Not many Premier League players have had a five years like Max Kilman – and now he’s on the verge of an England call-up.
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Today – from indoor football to the verge of an England call-up, via Maidenhead and Ukraine – this is Max Kilman’s remarkable rise.
Nicely played, Rodrigo! That’s Brazil at their best, quick one-two in front of goal, and they trail for less than a minute… nothing the defenders could do about that brilliant movement.FIFA
If you’re a football fan outside the UK, there’s a decent chance you’ve heard of futsal.
It’s an indoor, five-a-side version of football, with broadly the same rules as eleven-a-side.
It has that squeaky shoe on school hall type sound, with crowds cheering echoing around smaller venues.
The ball is slightly heavier, and smaller. It’s a game designed for skill, more creativity, and it’s more advantageous to technically gifted players.
And it’s for that reason that, traditionally at least, tough-tackling, long-ball obsessed England haven’t been all that bothered by it.
But it’s through futsal that one of the most compelling figures of the Premier League has emerged this season.
So the outswinger… it’s not a bad delivery, it’s headed down and it’s headed in! It’s Max Kilman – what a moment, Max Kilman’s first goal for Wolves!Wolves – YouTube
Max Kilman is not your ordinary footballer.
He was released by Fulham’s academy when he was 14 years old, and soon after took up futsal as well as joining Gillingham’s regular football academy.
His fledgling football career had, in some respects, already taken a detour – but little did he know at that stage that his grounding in futsal would later become one of his greatest strengths.
And while futsal was going well, his eleven-a-side life started in a modest way.
He joined National League side Maidenhead United in 2015, and was loaned out to Southern League club Marlow Town in 2016.
During this period, he was noticed by England’s futsal management, who selected him to play for the national team in 2015.
He even thought about leaving football to move abroad and focus full-time on futsal.
But, in 2016, he was spotted by a scout from Premier League club Wolverhampton Wanderers, who was only at an England futsal match to support a couple of his ex-colleagues who were playing.
And, a couple of years later, on deadline day in August 2018, Wolves signed him.
It was a surprising decision to some, but one that hasn’t been as alien as it may have been in the past.
In recent years we’ve seen the likes of Jamie Vardy rise from non-league to the Premier League – but it’s still an incredibly rare journey.
Kilman was the first player to join a Premier League club directly from a non-league club since Chris Smalling joined Fulham from Maidstone in 2008.
Since joining Wolves, Kilman has gone from strength to strength – but this season has been a breakthrough year for him.
So much so, there are whispers that he could even be in line for an England call-up from Gareth Southgate.
But the international side of Kilman’s career could have been so different.
As I said earlier, Max Kilman’s journey through football isn’t your ordinary one.
His parents are both half-Russian, half-Ukrainian. His mother was a catwalk model. His late father was an arts dealer.
And it’s through those links that came one of the most unlikely phone calls of Max Kilman’s life.
In early 2021, Kilman was called by the Ukraine manager, the legendary former striker Andriy Shevchenko.
This was a big deal for Kilman, who grew up as a Chelsea fan and would watch Shevchenko as a child.
Shevchenko wanted Kilman to play for Ukraine, and potentially represent them in last year’s European Championships.
However, Kilman found he was unable to play for Ukraine, due to the fact he played 25 times for England’s futsal team.
FIFA’s rules state you can’t change your elected national team once you’ve represented another in a competitive fixture.
Kilman described this near miss as ‘frustrating’, but from an English point of view, the story isn’t finished.
Kilman has been superb this season, and has become a crucial part of Wolves’ defence which has conceded the second fewest goals in the Premier League.
And while he faced disappointment about missing out on international football for Ukraine, many pundits have tipped him to be selected for England’s next round of international fixtures.
Kilman’s story is emblematic of a new era in football – one where players aren’t taking a single traditional route through to professional football.
It was through futsal that he learnt the skills that he’s been able to translate so successfully into Premier League football, but the emergence in recent years of players like Jadon Sancho and Ebere Eze from ‘cage’ football – a more technical, small-sided style of football similar to futsal – means that English football is progressing in a similar fashion to Brazil and Spain.
And the game is far richer for it.