For Kian Best, the 2023-24 campaign has been a memorable one so far. From signing his first professional contract at his boyhood club Preston North End, to scoring his first goal for his country, it’s been one of milestones and constant learning. The 18-year-old recently sat down with LFE to discuss his career to date.
How did you get into football?
“As far as I can remember I started kicking a football as soon as I could walk really. It was mainly my dad who got me into it as he loved football, then when I was six or seven, I joined a team called Ribbleton where my dad was the assistant coach. I did two years there and then seven of us actually got scouted for clubs as we had gone two years unbeaten. I’m actually still playing now in the Preston first team with someone I played with at Ribbleton.”
Was being a footballer always your goal?
“Yes. Growing up through school I always wanted to be a footballer. You know a teacher would ask what I wanted to be and when I said, ‘a footballer’ they’d laugh but that’s all I ever wanted to be really.”
You almost gave up at one stage, why and who convinced you to carry on?
“I just remember I used to get angry really quickly and if I couldn’t do something I’d think of giving up too easily, but my dad and the other coach at Ribbleton sat me down and explained to me that I had a really good chance and just convinced me to carry on.”
After joining Preston, how did you find that transition from grassroots football to academy football?
“I kind of struggled at the start. I was quite shy growing up, so I didn’t really like meeting new people. A few coaches helped me come out of my shell and I managed to get through it, but it was a really tough transition.”
You progressed through the ranks and got your scholarship. How big of a moment was that for you?
“It was a really good feeling and I felt like I deserved it. I was the last person to get offered one in the group. A few got offered theirs the year before and a few during the middle of the season but I was the last one, so me and my dad were sat down thinking about other clubs and trials because they were leaving it so late but luckily, I stayed, got one and I’m glad.”
What was your experience of your apprenticeship, both on and off the pitch?
“It was good. It helped me grow up a lot. Especially at the start as I’d gone from training just a couple of times a week to being in full-time and some days you wouldn’t be getting home till like 5pm because of education so it was tough at the beginning. I also didn’t play that much in my first year so that was hard, but I enjoyed it because we had a good group of lads, so it was really good.”
You were part of a really successful U19s squad between 2021 and 2023, what made that particular team so special?
“I think it’s because we were so close as a group and were all really good friends that got on well. We’d all come through the academy from a very young age together, knew each-other really well and just naturally stuck together.”
You were rewarded with your first professional contract in July, how special was that?
“It was a really special moment. I had all my family there with me signing it but the main thing that I took from it was being reminded that I wasn’t finished yet and this is just the start. I can’t just relax because I’m now a professional because I haven’t made it yet, so just keep working hard.”
You then make your debut on the opening day of the Championship campaign. Describe that feeling?
“Amazing. I’d been playing in pre-season quite a lot because we had a few injuries and then towards the back end of pre-season I started the final two games and I remember my dad saying to me that he thought I had a good chance of starting that first league game. Then about two days before the match the gaffer pulled me at the start of training, and I knew what was coming. He told me I was going to be starting and told me he wanted to tell me early, so I had more chance of preparing. Then walking out away at Bristol City and I just remember it being really loud because it was obviously the first game of the season and one of the lads came up to me and said, ‘this is what it’s all about’ and I got goosebumps, but as soon as the whistle went, I was alright.”
Did you feel a big difference from youth football to senior football, specifically at Championship level?
“It wasn’t as big as I expected because I was in a team full of senior pros, and I was the only young lad, so they just talked me through the whole game really. I just listened to them talking me through the game, but you naturally play better when you play with better players, so it was good.”
It’s been a breakthrough season for you since then, how does it feel now you’re settled in the first team environment?
“It’s been really good. The manager has trusted me a lot and I’ve played quite a few games which I’ve really enjoyed, but there was a patch where I was out of the team for six weeks or so which I found tough, but I’ve managed to get myself back in the team recently and I’ve done well.”
Is there a bit of advice that the manager has given you that’s stuck with you throughout the season?
“He told me ‘It’s the quality that gets you into the dressing room, but it’s the attitude that keeps you there.” We’ve had quite a few young lads come up and train with the first team and play a few games, but they’ve been washed back away so he said it’s important to keep grounded and level headed.”
You represent England at U19 level and recently scored your first goal. How proud do you feel when pulling on your countries shirt?
“It’s really good. I was on standby for the first camp of the season and then the second camp I wasn’t around the first team squad, so I knew I probably wasn’t going to get in, but when I got myself back in the team the gaffer gave me a call and said ‘England have just rung, we’re really proud of you. Go and represent the club, you’re going to Marbella to play three games for England’ so that was great. The gaffer actually flew out to watch one of the games as well.”
Looking to the future, what are your goals within the game?
“This season I just really want to play as many games as I can in the Championship and get my name out there. In the long term, I want to play in the Premier League and represent England at senior level.”
What will help you achieve those goals?
“I think it’s important to stay at the same level. Don’t get too high when things are going well, but don’t get too low when things aren’t going great which can happen a lot in football. You’ve just got to stay level headed and believe in yourself, that’s the main thing.”