Last year saw James Lawrence complete the league and cup double with AS Trenčín in Slovakia. Not bad for your first season in senior football.
Oxfordshire-born Lawrence headed into 2015 with Slovak league and cup ambitions. His side, AS Trenčín, had never won a major honour in their relatively short 23-year existence. However they did finish as runners-up in the 2013-14 season and at the halfway stage of the 2014-15 season, Lawrence and his team-mates were well set in both competitions.
Having established himself in the side, regularly starting at left-back, Lawrence continued where he left off after the long winter break.
His solidly consistent performances throughout the season saw Trenčín head into May 2015 with a cup final to play and the league title within their sights.
The subsequent cup final was a bitter-sweet-bitter experience for the left-back. Starting on the bench, despite having played a crucial role in run to the cup final, Lawrence came on in the second half with the tie locked at 1-1.
The game duly went into extra time, where a further goal for each side saw the game head for the lottery of a penalty shoot-out. Trenčín held their nerve to win the shoot-out and Lawrence had his first ever honour at the age of 22 in his first season as a professional.
Unfortunately, an injury sustained in the cup final would curtail the left-back’s debut season in Slovakia. However, the season was to end of a positive note as Trenčín would go on to secure their first ever Slovakian top tier title and finish the season with the double.
Highlights from the Slovak Cup final, where Lawrence’s side were successful on penalties.
The rest of 2015 was incredibly frustrating for Lawrence. He was unable to shake off his injury problems until October, thus missing his side’s first every foray into the UEFA Champions League, where Trenčín would go on to be knocked out by Steaua București in the second qualifying round.
However, he made a successful return to the starting line-up, scoring in his side’s 3-0 fourth round cup win over Blava Jaslovské. More pleasingly, he managed the full ninety minutes as his side looked to defend their title.
League minutes have been harder to come by for the 23-year-old this season though. With injury hampering his quest to nail down a starting spot in the line-up, the left-back made just three appearances, all as a substitute, in the league before the start of the winter break began in December.
Before making the move to Slovakia, Lawrence spent five years in Holland honing his skills. Initially with Ajax, the full-back combined the classroom with the changing rooms as he earned an international master’s degree in sports management whilst still playing.
After two years with Ajax, Lawrence left the club but spent three more years in the country. First, he joined Sparta Rotterdam’s under-21 side and then moved on to RKC Waalwijk’s.
Then with the aim of first-team football and with the aid of a contact at former side Ajax, Lawrence secured a move to Trenčín.
2015 finished disappointingly for Lawrence as injury halted the impressive progress he had made in Slovakia. However, the year must still be classed as a success. It was the year AS Trenčín secured their first ever major honours and the Englishman played a major part in that.
2016 will see him attempt to regain his place in the starting XI. The Slovakian league returns from its mammoth winter break at the end of this month, and fully rested, Lawrence will hopefully get a run of games as Trenčín look well placed to defend the titles they achieved last season.