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Jobi McAnuff: From shirt swaps with Messi to Maidenhead away

Few players can claim to have had the longevity of Leyton Orient captain Jobi McAnuff... and he insists he's still got time on his side

“So many of my friends have had to retire that we joke that I’m the last man standing.”

Despite playing over 700 games for club and country, Leyton Orient captain Jobi McAnuff is showing few signs of slowing down in the twilight of his career.

Jobi McAnuff turns 37 next month having played professionally since 2000

Getty - Contributor
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Jobi McAnuff turns 37 next month having played professionally since 2000

“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised by how long I’ve been able to play for,” says the 36-year-old winger.

“I’ve made a conscious effort over the years to look after myself and keep myself in the best possible condition.

“I love playing football and I want to play it for as long as I can.”

There can be few players to have played an average of over 40 games a season for almost two decades, and McAnuff knows he’s one of the lucky ones.

“I haven’t had any major injuries, whereas a lot of friends of mine have had a knee or ankle operation, those things can really slow you down,” he says.

McAnuff is in his second spell at National League side Leyton Orient

Simon O'Connor
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McAnuff is in his second spell at National League side Leyton Orient

Having started his career at Wimbledon, he’s now played in the top five English divisions

Simon O'Connor
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Having started his career at Wimbledon, he’s now played in the top five English divisions

Since bursting onto the scene as a youngster for Wimbledon in 2001, his career has seen him play in the top five divisions of English football, including captaining Reading to Championship glory in 2012 and helping Jamaica to an improbable runners-up finish in the 2015 Gold Cup.

Having seen the game through so many lenses, McAnuff recognises the ways in which football has moved on for the better over the past two decades.

He adds: “The game has changed drastically over the last 20 years. When I first started as a young player there’d be lads coming back for pre-season overweight, but now even at this level the boys are in unbelievable condition.

“Generally professionalism and living your life the right way has certainly improved for the better.”

The Edmonton born midfielder is now in his second stint at the O’s, having seen the club fall apart under previous owner Francesco Becchetti during his first spell three years ago.

After losing on penalties in the 2014 League One play-off final, the East London side suffered back-to-back relegations and found themselves in the fifth tier of English football for the first time in 112 years.

Now under new ownership, things are looking brighter in E10.

The 36-year-old shows no signs of letting up but says he is taking it each season at a time

Simon O'Connor
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The 36-year-old shows no signs of letting up but says he is taking it each season at a time

McAnuff’s full 18 minute interview can be seen at the top of the page

Simon O'Connor
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McAnuff’s full 18 minute interview can be seen at the top of the page

Orient, who boast Dream Team as their primary shirt sponsor, achieved their best start in the club’s 137-year history, going unbeaten in the first 13 games of their National League campaign, lying second in the table.

Under the watchful eye of manager Justin Edinburgh, club captain McAnuff has been pivotal to Orient’s renewed fortunes.

“I’m enjoying it, particularly after a disappointing first season when I was here. That was a really bad time for the club,” McAnuff says.

“That period isn’t lost on me, so to now see us at the right end of the table, trying to get promotion, and people being in a positive mindset… I’m enjoying that aspect and long may it continue.”

McAnuff has made over 700 appearances for club and country

Simon O'Connor
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McAnuff has made over 700 appearances for club and country

Despite a stellar career spanning almost two decades, there is one particular highlight for the Orient man – and it doesn’t involve a promotion, or even a goal, but rather a special shirt swap.

When Jamaica faced Argentina in the 2015 Copa America, who should be McAnuff’s opposite number 10 that day? A certain Lionel Messi.

Ten minutes into the match had passed before McAnuff approached Messi to arrange a shirt swap at the end of the game.

The opportunity almost evaded him at half-time, when Reggae Boyz captain Rodolph Austin had already got his hands on the legendary forward’s shirt.

McAnuff ensured he got Messi’s shirt by sticking close to the Argentinian legend in the last 10 minutes

AP:Associated Press
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McAnuff ensured he got Messi’s shirt by sticking close to the Argentinian legend in the last 10 minutes

“He’s probably washing his wheels on his car with it, but the fact that he asked for mine was a nice touch,” joked McAnuff

AP:Associated Press
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“He’s probably washing his wheels on his car with it, but the fact that he asked for mine was a nice touch,” joked McAnuff

But after Messi emerged for the second half with a fresh kit on, McAnuff knew a swap deal was back on the table.

“I’ll be honest, in the last ten to 15 minutes of the game I was just looking around to see where he was,” McAnuff admits.

“When the whistle went I got into a bit of a jog so none of the lads came running onto the pitch.

“Very fortunately I got his shirt, and it’s certainly my most prized piece of memorabilia.”

As Orient captain, McAnuff remains as dedicated to the game as ever, and admits he’s taking it one season at a time before finally hanging up his boots.

He’s completed his UEFA B Licence coaching badge and hopes to enrol on the A Licence next summer.

But while there’s still a job to be done on the pitch, he is showing no signs of winding down just yet.

“It’s been 20 years constantly on the go dealing with the rigours that come with playing football every day. In an ideal world, when I properly finish, I’ll have a break,” he concedes.

After the career he’s had, few can blame McAnuff for finally wanting some rest.

Leyton Orient captain Jobi McAnuff discusses shirt swapping with Messi and secrets to his longevity