part of my journey,” says Dynel Simeu, whose path in football has already taken him from Sunday football to Chelsea and Southampton before his loan move now to Carlisle United.

The 19-year-old is here for the second half of the season in a deal which will hopefully have mutual benefits. Simeu wants to gain the first-team football that will speed his progress towards a Premier League future.

Carlisle for their part will hope to take advantage of the defensive qualities of a young player who is clearly highly thought-of at his parent club.

Simeu is one of many players to step out of Under-23 football in search of real-life footballing exposure. The big centre-half is adamant he is ready for what League Two has to offer.

“I’ve played 23s football for a while now and this is the next step – I need to play real football, men’s football, in front of fans,” he says. “I need to play at lower leagues. I need to fight, I need to defend, I need to really learn my game now.

“The main difference [at this level] is the hunger. You’ve got a set of individuals who are willing to fight. The three points mean everything to them, they need to stay in the league, they need to get paid, they need new contracts. It’s just more realistic.

“At the same time, they enjoy it and they thrive off the fans. The fans and the players work together, which is really important.”

News and Star: Keith Millen with Simeu at Brunton Park (photo: Amy Nixon)Keith Millen with Simeu at Brunton Park (photo: Amy Nixon)

Simeu’s first proper experience of the fans and the team will come tomorrow, when he is likely to be in United’s squad to face Sutton United. The defender says he has settled well in his first few days at Brunton Park. Tyrese Omotoye, a former opponent from encounters with Norwich City (and Leyton Orient in the Papa John's Trophy), is a relatively familiar face.

Others, he says, have been welcoming. “The first training session was good. I thought the standard was high. I felt there was a real belief in the squad – they train with purpose, well-constructed sessions, and the players have been welcoming and top professionals.”

Simeu was in United’s sights from weeks back, according to Keith Millen. The Blues had to bide their time at a point the defender was edging closer to Southampton’s first team.

“I think the gaffer’s been showing interest from November-December,” Simeu says. “I wasn’t too bothered to push for a move then; I just wanted to let it fall in place naturally and see what’s there.

“I had interest from clubs and around the Christmas period, when I was involved with the first team. My focus [then] was with Southampton and the first team. I was on the bench a few times and was hoping to get game time.

News and Star: Simeu, left, in action for Southampton Under-21s in the Papa John's Trophy at Charlton this season (photo: PA)Simeu, left, in action for Southampton Under-21s in the Papa John's Trophy at Charlton this season (photo: PA)

“Unfortunately I didn’t, and the gaffer started to call me, the interest got back up, and he decided to come and meet me and I saw him face to face. The plans he had were good. He seemed very nice and purposeful in what he wanted from me. He had a development plan for me, he knew the areas where I could improve my game. I thought he was so focused on me, it’s just a no-brainer to come here.”

Simeu speaks humbly about Millen’s dedication in driving the length of the country more than once to observe him. “That played a big part in getting me here and I just want to repay him and thank him for bringing me here," he adds. "I’m ready to learn and give 100 per cent for this club, and ready to kick on and be a key part of the team.”

Simeu has been building his career from an early age. “I was born in Cameroon, came to England when I was three, and I think I’ve always been kicking a ball from when I was about five,” he says. “I used to always kick a ball about at school, I was always in the playground.

“I played Sunday League, I had a few clubs [in the Southampton area]; Chamberlayne, City Central, and the club I was probably at the longest was Bitterne [Youth] Black which was just down the road from our house. I used to ride to training, used to ask for lifts if my parents were busy…

“I was with the Under-13s at Christmas time, when I had a one-day trial at Chelsea. And the rest was history. After that, I got signed, then went to England the year after, and then it just sort of came so quick. I got the scholarship, got a professional contract, signed there for three years, so I was at Chelsea for six years before moving onto Southampton.”

News and Star: Simeu spent six years at Chelsea (photo: PA)Simeu spent six years at Chelsea (photo: PA)

How does Simeu look back on his time developing at Chelsea? “It was great,” he says, “one of the best places to be at as a young kid. You compete in so many tournaments at the highest level, in so many games, and I think they really get the winning mentality into you – everything is so important about winning, they love to win, and they have the best facilities around.

“It’s almost like a fake bubble, they have so much money to be able to invest into you, and it’s great – it helps technically, and [teaches you] so many life lessons. You meet so many people, some of whom I’m in contact with to this day. It’s a good place to grow up.”

Simeu had the opportunity to observe legends at close quarters at Stamford Bridge. “Growing up I loved Didier Drogba, he was just an icon,” he says. “I liked Frank Lampard and loved John Terry. They were the three main greats.

News and Star: Simeu says he idolised Didier Drogba at Chelsea (photo: PA)Simeu says he idolised Didier Drogba at Chelsea (photo: PA)

“To go into the academy, you also see people pushing through, like Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and later the likes of Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount, it gives you that drive, belief and hunger.”

Simeu’s progress saw him named on the bench by Frank Lampard for a Champions League trip to Bayern Munich in 2020. “That was surreal,” he says. “It happened so quick. Unfortunately they lost but it was a dream just being on the bench, seeing the likes of [Robert] Lewandowski and Thomas Muller: great players. It’s definitely one of my best memories.”

News and Star: Simeu was on the bench for Chelsea's Champions League trip to Bayern Munich in August 2020 (photo: PA)Simeu was on the bench for Chelsea's Champions League trip to Bayern Munich in August 2020 (photo: PA)

He also gained England youth international caps, before leaving Chelsea last summer when Southampton paid a reported £1.5m. It was a move which had both a professional and personal pull.

“I’d say when Southampton came up I took it as a great opportunity,” he says. “Even though I’d never played for them, Southampton itself is close to my heart. It’s a place which means a lot to me. I went to school there, got scouted from there, and the city’s done a lot for me.

“I want to give my all to Southampton. The fans have been great, I get messages daily from fans, [I often] get spotted. It’s a team that’s supported by the community.

“I’ve been back to my school and it’s great seeing the kids, because they have a real belief. I want to be someone they can look up to, someone who can make them believe and show them there’s a pathway. I want to help my friends fulfil their dreams.”

Simeu went into Southampton’s B team to begin with, and this season has added EFL Trophy appearances to those he gained at Chelsea, where he also won Premier League 2 and captained their Under-23s. Ralph Hasenhuttl has involved him on the bench in some of Southampton’s winter fixtures and the defender adds: “Being in the first-team bubble, being around the first-team environment, seeing how the players prepare for the games, how the manager works with them, has been great.”

News and Star: Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl included Simeu in first-team squads recently (photo: PA)Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl included Simeu in first-team squads recently (photo: PA)

Now he hopes to step from the youthful margins and make a prominent impact at Carlisle. He says he will do so confidently.

“I would say I’m aggressive. I’m a leader,” he says. “I like to communicate a lot, talking to others around me. I like to put my body on the line, I like to head it, but I also like to play. I would say I’m composed, I like the ball at my feet and to build from the back.”

Simeu says he has grown accustomed to being at the forefront. “Coming up from [a] young [age] I was naturally a leader, just because of my physique; I was bigger than everyone else.

“I’ve had to adapt over the years. I’ve learned a lot, being in different changing rooms, and I’ve had to become more of a leader in the way I play as well. To lead by example, maturing, just being really professional on the pitch. Not just being that leader who shouts at everyone but being real supportive – being someone my team-mates trust.”

News and Star: Simeu has captaincy experience from his time at Chelsea (photo: PA)Simeu has captaincy experience from his time at Chelsea (photo: PA)

Simeu is at ease talking about his past and future and adds of his introduction at Carlisle: “So far I’m quite comfortable. I don’t have any nerves. I’m quite a cool and relaxed person. I just like to embrace it, take it all in, day by day, one step at a time.”

He says he has seen footage of how “animated” United’s fans are, noting an impressive turnout even at remote Forest Green, and says he is looking forward to meeting the home faithful “at BP”.

His greater goals might lie elsewhere but this is an important step which Simeu hopes will help him deliver all his ambitions.

“My short term dreams first of all are to play for Southampton. I really want to play for Southampton, I want to make my debut, hopefully be a part of the club. I want to have a good career at the top-flight. I want to play a few hundred games.

“I don’t know what’s in store for me but I want to make sure I reach my peak, I want to win trophies, be part of the team as a main player – and I want to help my family.”

Helping Carlisle would be a fine place to start. “I want to embrace the culture and team, want to be one of them, want to do everything they do,” he adds. “At the moment I’m a Carlisle player and I’m ready to play with them.

“I think it will be different to what I’ve done before. I just think I’ll enjoy it. I’m ready. I want to make the most of it, make sure I make the most out of this opportunity.”