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“A real chance here to become a club hero”: Ruel Sotiriou – Leyton Orient’s star on the rise

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There has been plenty to be cheerful about for Leyton Orient in the initial weeks of Richie Wellens’ reign.

The 42-year-old was named as Kenny Jackett’s permanent replacement on the 9th of March and has since ended the O’s 100-plus day for a victory before stringing three League Two wins together for the first time all season to put some much-needed distance between the east London club and the relegation zone.

Prior to the defeat to Oldham Athletic on Tuesday night, the same team that managed just one goal in the whole of February had found the net nine times in five games under their new head coach.

But surely the highlight of the first weeks of the Wellens era has been the form of 21-year-old Ruel Sotiriou, who has gone from a fringe player to one of the first names on the teamsheet and in the words of the Orient boss left the club with “a real asset on our hands”.

The homegrown talent has always looked like a bright prospect, not least during when he bagged five goals in 10 games in 2019/20, but the longest run of consecutive senior starts of his career has allowed Sotiriou to hit new heights and showed that there may be a star on the rise in east London.

Since the 2-2 draw with Colchester United on the 1st of March, the first game post-Jackett, he has grabbed six goals and one assist in eight appearances – earning himself a nomination for the FLW Fans’ League Two Player of the Month award and repaying the faith put in him by first caretaker boss Matt Harrold and then Wellens.

He has developed a lethal streak and the knack of arriving in the box at just the right time but it’s more than just the goals. There are the darting, mazy runs and the little flicks that have meant that Sotiriou, who is capable of playing as both a midfielder and in the forward line, has been a key figure in injecting excitement and entertainment back into the O’s displays – something that was absent at the end of Jackett’s tenure.

There is a noticeable communal intake of breath at the Breyer Group Stadium when number 20 picks up the ball, while the calls for him to “shoot” any time he gets the chance are impossible to ignore, and it’s his name that is sung with the most vigour by the Tommy Johnston and the rest of the home support.

Wellens believes Sotoriou’s success is down, in part, to the fact he’s been given “that freedom which his game craves” while his captain has hailed the Cyprus U21 international’s work ethic above all else.

“Ruel is absolutely flying at the moment,” Darren Pratley said in the club programme ahead of the 2-0 win against Barrow. “And that’s a testament to himself. He works so hard, and since getting a regular run in the side, he is showing exactly what he can do.”

Getting back to winning ways will be the first thing on the minds of Sotiriou and his Orient teammates, who travel to the Banks’s Stadium to face Walsall on Saturday, but looking further ahead there are serious decisions to be made.

The 21-year-old was born in Edmonton and has been at the Breyer Group Stadium since 2015. He made his debut against Dagenham & Redbridge in October 2017 and less than a year later penned his first professional contract in E10.

That deal expires this summer and given his form in March, you’d imagine there will be plenty of eyes on him in the final weeks of the season.

But what are Orient doing to protect their asset?

Wellens remained tight-lipped on that when FLW spoke to him after the win against Barrow last weekend.

“That’s nothing to do with me,” said the O’s boss. “I’ll leave that to Martin [Ling, Orient director of football] and obviously the board.”

Wellens knows a thing or two about stepping out of your comfort zone as a young player – leaving Manchester United to join Blackpool in search of regular football in the early days of his playing career – but he believes that Sotiriou’s future is best served with his boyhood club for the time being.

He explained: “I think he’s got a real chance here to become a club hero and build a relationship with the fans.

“He’s going to play at a higher level, 100% he’s going to play at a higher level. Why can’t he build something here that going forward the supporters will never forget?

“He’s one of their own, which I think is important for supporters. At the moment, the supporters are enjoying his performances so why shouldn’t he have another season here, develop, know that he’s going to play, know that he’s loved, know that the supporters love him, and build that relationship.

“Then if he goes onto pastures new in the future then so be it but I think the right thing for him would be to work under me and to work for this club definitely for the foreseeable future.”

According to Wellens, Sotiriou is “one of six attacking players that we’ve got that we want to keep” but you have to feel agreeing new terms with the 21-year-old is near the top of the club’s list of priorities as the summer approaches – if not the the first item on the agenda.

He has had to bide his time at Orient, having been sent out on loan five times since his senior debut, but he now appears to have a head coach willing to put his full faith in him.

The 21-year-old is not yet the finished article, indeed Wellens has hinted that improvement is needed defensively, but there is so much to like about him and he has been a pleasure to watch over the past month.

He looks like a player with a big future ahead of him but Orient fans will be hoping that he continues his development in east London for a few more years yet.


London-based sports journalist at Snack Media EFL accredited, graduate of New Associates and the University of Brighton

ScoopDragon Football News Network

Article title: “A real chance here to become a club hero”: Ruel Sotiriou – Leyton Orient’s star on the rise

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