Kieran Davies celebrates the rise and rise of an incredible young talent.
As he begins to light up the international arena, England fans up and down the country bemoan how Wales have stolen a great player from them. In terms of birthplace, yes you could say Ben Woodburn is as Welsh as Raheem Sterling is English (although at least Chester sits on the border of both countries, Jamaica is slightly further afield from any part of the English borders on last glance). Adrian Durham recently ranted about the underhand tactics of tactics of the Welsh FA on his podium (I mean show) resembling a low budget Nuremburg rally scathing the actual cheek of the idea of another country getting an English born player to choose their nation over their country of birth. I wonder if in Jamaica there is a localised version of Adrian screaming the same sour grapes every time the misfiring winger pulls on those three lions? Children are approached by clubs at far younger ages than when the Welsh FA approached Woodburn. And the difference is Adrian? No doubt he feels they should be concentrating on who they fancy in the school playground and which Pokémon they need to complete their collection? Maybe in Adrian’s world dear old Mother England still rules the waves, the trade routes and most of the sub-continent. Ah the Empire Mr Durham, more tea?
The reality of the situation is that a player really in his infancy in the senior game is probably better served representing a country like Wales as opposed to England. He is also benefiting greatly from being at a club like Liverpool. Now some may say both of these opinions may be very subjective but let’s look at the facts in front of us. Firstly, had Woodburn entered the St George’s Park set-up there would be very little chance of him getting some if not any game time at senior level at the age of 17. He would have been lost in their plethora of development sides and maybe got a mention at the end of the six o’clock news, as a group, if they become world champions. The truth is, the step from under-19 international to full senior cap is less of a step with England than more of a chasm. The FA certainly know this themselves. It can be one of the only reasons that they gave Gareth Southgate the job in all fairness.
His managerial CV after all didn’t glisten with achievements, unless you were looking for a manager whose only claim to fame was to beat a Man City team 8-1, months before their wealthy owners took residence at the club. He’s certainly not going to offer any wise words of wisdom in improving England’s dismal penalty shoot-out record, that’s for sure. While the echelons of power at FA Headquarters would claim that they have one of the best resource pools worldwide to draw upon, their performances at major tournaments would beg to differ. There seems to be a lack of transition from the youth sides to senior side. In all fairness, the English FA don’t have much to do with the development of the player on a daily basis as this is something which is managed by his parent club, but there seems to be a lack of development of these assets in the English game. Even winning trophies at youth levels, unless the senior side start stepping up to the plate in major tournaments, the closest they will get to repeating that famous win in ’66 is when it is possible to replay the game using holographic technology.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand, Ben Woodburn. The talent is being extremely well managed by Jurgen Klopp who is so impressed with his development he has retained him in the first team squad and is planning on offering him a 5-year contract on his 18th birthday. He is liaising with Chris Coleman well also in making sure that this young prospect isn’t rushed into anything. It seems to be working, his impact from the bench for both sides has been nothing short of sensational. He seems confident, happy to run at defenders with the ball, has a pinpoint delivery and a shot that is reminiscent of some true greats from Liverpool’s history. We don’t want to put unnecessary pressure on such young shoulders which is why comparisons to true greats are rather premature to say the least. We should just be enjoying the rise of such a talent onto the Premier League and international stage. The fact of the matter is, whenever you are doing well, there are always elements trying to shoot you down. I don’t think any Welshman will be losing any sleep with the comments from a certain talkDRIVEL presenter who just tries to be controversial to attract attention to no doubt ailing show.
At many clubs in the top flight, Woodburn would be farmed out on loan to some side playing nowhere near the standard of the Premier League. As Man City and Chelsea constantly send out wave after wave of young talent on loan, it is refreshing to see a team that will be competing in the Champions League this season taking a different approach. The experience he will gain from just being part of the matchday squads will no doubt improve him as a person and a player. I envisage the likes of Ramsey and Bale taking him under their wing also being of extensive benefit to the youngster. There is no doubting the passion of Woodburn which is evident for all to see whenever he sets foot on the pitch. He has that hunger of a youngster that has fought hard and trained extensively to achieve his dreams and now he can reap the rewards of all that hard work. Whoever you support in the Premier League, not many teams can say they regularly get the chance to see their academy stars blooded in the first team. For Liverpool, you have to go back to the days of Gerrard and Carragher since youth has made such an impression on first team affairs.
The Welsh team and their fans pride themselves on their passion. When the fans are behind them and the team are at full strength, they are more than a match for any side. They still have a lot of work to do to ensure they book one of the coveted play-off places but it should all be in their own hands. They will need to keep Bale and Ramsey fit as they are integral to Wales’ success but with the rise to prominence of Ben Woodburn, there is still plenty for Welsh fans to look forward to, something which is quite an achievement within itself after the success of last summer. There seems to be a good atmosphere amongst the squad and they all seem to be enjoying their football. It will be interesting to see how they react if they do miss out on qualification to the World Cup finals in Russia, but one step at a time, one match at a time, the dream could be still alive for their first participation in the tournament since 1958. Cymru am byth!