SAM Ricketts believes leaving Oxford United for non-league football was a key moment in his career.

The 37-year-old faces his former side for the first time today as a manager, having taken over at Shrewsbury Town in December.

Ricketts played top-flight football for Hull City and Bolton Wanderers, winning 52 caps for Wales.

But it all started in the youth set-up at United, where he turned professional and made his debut against Swindon in October 2000.

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Ricketts made 48 appearances for the U’s, but opted to drop down to the Conference with Telford United in 2003.

He told the Shropshire Star: “Oxford’s where I came through, I played for them from 12 to 22.

“I didn’t achieve anything there or come through as the rising star. I went in and cancelled my contract. I had a year left.

“I wanted to play first-team football. They were very good bringing me through, I made just shy of 50 appearances.

“Leaving probably made me. I got out of being the young player at Oxford and went on to play every week.”

He added: “Naivety or bravery, whatever you want (to call it).

“Nowadays players won’t drop down and play because they want to hang on as long as they can.

“I dropped down when I had no doubt in my mind I was going to be successful, then you have to back yourself.

“People thought it was the end of my career dropping down to non-league but that was never in my mind once.”