Ben Woodburn: Will Liverpool youngster make Wales senior debut?

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Wales Sport
Ben Woodburn
Ben Woodburn made his Liverpool debut as a substitute against Sunderland in November 2016

Ben Woodburn has only seven senior career appearances to his name, just one goal and has yet to start in the Premier League.

With an international break on the horizon, however, the 17-year-old's future is a major talking point.

Wales travel to Dublin to face the Republic of Ireland in a crucial 2018 World Cup qualifier on Friday, 24 March, and, two days earlier, England play a friendly against Germany.

Woodburn is eligible to play for both Wales and England and, while it is unlikely he will feature for the latter in the near future, Wales are believed to be considering a first senior call-up for the Liverpool forward.

The teenager shot to prominence in November when he became the youngest scorer in Liverpool's history with a goal against Leeds United to reach the EFL Cup semi-finals.

That prompted talk of "a little war" between Wales and England for his services and, since that landmark goal, he has started three FA Cup games and impressed in his league appearances from the bench.

Wales manager Chris Coleman names his squad for the Republic of Ireland match on Thursday, and his assistant Osian Roberts says Woodburn is "knocking on the door" for selection.

Ben Woodburn
Ben Woodburn celebrates becoming Liverpool's youngest goalscorer against Leeds in November 2016

'Get him in there'

Woodburn was born in Nottingham on 15 October, 1999, making him eligible to play for the country of his birth, England.

Having a maternal grandfather born in Wales, however, means he has played and impressed for Wales at under-16, under-18 and under-19 level.

He pledged his future to Wales, caught the eye as they narrowly missed out in the Under-19 Euro 2017 qualifiers and told BBC Wales Sport his ambition was to "replicate" the feats of Welshmen Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.

There may be an opening in the Wales squad to face the Republic of Ireland - behind Bale and first-team regulars Sam Vokes and Hal Robson-Kanu, there is scope for a young forward to stake his claim for a place.

Woodburn may not have the experience of fellow hopefuls such as Ipswich loanee Tom Lawrence but, according to former Wales centre-back Danny Gabbidon, he has the ability and versatility to make an impression.

"Get him in there. Not just to keep him out of the clutches of England, I think he's ready," Gabbidon told BBC Wales Sport.

"I remember Gareth Bale coming into the squad when he was 16 and the whole squad thinking 'Oh my god, look at this player, he's unbelievable'.

"I think he [Woodburn] would have a similar effect on this squad now.

"He's so intelligent for a 17-year-old. His decision-making, he seems to be able to play in different positions - he can play out wide, as an inside forward, up front or as a 10."

'This is not a game for youngsters'

While the fanfare around Woodburn grows, some are eager to strike a more cautionary note.

Former Liverpool and Republic of Ireland midfielder Ray Houghton is excited about the 17-year-old's prospects, but he does not think Wales' trip to Dublin is the time to hand him his senior debut.

"I'm not sure this is one for youngsters coming in," he told BBC Wales Sport.

"I think what Chris Coleman will be looking at is his tried and trusted. He will be looking at players who have done well for him over the last two years or so - because he knows the knows the importance of the game.

"I don't think it's going to be one where you put in a youngster...[but] Woodburn has got a fantastic future in the game."

Ben Woodburn and Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp prepares to send on Ben Woodburn against Leeds United

Houghton's warning will make pleasant reading for Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

When Liverpool secured Woodburn on what was only described as a "long-term" contract in November 2016, the German was effusive in his praise the player.

"Wow, what an exciting talent he is," he said at the time.

But after Woodburn's goal against Leeds, Klopp was eager to keep a lid on expectations.

"I'm afraid about all you in the media. That's why I'm so quiet," said Klopp.

"We know how to handle the situation."

The situation regarding Woodburn's international future now lies with Coleman and the player himself.

The cauldron of a pivotal World Cup qualifier in Dublin may not be the ideal setting for Woodburn's senior debut but, with England potentially waiting to pounce, Wales will not want to risk losing such a promising talent.

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