Danilo Orsi exclusive interview: Crawley Town’s star striker explains his unusual rise from non-League to the EFL

Danilo Orsi exclusive interview: Crawley Town’s star striker explains his unusual rise from non-League to the EFL


Crawley’s Danilo Orsi on how a six-week spell in America set him on the path to becoming a professional footballer; watch Crawley vs Crewe in the Sky Bet League Two play-off final live on Sky Sports Football from 12pm on Sunday; kick-off 1pm

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)

“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.

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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.

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 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.

“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”.

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

“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.

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.

Orsi only started five league games at Grimsby last term

“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.

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 a press conference ahead the Reds’ opening play-off game against MK Dons, 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.

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“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 28 goal involvements in all competitions so far this term, which have come in the form of 24 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.

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

“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.”

Live EFL

There is bound to be a debrief this Sunday, though it may have to be delayed, depending on the outcome of the Sky Bet League Two play-off final between Crawley and Crewe at Wembley, which is live on Sky Sports Football.

Orsi had a relatively quiet evening when Lindsey’s side beat MK Dons 3-0 in the first leg, but starred with a hat-trick in the second leg, which led to an eventual 8-1 aggregate demolition.

He has now scored more goals in a single season than any other Crawley player since they were first promoted to the EFL in 2011.

“You can see by the way we played the last two games that we’re a proper footballing side and we create chances,” he said, beaming, when he spoke to Sky Sports shortly after the final whistle.

“I was dreaming about scoring a hat-trick last night! This is what you want. Growing up, you dream about playing on Sky Sports and to not only say I’ve played on it, but to score a hat-trick as well, means it’s a great day for me and more so for my family.

“We’re going to go into the final full of confidence. We know how we play and we’ve finally started to believe how good we are.”

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

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