From IT in the City to playing with Kleberson – Orsi's unorthodox rise

Danilo Orsi never thought he was going to be a professional footballer.

The Crawley striker grew up in north London and played in non-League with Cockfosters while he was completing his A-Levels. He was at peace with balancing that semi-professional career with the IT job in the City he was preparing to start.

Until one phone call changed everything, that was.

“I got a call asking if I wanted to go out to America for six weeks and playing in a tournament out there for one of my old coaches,” he tells Sky Sports.

“My mum was the one who pushed me and said, if I was going into work for the rest of my life, to go and experience it.

Image courtesy of Telephoto
(Image courtesy of Telephoto)

“I went out there, scored a few goals, won a few tournaments and one thing led to another – I ended up staying out there for three-and-a-half years!”

In the US, he studied a business management degree at – and played footballer for – Eastern Florida State College and spent time with Chivas USA’s U19 and Fort Lauderdale Strikers’ U23s.

Legendary Brazilian striker Ronaldo was part of the ownership group at the latter at the time, but though Orsi was not involved with him, he did encounter another former Brazil international.

“[Ex-Man Utd midfielder] Kleberson was in the first team at the time, so I had a bit of interaction with him, but there was a bit of a language barrier when we played.

“It was cool, 100 per cent, especially then when I wasn’t thinking about having a career in football. To see him on a daily basis and what he was doing was a real eye-opener and I learned a lot from it.

Orsi was at Fort Lauderdale Strikers at the same time as former Man Utd midfielder Kleberson
Orsi was at Fort Lauderdale Strikers at the same time as former Man Utd midfielder Kleberson

“It just was a fantastic experience, not only on the pitch but off it as well. It helped me build as a character. I was 19 when I went out there, so it made me grow up a lot quicker and I made some friends for life.”

Orsi returned home to the UK in 2018 and returned to the non-league scene with East Thurrock United, Hungerford Town, Hampton & Richmond and Maidenhead United, while also working for his uncle’s plumbing firm on his days off.

In his first season in the National League at the last of those four clubs, he scored 19 goals in 39 games, and earned a move to League Two side Harrogate in the summer of 2021, which he describes as his “proudest moment”.

Seeing my family‘s faces knowing that I’d finally achieved what we all wanted me to achieve was really special,” he adds.

At this point in the interview, it would usually be the journalist – somewhat lazily – asking the player if he takes inspiration from the rise of Jamie Vardy from the Northern Premier League to the Premier League within just six seasons.

The striker has been inspired by Jamie Vardy’s famous rise from non-league to the Premier League

But it is, in fact, Orsi who raises the topic on this occasion. He has high ambitions.

“Being an Arsenal fan, I looked up to Thierry Henry and what he did, but, more recently, I’d probably say Vardy and what he’s managed to do over the last 10 years.

“He was one of the first who really kicked on and pushed up through the levels after coming from non-league. Even though our games are slightly different, I’ve thought about replicating what he’s done and trying to kick on as high as possible.

“It gave me a lot of inspiration and, when I was playing in non-league, in my head, it was about being as full-time as possible, knowing that if I did things right, I could have a chance to kick on through the leagues.”

After Harrogate – and a half-season loan at Boreham Wood – he spent last season with Grimsby, where it is fair to say he played a bit-part role in the league, making just five starts throughout the season.

He featured heavily in the Mariners’ historic run to the FA Cup quarter-finals, though, scoring once and providing three assists in five outings, as they ousted Luton and Southampton, before being brought down to Earth by a 5-0 defeat away at Brighton.

Orsi only started five league games at Grimsby last term

In the summer, Crawley signed the striker for an undisclosed fee and he was given the No 9 shirt immediately, which illustrated the fact manager Scott Lindsey was prepared to give him the chance to impress he perhaps had not been afforded at Grimsby.

In his press conference ahead of the visit of MK Dons in the League Two play-off semi-final first leg on Monday, Lindsey said he would “run through a brick wall” for Orsi, who insists the whole squad would do the same for their boss.

“He’s that sort of person and he’s built that bond with us,” Orsi says.

“The way he wants to play suits me to a tee and he’s got a fantastic group of staff with him, everyone always wants to help you. I’ve done a lot of work with [first team coach] Carl Laraman this year in and around the box, which has filled me with confidence.

“As a striker, when you know you’re going to get a run of games to score some goals, you haven’t got to worry that, if you don’t score, you’re going to get dragged and you’re not going to play the next one.

“Early on in the season, I missed a chance at Swindon and we went on to lose the game. First thing Monday morning, he pulled me and said not to worry about it. He could see I was beating myself up about it, but I was in the position to score, so he wasn’t going to drop me for it.

“It was at that moment, I really kicked on and got into goalscoring form from there.”

Orsi struggles to hide his pride when he is reminded of his 25 goal involvements in all competitions so far this term, which have come in the form of 21 goals and four assists to date.

He is particularly pleased given LEGO subscription service Brick Borrow have been donating £50 to the Crawley Town Community Foundation each time he has scored and brought out his ‘Ors-ing Around’ celebration.

It is one of the actions that saw him named Crawley’s PFA Community Champion for 2023/24.

“I always said growing up that if I got into the position of being a professional footballer, the first thing I wanted to do was to help the community, help boys who are trying to get into the shoes I’m in now,” he adds.

“I’ve done a few coaching sessions with the community boys and told them that it doesn’t matter if you haven’t played academy football because I didn’t and I’m able to live the dream so there’s no reason why they can’t.”

No one is happier to see him living that dream than his family. He is half-Italian and those close bonds mean a lot.

“The boys joke about it quite a lot as I normally have about 20 of them in the stands here!

“They are only about an hour away, so they all come down and, being a big Italian family, there’s quite a few of them!

“I go round to my grandparents on a Sunday and I normally get de-briefed by my grandad! Having them here and seeing them enjoy it puts a smile on my face as well.”

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Highlights of the League Two game between Crawley and Grimsby

On Monday afternoon, live on Sky Sports Football, Town welcome Mike Williamson’s side – who scored 20 goals in their last six games of the season – to Broadfield Stadium.

The two-legged affair lies between Crawley and the play-off final at Wembley – and maybe, just maybe, a return to Sky Bet League One for the first time in nine years.

Orsi smiles as he envisions the prospect.

“I can’t wait for it – the break between the end of the season and the first game is almost too long!,” he says.

I would have quite liked it to be three or four days after, but the boys are in good spirits and there’s a real good buzz about the place.

“It’s going to be a really good game of football as we are two teams with a really exciting way of playing. Both teams want to play football, both teams set up in a similar system.

“I think it’s just going to come down to who’s better over the two games. We’re happy to be at home first, where we can get the fans behind us and hopefully get a positive result to go back to their place with.”

The next chapter of Danilo Orsi’s brilliant story is about to be written.

Watch the Sky Bet League Two play-off semi-final first leg between Crawley and MK Dons live on Sky Sports Football from 2.30pm on Monday; kick-off 3pm.

Monday 6th May 2:30pm

Kick off 3:00pm

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