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Young Guns Blog by John Jones.

Ethan Ampadu (Chelsea)
It would certainly have been more in hope than anticipation that Welsh fans imagined how Ethan's career would develop in the last few months when his move to Chelsea was announced in the summer. Without doubt realized as a precocious talent, how management at the club would integrate his involvement with the first team squad at such a young age was a question to ponder. As we now know, he has been encouraged to show that he belonged and has succeeded in that aspect. Though it was expected he would be introduced into the senior Welsh squad sooner rather than later, the experience he is gathering at his club will be valuable in easing his adaptability to senior international football. It is something of a novelty for us as fans to witness young talent being brought into the side that contains so many good and experienced players to help in their guidance, when so many have needed to be thrown in at the deep end as it were, in the past. On the converse side, I am sure there is delight amongst the squad to see these talented youngsters being able to be of assistance. Now he has collected his first cap, I am sure that there will be many more in a long and influential career in a Welsh shirt for Ethan. 

David Brooks (Sheffield United)
It was a disappointment when David signified his preference to represent England in the Toulon tournament, particularly when he was recognized as one of the star players at its end. It seemed as though the Welsh U-21 squad had been foiled in an addition of further quality to the group. Now we of course know that it was honouring a commitment already made to England prior to the receipt of the Welsh invitation was the reasoning behind it. An invitation to become part of the Welsh U-21 squad this season was accepted and through the witnessing of his strong contribution in their early season games, it was evident that a good player had been added to the Welsh contingent. After that, his performances for his club brought him to the attention of the wider football public interest as the English press fueled some outrage by insinuating underhanded practices in the Welsh camp as a reasoning for dual qualified players pledging their allegiance to the red dragon cause. The less said about that the better, as anyone familiar with the facts will easily realize, such charges are not correct. David has made so much further progress over the last few months that he is now a senior Welsh international and in this respect some sympathy can be extended toward the English fans who regret that he is now maybe lost to the three lions. It will take an appearance in a competitive international match to make it a certainty, but assuming David still has allegiance to his Welsh roots, one believes that it will not be overly long before it becomes a fact.

Rabbi Matondo and Matt Smith (Manchester City)
Two players who seem to be making remarkable progress at the Etihad Stadium club in such a relatively short time they have been scholars there. It would have been pleasing to give an update that they are doing well with the U-18 team, but the two are in fact being used predominantly at U-23 level. The elevation in competitive involvement for such young players would be considered good at any club, to do so at a high profile one with large talented squads at every level is indicating a more impressive achievement. Some caution is needed for the enthusiasm this produces as there is an extremely large step to bridge in order to succeed in first team football, which of course, is the ultimate aim of all young players. Rabbi and Matt do however need to be congratulated on their progress up to this point. A high quality of the talent they possess is undisputed, as this is the criteria by which the club measure worthiness of securing their employment, both must also have a very strong resolve and work ethic to have risen above the assessment of the majority of their peers there. Hopefully, over time that move into a successful career in first team football will arrive for both.

Tyler Roberts (West Bromwich Albion on loan at Walsall)
Exactly how the future might unfold is something that is extremely difficult to predict at this time. His present contract at West Brom. ends in the summer of 2018, this prompting an interest from other clubs, whether there may be a chance of enticing him from the Hawthorns. If both parties have interest in continuing their association and suitable arrangements can be agreed, that will quickly end any other speculation generated. According to those who have witnessed his play, Tyler seems to have convinced them of his capability of performing well at a level higher than the first team football that has challenged him in League One. His ambition is to be involved regularly in the Premier League, how this desire will be satisfied is unclear. His loan period at Walsall is due to expire at the end of the year and if another loan is instigated it would be beneficial for all for it to be with a Championship side. This situation should it develop could influence how contract renewal negotiations may proceed. Though much is seemingly in a state of flux as far as club football is concerned, consensus opinion would likely choose Tyler as the next in line to be a recipient of an initial senior cap.

Ben Woodburn (Liverpool)
Those Wales, fans previously unsure of the quality of the addition, when Ben was named in the senior squad were soon convinced of his legitimacy upon seeing the skill and temperament exhibited when scoring the goal on his debut in the Austria match. Even those of us somewhat more familiar with his potential were delighted when witnessing the composure on show within minutes of his introduction to senior international football, subsequent match displays furthering the feeling. The feeling of exhilaration of many when he elected to continue representing Wales, fully justified. Though he has obviously excelled wearing the Welsh shirt, Ben has largely been absent from first team involvement with his club. Though the Liverpool first team squad was further strengthened with high quality additions in the summer, it does seem that it is a protective stance more than any other reasoning. They want to allow Ben to continue to develop physically in less strenuous matches. This is the trend apparent with all Premier League teams, a relent from using even talented youngsters is an increasing tendency, as pressure of maintaining status overrides future planning. Ben's situation has therefore attracted attention from other clubs, even some Premier ones, as to whether there may be a loan arrangement to be negotiated. Seemingly, such a scenario is not going to be considered, management preferring to keep an eye on his development in their own camp. Perhaps, if possible fixture congestion becomes a reality, Ben may be used more liberally during the remainder of the season.

As the halfway point of the season, both in an element of time as well as games played is the period we are presently at, this week has been devoted to a review of what has transpired for the most prominent young guns over the last few months. Quite an exiting time in that aspect, three of them making their senior international debuts and looking comfortable on the stage where they were presented. Others are indicating that they are candidates to be included in exalted company as well. In a slight way, it tempers the disappointment of not being able to anticipate Welsh participation in the next World Cup finals by suggesting that the future has a possible silver lining to it.

Next week, I will continue on a similar track, as I intend to pen some words about others from the group who deserve a mention. In the meantime, as the little ones amongst us are probably in a mode of counting down in hours as opposed to days to the high point of the festive season as they view it, I shall close by wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas as well as a great deal of good cheer accompanying it.

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Posted: Tuesday 19th December 2017
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