Liverpool’s Ben Woodburn announced himself on the international stage with the winning goal against Austria just minutes into his senior Wales debut.
The 17-year-old is no stranger to the spotlight having taken Michael Owen’s crown as the youngest scorer in his club’s history with a goal against Leeds in the EFL Cup last November.
However, the hype is now growing around the teenager, who does not turn 18 until the middle of next month, with him now second only to Gareth Bale on the list of Wales’ youngest scorers.
Woodburn is likely to carry the ‘next Bale’ tag for some time so has he a chance of living up to expectations?
Pretender to the throne?
Bale was 17 and 35 days when he registered his maiden strike, Woodburn was 17 and 322 days so it has inevitably led to comparisons with the Real Madrid forward and whether the newest kid on the block can be his country’s next superstar. Bale, just turned 28, admits the likes of Woodburn are keeping the more experienced players on their toes. “I’m 11 years older than him. Mentally I think we all still feel 17 – we’re still young in our minds, maybe not so much in our bodies. We are all proud of him. Hopefully now he can kick on, keep working hard for the rest of his career.” Wales manager Chris Coleman has high hopes. “He has all the attributes to go on to be a great player. Ben is young but we have seen enough. He’s made a good start. I know how tough the industry is. Ben knows how much work he has to get through.”
How Woodburn develops will be down not to Coleman but Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and in that regard he could not hope for better. The German has forged a reputation for making stars out of young and/or relatively unknown players and while he is known for giving youngsters a chance, he makes them earn their place. “He’s too young to fix him to any one position. We want to have him in and around our team. We will see what happens as he grows. Will he get even smarter? One hundred per cent.” Klopp will fiercely protect his protege, as he has already intimated after Woodburn made a Premier League debut and scored his history-making goal in the same week last season. “It was only after the game (his debut) that I remembered it’s now really difficult to keep him back again, not for Ben or for me, but for the public. I’m really happy for him but the problem is I’m also a little bit afraid. So quiet please. Only write ‘goalscorer Ben Woodburn’.”
Handling the pressure
Klopp will ensure Woodburn will not get carried away but he has had a good education both at the club’s academy and within the Wales set-up. Wales’ top scorer Ian Rush, who also made his name at Liverpool, has watched at close hand and has no doubt the teenager can cope with expectation. “I’ve been working with Ben since he was 14 years old and he has an amazing attitude, he keeps his feet on the ground,” he said. “Playing with with the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale I think he is now realising what the world is all about. Jurgen has been absolutely fantastic with him and he has taken his chance but he has to be patient again because things don’t happen overnight.” For all the comparisons to Bale, Rush, however, sees glimpses of another world-class player. “I thought it was an excellent goal (for Wales) but it wasn’t like a striker’s goal it was more like a Steven Gerrard goal.” No pressure there then.
Bale enjoys a star-studded life at Real Madrid but Woodburn is already attracting the attention of celebrities with former Baywatch star David Hasselhoff praising the teenager for his debut goal last week. “Congrats to Wales!! What a game! And Ben Woodburn! Nice goal!!” the Hoff wrote on Twitter.