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    Young Guns blog (by John Jones) -  Sun 25 Aug 19.

    Ryan Astley (Everton)
    Ryans involvement with the Everton first team pre-season preparations confirms the high opinion that management at the club have as regards to the talent he possesses. It was not all that surprising that it occurred, as last season he played regularly for the U-23 team. Having only started in full time football in the summer of 2018 as a first-year scholar with the Toffees, the consensus at the club has been to challenge him with as high a level of football as his ability allows him to cope with. He seems to have succeeded, making more appearances for the U-23s than the U-18 team. The next step will of course be a decision of when to confront him with the demands of first team football and that may come relatively soon if an opportunity to select him for a League Cup or FA Cup tie is considered suitable. With his 18th birthday still some weeks away, it does seem inevitable that Ryan is progressing at a rate that will see him integrated into the first team squad in his teenage years. First team football at the upper levels of the game and particularly so in the Premier League, is an extremely tough assignment when physical development has not reached its peak and it takes a special talent to make it viably possible. It seems that Ryan fits into such a category. It could be that another Everton defensive lynchpin with North Wales roots, captaining the team as well as his national side is progressing for such a role. It is a tradition that stretches back for best part of a century.

    Brennan Johnson (Nottingham Forest)
    Although a second-year scholar last season, Brennan was only utilized in the 2 matches the U-18 team regarded as most important to field the strongest team possible, the FA Youth Cup ties that were played. Other than in those, he played exclusively for the clubs U-23 team, ending the season as the teams top scorer having played in about three quarters of the games competed. Although he is a midfield player, it is in an attacking role and the club will not mind him occupying a position in the opposition half if he continues to convert a goal rate at greater than 1 every 2 matches as he did last season. Moving on to this season, he has already made his first team debut when introduced as a late substitute in the first Championship match of the season and then building on that by playing the last quarter of the League Cup tie. He is undoubtedly going to add further appearances as the season moves along, Forest seem to be using an approach of introducing him to the physical rigours encountered in the Championship in a cautious manner at present. Probably a wise choice, allowing him to adapt his silky skills to the more challenging brand of football than he has experienced previously. It does seem only a matter of time before he becomes a first team regular, even though Forest have been an aggressive purchaser of talent and consequently the squad, in Championship terms, is both large and expensive.

    Sam Pearson (Bristol City)

    Second-year scholar Sam is certainly one that management at Ashton Gate have very high hopes of assisting the first team in the future. Preparation for such a scenario is being pushed in as rapid a pace as deemed advisable with his step up into the U-23 team numerous times last season. A first team debut is probably not imminent in terms of weeks, but Sam was given an idea of how the environment is for the first team, with his inclusion in the squad and a subsequent appearance on the bench for an FA Cup tie last season. Although of course still eligible for U-18 team competition, Sam will most probably be challenged with appearances for the U-23 team as well. If he can continue to impress as he did last season, decisions will be required as to how best to prepare him for first team football readiness and it is best to wait and see how things develop rather than just speculate blindly. By the way, Sam will not be the only Pearson mentioned in Young Gun chronicles in the coming months. Twin brother Callum, also at the Robins, will get column time to report on the good progress he is also making.

    Terry Taylor (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
    After being a standout performer for the Wales schoolboy international team in their Victory Shield tournament matches, representatives of the Scottish FA persuaded Terry to switch allegiance back to the country of his birth, resulting in him representing them at U-17 and U-19 level. As a schoolboy he was affiliated with Aberdeen, the city of his birth, but Wolves recruited him at the time of his move into full time football and so he joined them as a scholar. Now, as a full time professional, he is listed as a member of the U-23 squad at the club, but it is expected for him to make his first team debut before too long. All his pre-season preparation time was spent with the first team squad and so it is obvious how highly he is regarded at the club. Equally effective in either a midfield role or as a cultured central defender, he not only has an abundance of skill but also an ability to be versatile. An injury sustained prior to the start of the season has delayed his introduction into competitive action, fortunately he will be ready to return to full fitness in a matter of days. Once he has had some games to re-establish his competitive edge, there will almost certainly be an introduction to first team football competition. Probably done in a cautious manner, such as a cup tie and then it will be a case of how well he performs before a decision on what the next steps will be. Having mentioned his representative honours for Scotland, it is now time to say that he has reverted to the national team of the country of his mothers birth and was a member of the squads that attended the senior team training camps last season. We must admit that it seems an excellent gain for Wales and add a consoling feeling of sympathy for Scottish fans who will feel robbed of a potential star performer.

    Neco Williams (Liverpool)
    After completion of 2 seasons as a scholar with Liverpool, Neco now steps into the U-23 squad at the club. It will not be unfamiliar territory for him however, as he has already played well for the U-23 team on numerous occasions over the last 2 seasons. Impressive statistics, at a club that prides itself on trying to recruit and develop talent of the highest level. It generally leads to large squads at all levels of competition they are involved with and are usually amongst the leading contenders. An example is that their U-18 team, of which Neco was a member, were the victors in last seasons FA Youth Cup final. A triumph that often bodes well for a club in future years. Neco and other members of that team will have their sights set on eventually performing when wearing the team shirt in first team circumstances, but also knowing that nothing short of improving their ability to the highest standards will see them attain the ambition. With Liverpool fans craving the fulfillment of securing a Premier League title and the staff intent on leaving no stone unturned to satisfy that demand, playing for the first team or even being a member of the squad for it, is reserved for only those whose standard is considered as exemplary. That is the challenge set before Neco, an immense one, but so far, he is treading a path in such a manner to suggest that the goal may be attainable.

    Five young men with a common birth year of 2001, all with a resume of football achievements that belies their tender age of approximately 18 years old. The level of ability they have reached to this point, makes it easy to suggest that representing Wales at senior international level in the future, is well within their means. There is, of course, a good deal of hard work to be performed, needing the utmost dedication and determination on their part, to turn such a prediction into reality. That is in some way the beauty of football, whatever may have happened in the past cannot in any way be taken for granted to be continued in the future. Even so, they seem to exhibit not only the physical aptitude, but also a mental one as well, for a belief that I can confidently state that it is a strong possibility for each of them. These 5 are the most prominent at present, from a large group of players with the common birth year, many of whom are doing very well and some in fact only slightly behind in comparison of terms of achievement. Still at an age to be eligible for Wales U-19 selection, I think it is an expectancy that the team who competes at that age group level this season will be a strong one. As was suspected might happen for some of them, Brennan and Terry have been selected for the U-21 squad and so will not likely be considered for the U-19s. Likewise, Jack Vale, who is also from the same year group and doing well. Even in their absence, I still believe the U-19s will be a strong team. I think it is time for me to conclude what has become quite lengthy and save some of my thoughts for next week.

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    Posted: Sunday 25th August 2019
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