Neil Kengni is hoping non-league Marine’s remarkable exploits in the Emirates FA Cup will serve as a shop window for a route back into the EFL.
The 20-year-old forward, who was a scholar at Rochdale, is combining playing non-league with working as an apprentice plumber.
Kengni is dreaming the third-round tie against Premier League leaders Tottenham on Sunday, January 10 will raise his profile and that may soon enable him to put away his tool box for the foreseeable future.
“I am still young, and I think there is still time to improve and make it back into the League,” he explained.
“If you ask any part-time player, their dream is to be full-time, something I was lucky enough to do at Rochdale.”
Marine’s cup run – they are only the second club from step eight of the football pyramid to reach the third round – has certainly done his prospects no harm.
Yet Kengni admitted it could have been different as he revealed Stalybridge Celtic wanted him to re-sign in the summer.
Kengni, who had been on loan at Marine since January, said: “My contract was up with Celtic in the summer and they wanted me to re-sign.
“Celtic loaned me to Marine for my benefit as I had lost form. I enjoyed it, played well and got my joy for football back.
“It proved a good decision to loan me out and the change of scenery did me well. And it made the decision to join Marine permanently that much easier.”
Kengni has enjoyed the cup run, though he admitted it was nearly over before it had begun as they scraped past North West Counties League side Barnoldswick in their first qualifying match.
“It was a scare as we were 1-0 down with two minutes to go and scored two late goals to win 2-1,” he explained.
Since then, Marine have beaten higher-league Chester FC, Colchester United and Havant and Waterlooville.
“We have had some difficult games, especially as League Two side Colchester, but we have managed to pull through them all,” he said.
“At Colchester in the first round, manager (Neil Young) gave us instructions and every player knew what to do and we beat them on penalties. Everyone was so happy afterwards in the changing rooms.
“Then in the second round against Havant, Niall Cummins scored our winner in the last minute of extra time.”
Kengni had returned to his home in Wythenshawe after a day’s work plumbing when the third-round draw was made.
“I was watching the draw at home and I was so happy, buzzing when we got Spurs at home. The lads deserved it.
“It is an unbelievable draw – it could only have been bettered had it been my team Manchester United – and will be my first-ever game against a Premier League team which will be a good experience and a good game.”
Kengni made 68 appearances for Celtic between August 2018 and January 2020, scoring 14 goals.
After being released by Rochdale aged 18, Kengni was playing for Malpas in the Cheshire League when Celtic manager Simon Haworth came knocking at the door.
“Malpas was the local team for one of the Rochdale coaches and that is how I came to play for them,” he said.
“I enjoyed my time with Celtic and the manager is a very good coach and was also a friend.”
Kengni admitted being released by Rochdale at the end of his scholarship was something he had to deal with.
“You either give up the game or take it on the chin and prove people wrong,” he explained.
In Kengni’s case it is playing part time and learning a trade for the future, something he believes is imperative.
But he admitted it is not easy and comes with its challenges.
Kengni said: “I work during the day and then train two nights each week.
“It is quite demanding but, when you love football as I do, I will not let it get in the way.”