Exclusive: Benji Kimpioka on his Checkatrade Trophy semi-final blow, Wembley hopes and transfer interest
Benji Kimpioka hasn’t given up hope of playing at Wembley in the Checkatrade Trophy final – having snubbed a move away from Sunderland in January.
Kimpioka, 19, has profited more than most from Sunderland’s obligation to the competition this season, as well as manager Jack Ross’ willingness to give youth a chance and take games seriously.
While mainly playing for the Under-23 side, Kimpioka has used the Checkatrade Trophy to break into the first-team set up this term, featuring in five of the six competition fixtures this campaign and scoring twice.
The one game he didn’t take part in was the semi-final clash at Bristol Rovers, a bitter pill to swallow after helping the Black Cats reach the last four.
Instead Kimpioka played in an Under-23s game at Aston Villa the day before and didn’t even make the bench at the Memorial Stadium.
“Obviously me as a person I always want more,” Kimpioka said when asked how he reacted to the news.
“I am not scared to say it I was disappointed, but that’s the manager’s decision and I respect and understand him.
“It’s up to me to keep on improving and not letting that affect me and just keeping every chance I have.”
Those chances may not be too far away either, despite Kimpioka playing just 12 minutes in League One this season.
His potential has attracted several admirers in recent months, with Kimpioka admitting there were several English clubs interested in a loan deal in January.
“There were a few clubs that were interested but I felt I was improving by staying here,” he added.
“I got told Jack Ross wanted me to stay at the moment because of the strikers, many strikers were out, so there was a chance for me to prove myself with the first team.
“That’s why I stayed and I was happy with that decision.”
The last time Kimpioka featured in a matchday squad for a league game was on January 12, after coming off the bench against Luton. Even so, the forward doesn’t believe he’s too far away from the level required to be a regular starter on Wearside.
“Obviously I feel I’m close, I’ve been close for a while, but that close is never certain.
“You can’t think you’re close and not keep on performing, when you’re close you have to perform even better than you were before.
“Knowing that I’m close just makes me want to work even better and helping my team in the 23s.”
“I’m working hard very hard in training, gym and all of that so as long as I feel I’m improving in both games and training. I wouldn’t say I’m happy with that, but I’m happy with my improvement.
The prospect of playing at Wembley has provided extra motivation for Kimpioka, who still believes he can play a part in the final. Still, he’s not getting too carried away and is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
“Stuff like that gets me very motivated, going to Wembley that’s a big thing, everyone wants to be there it doesn’t matter who you are,” he added.
“I’m just going to keep on working hard, stay humble and keep doing my best every day.”