THERE has been much talk about Wales’ new sensation Ben Woodburn this week and quite rightly so.
The 17-year-old winger made an incredible start to his international career when, after just four minutes, he scored the winner after coming off the bench against Austria in the World Cup qualifying match on Saturday night (August 2).
The media frenzy inevitably followed just moments after the match and the pressure was immediately placed on the teenager’s shoulders as he was hyped up to the heavens.
However, he again proved his talent just four days later as he came off the bench against Moldova to change the game once more. This time, he provided a wicked assist for Hal Robson-Kanu to nod home after he had made a superb run down the touchline.
Two sparkling performances have brought the world’s attention to the youngster who plays his club football for Liverpool. He also scored on his debut for the Reds too, in an EFL Cup match against Leeds last season.
Journalists all over the globe are currently busy losing their heads over the fact that he could be the next Gareth Bale or maybe even better.
As good as he is though, I believe that a bit of common sense has to be used in cases such as Woodburn’s as, at the end of the day, he is still a schoolboy and has time to both improve, or completely vanish. So, the praise and applause is all well and good, but placing too much pressure on his head could be a disastrous thing in the long run.
The English media have a constant and annoying tendency to overhype their players to the point of when they are breaking them down into a shadow of their former selves.
Then they start to criticise them when they do things wrong, even though it was them that at least partially contributed to their downfall in the first place.
Take Jack Wilshere for example. The papers were quick to heap praise on the midfielder after his fine performances with Arsenal as a youngster and he looked for all the world like he was going to be England’s next big thing.
In a Champions League match v Barcelona back in 2011, a then 19 year old Wilshere dominated their midfield of Xavi and Iniesta, who at that time were the best in the world and as you can imagine, English journalists went mad, calling him their “diamond” and “what we’ve been waiting for” and so on.
However, as injuries began to hit him and his abilities deteriorated, their attitudes towards him did too.
He went from the “super” and “talented” Jack Wilshere to the “useless” and “aggressive” Jack Wilshere in the space of a few months. Now, at 25 years old, you could most certainly say that his career has never taken off the way everyone thought it would and although that was mainly down to injuries, I can’t help but feel that pressure placed on him was also a huge contributing factor.
He is still at Arsenal incredibly, despite talk of him leaving in the summer and after spending last season on loan at Bournemouth, he will be given one last chance this season. However, his England career has very much been stop-start and his injury woes continue.
Some players just don’t know how to handle themselves under the spotlight, it’s as simple as that.
Paul Gascoigne is the classic example that everyone seems to look at it of course, as he went well and truly off the rails and the media pushed him further into the darkness it seems.
More recently though, it is the likes of Ravel Morrison (who was once an exciting prodigy at Manchester United and recently signed for Mexican side Atlas), James Vaughan (who came through Everton’s youth ranks), Tom Celverley (again at Man U, but now Watford) and Saido Berahino (Now at Stoke) who have all seen their careers fade away seemingly due to the fact that they weren’t able to handle life in the fast lane and the papers were quick to highlight that.
The English media will do all they can to try and knock Ben Woodburn down, with their jibes of him being “England’s one that got away” because he was born in Chester or through other means, but he must be strong and ignore it in order to truly succeed at the top.
My overall point is, yes we should most certainly enjoy watching Woodburn play, but just let him do just that. Give him time to grow as a player and improve at his own pace. With too much expectation and pressure on him, he could dwindle away and that would be a real shame to see happen.
I think he’ll get a bit of game time at Anfield under Jurgen Klopp this season too so that will only enhance the attention that he is currently getting and under the watchful eye of the media, it can be hard to lead a normal life and to live without criticism.
Woodburn does seem like a fairly down to earth young lad however and I think he’ll handle himself well and with the guidance of the current Welsh squad (who are all model professionals in my opinion), I’m sure he’ll be swayed in the right direction.
I’ll be honest, I can’t remember the last time a 17-year-old made such an impact as he is making right now. He looks calm and collected and as though he has been playing at a high level for years.
It is refreshing to see a Welsh youngster getting the chance and I do hope that the equally talented Ethan Ampadu gets his chance to shine for us real soon too.
Wayne Rooney was just 16 years old when he burst onto the scene with Everton and now on the Red side of Merseyside we may be ready to see another teenage sensation do the same, some 14 years later.
Woodburn must keep his feet on the ground and his head held high and concentrate on doing what he does best. If he does that, he may become one of the best in the world someday.