There are calls for Wales to cap the Liverpool youngster, like they did with Harry Wilson, to stop him from switching allegiance to the English FA
24 January ~ Ben Woodburn has been a regular in the Liverpool squad during recent weeks. Having come off the bench to score against Leeds in only his second appearance, making him Liverpool’s youngest ever goalscorer at 17 years and 45 days, he has become one to watch. For the English FA too it would seem, despite featuring regularly in the Welsh youth set-up.
Woodburn, born in Chester but eligible for Wales through his grandfather, has represented Wales since he was 13, winning the Victory Shield and captaining the Under-17 side. There are now calls for the forward to be capped by the senior side in order to keep him out of the clutches of England.
In 2013, Wales brought on Woodburn’s Liverpool team-mate Harry Wilson with minutes remaining in a World Cup qualifier against Belgium to cement his nationality. Aged 16 years and 207 days, he broke Gareth Bale’s record as Wales’s youngest ever international and has not featured since. Wilson is Liverpool’s Under-23 captain, with 19 goals and nine assists already this season, but he has only just made his senior debut for the club.
Any paranoia in the Welsh camp is not without some justification. Bale may have once turned down England, in a conversation he claims lasted two seconds, but Owen Hargreaves chose to switch allegiance in 2000, when he pulled out of a Wales Under-21 game after being approached by the English FA. Another of Woodburn’s team-mates, Lloyd Jones, made himself unavailable for Under-21 selection in 2013, opting for England despite playing for Wales at Under-17 and Under-18 level.
Wales manager Chris Coleman seems calmer than most regarding the Woodburn situation, commenting recently: “He’s said he’s committed to Wales and I’m happy to take his word for it. He’s been brought up in the Welsh system and done very well for the various sides he has played for so we have full faith in him.”
Off the back of a sterling showing at the European Championship and blessed with the likes of Bale and Aaron Ramsey, Wales have never been a more enticing proposition and some feel that they are now in a position to fend off any advances for their players. But as Bale’s agent has often stressed, turning down England has cost his client a fortune, although he’s not exactly short of a few bob these days. Despite yet another tournament failure, England still retain a certain glamour and pull that players find hard to resist. Just ask Jack Grealish.
There are calls for Wales to select Woodburn for the March World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin and it will be interesting to see if Wales hold their nerve or cap him just to remove the element of doubt. Although should his fine form continue, any selection would be based purely on merit. Scott Johnson