City boss Bryan Gunn was in little doubt as to who would be sporting the biggset grin around Colney this afternoon – Norwich's FA Youth Cup hero Declan Rudd.
The teenage keeper last night booked the Canaries a place in the last eight of the prestigious competition with three more penalty shoot-out saves against Everton to add to the two save and the winning penalty against Stoke City in the previous round.
This week's 3-1 penalty success after the preceeding two hours of cup football ensured that the Norfolk youngsters will now travel to the City of Manchester Stadium to face FA Youth Cup holders Manchester City in the quarter-finals.
It will also ensure that Rudd remains firmly in the national spotlight as one of the most talked-about kid keepers in the country.
As a former goalkeeper himself – indeed, as a former City goalkeeping coach – the new Canary boss is uniquely-placed to ponder Rudd's talents. As manager, it will now be Gunn's task to plot Rudd's path to potential first-team stardom – or not, as the transfer case may be.
The club have already trod the same, difficult path with England Under-21 keeper Joe Lewis. And with the equally highly-regarded Jed Steer breathing down Rudd's neck, Gunn has an abundance of riches in his old department.
Patience, he says, will need to be key.
“It's all in Declan's hands – as they say,” laughed Gunn, quizzed as to just how far City's FA Youth Cup hero could go in the game at his current rate of progress.
“But then it's in his feet as well because he showed the confidence that he's got as a young goalkeeper when he stood up and took the winning penalty kick against Stoke City in the last round. Last night he just saved the three…
“And I'm sure he'll be in there with a big smile on his face today – and quite rightly so,” added the City chief, speaking ahead of tomorrow's home clash with Bristol City.
“And he's got the opportunity to be a top quality goalkeeper. He's just got to be focussed on his job ahead; not get rushed into things,” said Gunn, a charge that might – for example – be laid at Peter Grant's door for the big, fat contract that landed on Chris Martin's door one spring.
Since then, of course, the Beccles teenager has failed to hit the Championship heights expected of him as he ploughs a decent enough furrow on-loan at Luton Town. But there are clearly risks of giving kids too much too soon.
Equally, however, if you give them nothing at all then they too can start to get itchy feet – particularly once Mr Ten Cent starts to field a few phone calls on his young client's behalf.
“But equally, we've got to try and develop them in the right way,” said Gunn, who likewise has his own experience to fall back on – of getting frustrated in the shadow of Jim Leighton at Aberdeen.
“When he comes into the first team training, he [Rudd] doesn't look out of place with the other players and the other goalkeepers around him. And that can only be good for the club – that he's got the opportunity of being a top class goalkeeper,” said Gunn, as he looked back at that situation at Pittodrie.
“I've been in a similar situation with myself at Aberdeen with Jim Leighton. For the back-up goalkeepers – ie Stuart Nelson and Declan Rudd – it's a game of patience.
“And if the No1 goalkeeper is performing to the levels that you're expecting them to then we won't be making any changes. But they also have to know that they're more than able deputies behind keeping him on his toes, so that can only be good for the team and for the club.
“But then it's striking the balance – and keeping everyone happy.”
City No2 Ian Butterworth offered another telling point – that without any reserve team football to speak of, keeping the Nelsons, the Rudds and the Steers in decent games is very, very difficult.
“The reserve keepers are missing out on a games programme, so we'll have to throw a few reserve team games in because keepers need to play games.
“Because all the work that you do out there Monday to Friday needs to be tested in games – and decision-making is crucial for goalkeepers,” said Butterworth.
The fact that Ricky Martin's kids were now through to the last eight merely kept 'The Gunner's' pot nicely bubbling ahaed of this weekend's home clash with the Robins.
“It's great,” said Gunn, revealing another of his man-management moments. Or teenage management moments.
“I stood on the team bus before they went up to Everton and I just wished them 'All the best!'.
“And I told them that if they do well there may well be opportunities towards the end of the season. Obviously playing youngsters in the situation that we're now in would be a bit of a gamble,” said Gunn, with both Youths skipper Korey Smith and Luke Daley included in the travelling party to Molineux.
“But if the youngsters are good enough, they're old enough. That's the way that my old boss Sir Alex Ferguson did it with his squad of players at Aberdeen; he does it at Manchester United – and Ian [Butterworth] was probably the same with Brian Clough.
“If you're good enough to be in the team, you're certainly old enough,” said the City chief, well aware of who did what last night. And who could yet be the teenage stars that shine on his managerial watch.
“There were a couple of outstanding performances and we'll certainly reward them by bringing them into the first team set-up, the training – and they might even be in the squad.”
The one and only doubt squad-wise tomorrow is Ryan Bertrand who will be given “every chance” to shrug off an ankle knock before the Robins clash.
But with Adam Drury back in the first team fold and the likes of Matty Pattison, David Carney and Wes Hoolahan all now competing for that left-hand midfield berth, Gunn has some nice decisions to make; as he does in central midfield with the return from suspension of skipper Mark Fotheringham – and, indeed, up front where Carl Cort's reward for his best effort yet in a City shirt ought to be a further start.
Who plays alongside him, however, is another matter.
At the back, the suspicion remains that AN Other is still en route. The club had “a number of options” when the emergency loan window reopens next week.
Was he confident of having at least one fresh face in ahead of the trip to Preston in eight days time?
“Yes,” was the simple and sure answer.
Leave a Reply