Since his arrival from Inter Milan in the summer, striker George Puşcaş has made quite the impression on the RG2 faithful.
His tireless work rate, his enthusiasm for the cause and his clear natural talent have immediately made him a fan favourite in the stands at Madejski Stadium – and he hopes to continue that trend as the season settles down into the autumn months.
From humble beginnings in a remote part of Romania, the 23-year-old credits his parents for their vital support and guidance to help shape his career – taking bold steps to ensure their son had the best chance possible of becoming a professional footballer.
It has been a long journey, and one that may not be too familiar for players in England. Having grown up in rural Romania, chances were limited for the young Puşcaş to make his way through a professional academy. But through sheer talent, determination and a devotion to his craft, he has made the journey to England with the Royals – and has started life at the Madejski in fine style.
If you’re hoping to learn more about George and his journey to Madejski Stadium, now is the perfect time to do so as he spoke exclusively to The Royal.
The Reading striker discusses leaving home at 11 to pursue his football dream, making the move to the San Siro at 17, the pride he has in representing his country and plenty more, in his own words…
I learned English in school – I went away from home when I was 11 years old. I went to Liberty Salonta, which was the club name where I grew up. It was about 60km from my home, so I learned a little bit of English there because I knew at one time that I would leave my country, so it would be important for me to learn English.
I lived in a small place with not many opportunities or much money. I’m the only one in my family who plays football, nobody in the past did. My father looked at this special school and saw it as a good opportunity to take me and go to the academy. This academy was so good in Romania, and he decided to go to a trial, and I scored so many goals there – the only thing I know in football is to score goals.
They wanted me and bought me to go there. My father pushed this situation more than my mother, he told me that it would be a great future there. He was the first one that believed in me.
It’s so hard leaving home, because you have no friends there, you know nothing there and no places, and you’re still very young. But it was okay, my parents came every two or three weeks to visit me, my sister too. Football was hard but with the games, I forget everything when I go on the pitch.
For the first two or three days staying at the academy I thought it was a joke, I wondered what was happening! But when I started playing and saw the conditions and sacrifice, I knew that I was on the right way.
It was a long distance, and the football in Romania is not like it is here. In Romania, it’s hard to be in a normal family and be a star – it’s difficult.
Playing football has always been a passion for me, even when I was little. I started ‘real’ football when I was 10, which is late because now they start at 5 or 6 years old. But in Romania, I had no opportunities to train until then and I only played football outside my door.
I watched the games at the time, but it was always about playing. I remember watching Barcelona and Liverpool, watching Fernando Torres as my model. But I found my model changing with time because I grew up and watched other players, but when I was little, I had t-shirts with Torres and had his name on my wall, I was crazy about that.
I didn’t look too much at Romania because they had their great performance before I was born. I think we’re starting to show ourselves in big football again, starting with great young players. We did well at the European Under-21s, getting to the semi-finals so we’re starting with our national team again, so I think in the future we will be very competitive, like before.
I’m so proud of us in Romania, the thing we did at the European U21 was amazing, there was an explosion of support in Romania. What we did meant we were going into people’s hearts, we played well, we played with heart and now we have to continue this.
I think that performance was the best with my national team, to get to the semi-finals doesn’t happen in Romania for 20-30 years. A lot of players play out of Romania in the big championships, they’re growing up and I think we have a good generation – we can do great things.
In Romania, there’s incredible ambitions. The European was incredible, and for me the national team is so important because it’s something special. Every player, when he plays for his country, has a good emotion.
The thing to do is move from home because the 'big' football is not in our country, I’m sad to say this but this is true. We don’t have so many opportunities to grow up in football there, so players tend to grow up in other leagues. That’s important for us.
The first trial that I did was with Arsenal, but Inter came after that with a contract straight away without a trial, they put the contract in front of me so I thought I would choose straight, because I could not afford to wait.
Arsenal had seen me for the first time with the national team at Under-15 or Under-16, they followed me so much – they watched me for two years before that trial. They came and watched when I played with the team from my city, I scored in that game and after that, they gave me the trial.
Inter are one of the biggest clubs, so there is not a lot of difference between Inter and Arsenal, I went there. and it was a good opportunity for me.
My trial with Arsenal was my first time in England. I was doing well, I was enjoying it so much and I did well in the trial. With the conditions and pitches, it was so different after coming from Romania. I wanted to come here but it was a little bit too much stress with family, and in the UK, there are other rules surrounding family, but at least I went to Inter.
It was not like moving to another town in Romania, but it was moving to another country when I was 17 years old. It was harder than moving the first time because I didn’t speak Italian, but in around 3-4 months I was understanding everything - the Italian language is like Romanian, but it was a little bit difficult at the start. Some foreign players spoke English and they were helping me a bit.
Milan is a big city, there are many things to do there, but I was young, so I was focussed on my football, on training and staying in the academy. I had no car, for me I only went to the training ground and to play games.
When I went to the first team for the first time, there were too many good players to remember – but the first name I remembered was Zanetti. He was such a respectful person with all the people, young or old. He was the first player that came to my mind, along with Palacio, Cambiasso, old Inter players of that generation.
After that I played with younger players like Guarin and Kovacic. Zanetti was so cool, he would help the young players so much – when you go to the first team and someone gives you advice like this, it’s important.
My dad can’t wait to come here to see my games, see the stadium and see the atmosphere. When I get my house in Reading, he will be the first person to come here and see the games, because he always wants to see me playing.
I chose the passion, the football. My dad saw this, and he thought it was a good future and a good opportunity for me.
This was my first ambition – to come here to England. I always watched the Premier League games when I was little, and for me, football starts here. With the football and the way it is played, I think it is the most beautiful in the world. I wanted to come here so much.
It’s the home of football. I had so many other teams in other countries with other money and a lot of other things, but I wanted to come here because they wanted me a lot. I had the passion to come and play in England, so I did not have much time to think, England was my ambition, and I wanted to come here straight away.
The fans here are amazing. If you win and you’re doing well, there’s a satisfaction for them and for us. We’re getting points and that’s important for this team – to win, to get points and we have great fans along with us.
I already have a lot of friendships here; everyone is so friendly. After I came here, after two or three days they wanted to speak with me, be good with me and I was a little bit surprised – I thought it would maybe be more difficult.
I’m a social guy, it’s not so hard for me to get friendships and they are really good guys. I came with other new players so at first, I stayed with them, they were the first friendships.
I already sang a Romanian song [for the initiation] before the Wycombe game, I was enjoying it because the guys were laughing, so that’s important – to have a good atmosphere.
I celebrate like this because my name in Romanian, Puşcaş, also means ‘gun’ and I started to celebrate like this two years ago, because it represents me. I like it, so I can represent my name in my goals, and I can celebrate like this.