“Like a Rolls-Royce in midfield” and so good “he could have been playing in slippers” were some of the glowing terms used to describe Wales’ teenage sensation Ethan Ampadu on his competitive debut for the Dragons on Thursday night.
Ryan Giggs’ new-look young side thrashed the Republic of Ireland 4-1 at the Cardiff City Stadium to get their UEFA Nations League campaign off to a flying start.
The Republic had earned a 1-0 win at the same venue 11 months ago, which saw them book a place in the European play-offs for the World Cup at Wales’ expense.
But Giggs has replaced Chris Coleman since then and has a fresh new crop of emerging talent at his disposal. One of the brightest stars is Chelsea’s Ampadu – who shone on his competitive debut, having twice appeared in friendlies at the end of 2017.
Ampadu can play in midfield or in defence and was magnificent in Wales’ mammoth win, with the 17-year-old looking at ease on the international stage and instigating the third goal – outmuscling Jonathan Walters before advancing and playing a superb pass to Aaron Ramsey who scored to put Wales in control on the stroke of half time.
Giggs predicted a bright future for Ampadu after the game and former Ireland internationals Phil Babb and Keith Andrews were hugely impressed by what they saw from the former Exeter City player.
Babb, the former Liverpool defender, said: “He’s got composure beyond his years. The world is his oyster. I think Maurizio Sarri has to look at him and say ‘wow – what a player I’ve got here’.
“He could have been playing in slippers, he was that good.”
“He was like a Rolls-Royce in midfield,” added former Blackburn Rovers midfielder Andrews.
“It was a big call to leave Joe Ledley out but it shows the confidence Ryan Giggs has in him.”
Ampadu made seven first-team appearances for Chelsea under Antonio Conte last season and featured prominently during pre-season under Sarri but has yet to play under the new boss in the league.
“He has so much awareness when picking the ball and where to go,” added Andrews.
“When the full-backs went forward, he dropped back into the defence and doesn’t make rash decisions when in critical areas of the pitch.
“He’s got the build, the physique. Where is he going to play? I’d say if he’s that good in possession he’ll stroll it in midfield.”
Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland cannot afford to be out of the Premier League for too long if he wants to further his international career, according to England World Cup winner Gordon Banks.
Everton’s Jordan Pickford has a firm grip on England’s number one jersey following an impressive World Cup.
Butland, though, will be hoping to be given an opportunity by Gareth Southgate as the Three Lions open their Nations League campaign against Spain at Wembley on Saturday, followed by a friendly with Switzerland in Leicester next Tuesday.
Despite being linked with a summer move away from Stoke following relegation, with Chelsea a reported possible destination, the 25-year-old Butland remained to help the club try and secure a swift Premier League return.
Banks made 194 appearances for Stoke, having joined from Leicester towards the end of the season after he had helped England lift the Jules Rimet Trophy at Wembley.
However, the 80-year-old, who earned 73 caps, believes an extended lack of top-flight football would not be beneficial to Butland’s international ambitions.
“I’d love Jack to stay at Stoke for the long term, we all would, because he’s a really super goalkeeper, but he might need to leave for the sake of his England career, which is a shame for Stoke fans though it’s understandable,” said Banks, who is an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society Memory Walk campaign in Stoke.
“I definitely think he’s good enough for England, but the facts are, at the moment, you really need to play top-division football to be in with a shout of the England team. It’s the way the world works.
“For now, though, Jack has just got to put that to one side, to the back of his mind, and focus on doing the best he can, giving it everything, for club and country, and everything will fall into place.”
Banks added: “Having Jack at Stoke is good for the club, but he won’t want to let international football slip through his fingers, so to speak.
“He can’t afford to be out of the Premier League for too long and no-one could hold it against him if he moved on.
“I’m pleased he’s still at Stoke and I’d love him to stay for good, and with a bit of luck he can help us get back into the Premier League this season.”
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The World Cup semi-finalists will travel to Hampden Park for a friendly as preparation for their Nations League opener in Iceland on Tuesday, with the Scots hosting Albania in their first game in the tournament on Monday night.
Scots boss Alex McLeish has appointed the Liverpool left-back as his new skipper and Robertson has plenty of experience playing against the Chelsea forward, whom he rates highly.
The former Queen’s Park, Dundee United and Hull player said: “He is up there. He is probably in the top five at the minute.
“I played against him many a time and even if he is having a quiet game he can pop up at any point and turn a game and that is what we are up against.
“He is special. The way he turns and gets at players, he can commit two or three defenders at a time and that is a very special trait, there is not many that have it but he has it.
“He has been unbelievable for Chelsea and Belgium and he is somebody we will need to watch.
“The problem with Belgium is you can’t focus on Hazard as someone else pops up.
“That is one of the problems of playing a world-class team, you have to be aware of all their threats and we will be ready for them and do our best to stop them.”