City boss Glenn Roeder will be sorely tempted to play his 'wild card' from the start tomorrow – and throw 18-year-old Omar 'OJ' Koroma at Coventry City from the start.
For as the Canaries and 2,000-plus supporters prepare for tomorrow's big Championship kick-off, so the Norfolk side can go into battle with a virtual unknown quantity up their sleeve in the shape of the Gambian teenager.
Harry Redknapp, Ambrose Mendy, a clutch of Championship scouts and a few hundred hardy Pompey fans apart, few – if anyone – know just what City signing No10 for the summer can deliver. Not unless they were at Dorchester Town (a) one summer's evening where Mendy's West African prospect made a fleeting appearance for Redknapp's FA Cup winners before his year-long loan switch to the Canaries.
Having now worked with the player for the better part of a week, Roeder is clearly impressed and could yet spring a surprise on Chris Coleman by naming the unknown 'OJ' in his starting line-up alongside the vastly more experienced Jamie Cureton.
“He's well-above average for an 18-year-old,” said Roeder, who has long made a name for himself by giving such teenage talents an early chance.
“He doesn't look out of place out there and I'm sure he'll play plenty of games for us,” said the City chief, determined to keep his little secret weapon firmly under wraps. Let everyone else find out for themselves – the hard way, ideally.
“More than that, I think we just have to keep a lid on that until he's played games,” added Roeder, well aware of the level of expectation and interest that can suddenly descend on any half-decent prospect these days. And once a young man's head turns, so his feet swiftly leave the floor.
“Unfortunately in this country young boys get hyped up too quickly and you put too much pressure on them; he's an 18-year-old lacking experience with natural talent.”
Roeder was also now in a position to give a few more details as to what – potentially – the on-loan teenager was about to bring style-wise.
“He works very hard off the shoulder; trying to get in behind – as well as coming into feet. And I'm looking forward to working with him.”
Certainly the player himself appeared to be looking forward to working with Norwich City as he swiftly adapted to his new surroundings.
“I'm loving every minute,” said Koroma, in his first full interview with the Press at Colney this morning. Gambian-born and bred he might be, but his accent has more than a hint of north London to it.
He has also, it seems, watched Norwich before on TV.
“I've seen them play in the Championship before and I thought they were a decent team and I know about the manager too – so, at the end of the day, there wasn't anything to decide about coming here.”
His goals for the season are relatively straight-forward – to score them and help his new employers return to the Premiership.
“From what I've seen here at the training ground and down at the stadium and what I thought was just a Championship club, I think they need to be back in the Premiership.
“So I will just do my best to try and help them get back into the Premiership.”
After that it was all about goals. “Yes – just to try and get goals, really. Get the goals; help my team-mates; help the team.”
Despite the fact that he is on course to be the first Gambian player to play in the Premiership – if not the Football League – it is clear that 'OJ' already has a few pals on the football block.
“I've been speaking to a few of my mates who have been playing in the Championship and they said that all the teams are all at the same level, so I'm looking forward to it.”
Style-wise and he followed the manager's lead. The only trouble was that he, quote, “liked to play off a striker” which – you suspect – didn't mean a Cureton. Or a Lupoli. Which is one 'big' problem that the world and his wife have already identified about Roeder's Class of '08-09.
“And I like to make runs in behind defenders,” said Koroma, with more game-time in the tank than Lupoli. “Yeh – I think I'm alright. I played two 45s for Portsmouth and a 70, so I feel I'm alright.”
Roeder has clearly started to find out more about his young striking starlet – someone who may yet fill Ched Evans' boots this term after new Manchester City boss Mark Hughes opted not to let his teenage master-blaster out of his sight this summer.
“I like speaking to players and asking them about their background – about where they learned to play football – and it was in Gambia. In the streets,” said Roeder this morning.
All, in short, a marked contrast to the bowling green surfaces of Colney and Carrow Road.
“As he said: 'I don't have pitches like that in Gambia…' But then often I think that's why a lot of African and South American players have such a brilliant touch.
“When I worked with Nobby Solano at Newcastle and he looked at the Academy pitches, he said no wonder they struggle to develop a good touch. Because when we were kids in Peru, the pitches were rough; the ball comes to you; it takes a bad bounce and you have to adjust very quickly to keep the ball.
“So our reactions – and having to have a good touch – we learn as children. You look at children here and they never have to worry about a bad bounce; consequently they probably don't concentrate hard enough on their first touch. If I was in charge of an Academy in England I would make them have a rough pitch – on purpose.
“And I think he has a point because OJ has a terrific first touch.”
Could he be a real surprise package this season? Could he catch the rest of the Championship with their proverbial trousers down?
“I hope so, but I don't want to place too much pressure on him. He seems a pretty level-headed young man, but let him get out there and play some football before we start building him up and making judgements.”
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