Meet English football's only Mormon... and why he has such faith in Huddersfield's Premier League dream

Jon Russell breaks convention on and off the pitch and is thriving under Marcelo Bielsa acolyte Carlos Corberán

Huddersfield could return to the Premier League after a three-year absence Credit: GETTY IMAGES

"I know I'm quite rare," says Jon Russell, smiling at the understatement as he sits down to chat in a Leeds cafe.

He certainly has a point. Russell is unusual in many aspects - not least the fact that he combines a centre-back's build with the grace of a No10 at the heart of Huddersfield's unlikely push towards the Premier League - but most of all in his faith. 

Russell is part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known informally as the Mormons - not a denomination which counts many footballers amongst its number. The late Freddy Rincón, who played in three World Cups with Colombia, was a high-profile Mormon footballer but Russell may be one of the first in England. 

Before he faces Luton Town in the Championship play-offs on Friday night, Russell will pray and read the scriptures, part of his pre-match routine during his run in the first team since February and playing a key role in their attempt to return to the top flight since he joined from Chelsea, where he came through the academy.

“Praying and reading helped calm me down,” he said. “It’s been one of the biggest parts of my life and now it’s like a pre-game ritual. That is what I have and I feel God is there helping me. When I was young I would be petrified before games. Having faith made me confident and less scared. 

“I back myself but sometimes put too much pressure on myself. I feel God blesses me to help me be confident.”

Footballers' religious devotion is far from uncommon - Alisson, the Liverpool goalkeeper, even conducts baptisms for fellow players in the swimming pool of his home - but Mormons are rare in the professional game, not least because their teachings discourage working on Sundays. 

"I think I’m the only current one at this level," Russell says. "That is cool because a few people come up to me at church and say their kid wants to be a footballer and I can speak to him. At church there are a lot that look up to me. I’m not at the top level so I don't expect anyone to look up to me but I help the kids at church and that is a massive part.”

Rather than the usual hashtags when Huddersfield secured a place in the play-offs, Russell’s social-media post came with #allpraisestothemosthigh. It came at the end of a run in Carlos Corberán’s team where they have only lost twice when Russell has been playing. 

Russell's ability to stride forward with the ball in the final third has been invaluable Credit: PA

Russell is also rare in that he is 6ft 4in, built like a centre-back, but gets on the ball and carries Huddersfield forward as their No10. His lob against Luton last month during the regular season was a delicate volley, but he has power along with grace. It has caught the eye of Premier League scouts in the last three months but he is also eyeing the top-flight with Huddersfield. 

They brought him into their Academy, called the “B” team, in the summer after his release at Chelsea having seen enough potential in his loan spell at Accrington Stanley last season in League One.  

Russell describes Chelsea as his life, having been there since he was aged seven, and feels that being part of their famous academy system has helped him break into senior football. Chelsea have helped Huddersfield this season, with Levi Colwill and Tino Anjorin signed on loan. Jamal Blackman was a Cobham graduate and Russell joined them as a free agent. 

“Every year and every team there are the best players in the country,” he said. “If you are all up against each other you are going to improve each other and try to be the best player out of them. It helps in people’s career, they want to be the best. Training was massive. If you are not training well, you won’t start. And everyone’s aim is to start. You can’t slack. That is good because it only helps you.  

“The aim was to go through the Academy and then go into the first team and play games like Ruben (Loftus-Cheek) and all of those players. The last two years they would only extend the contract by a year, so you think ‘right, I need to start looking for something else…’. They always invested in me but I knew there was somewhere out there if I didn’t break through at Chelsea. And it is working out now.” 

Corberán has been an influence on Russell. The disciple of Marcelo Bielsa, the former Leeds coach is more of a communicator than El Loco.  

“If you’re not at it he’ll dig you out," he says. "It is in a positive way and it keeps the standards high in training with a good positive energy. He’s a motivator. Before games he would set up a video of all our good stuff. He tells us stories about his life, which is encouraging as well. 

“Like when he was young I wanted to be like a musician. Or a goalkeeper. Life doesn’t take you there. You have to adapt to things. Games might not be going our way and we might not score straight away but we have to adapt and it works out.” 

It did not seem to be going Russell’s way last summer when he was released but, with faith, he is close to getting back to the Premier League.