Tim Iroegbunam is the latest academy player to have broken into the first team and been given minutes on the pitch. Most recently, he had around about 15 minutes against Leicester last weekend. It's important we temper the excitement and expectations slightly, as with any youth player just breaking through, but this lad looks to be a real prospect.
It's worth noting, all of our assessments of him as a player are coming from U23 performances, or those few minutes he's been given against Brighton and Leicester. So there isn't a lot of data, or consistent evidence at a professional level to say he is guarenteed to reach his potential.
Now the balanced side of the argument is out the way, it's time for the positive, and quite frankly, 'overly excited fan' side of the argument. Speaking from my own POV now, what i see in Iroegbunam's game is maturity beyond his age. That's always the main thing that stands out to me when i make a judgement about a young player.
Raw talent is one thing to have as a young player, bundles of energy and desire to prove themselves too, but maturity sets those better young players apart. Having that reading of a game, understanding of when to keep the ball, when to move to create space, and when to play that line breaking pass.
I went to watch Tim play for the England U19s a little over a month ago, and although again it was a lower level he was playing at, i was impressed with what I saw. He was always moving to create a pass option or drag a player away, very good at knowing when to press, and was strong in the tackle. The other standout part of his game that night was his press-resistance, playing out calmly under pressure.
Assessing his performances in those two appearances he's made in the Premier League, there is a standout moment in each game for me. Against Brighton, he intercepted a pass in our half, and when under pressure performed a simple 'La Pausa', which literally means 'The Pause'. It is a simple, yet effective feint, whereby the player pauses their movement to fool the opposition player into lunging past them. A smart piece of skill for a young man.
The standout moment vs Leicester would be when he chased back after one of the Leicester players on the left wing, showing some great pace, and performed a perfectly executed, and well timed slide tackle. Something that we have lacked in recent times from our midfield.
Something i think is important to mention, is that really good, well rounded, defensive midfielders aren't that easy to come by. Some excel more defensively, some more at their ball playing abilities. The best are great at both. Of course, I'm not trying to imply Tim will definitely go on to be one of the best, this is football, nobody knows. But for me, the signs point to him being a very solid player.
Like any player bursting on to the scene, it's common for fans to make comparisons to other players. It's always a dangerous game to play, as you can be misinterpreted by some for thinking you believe that young player is as good as the comparitive player in question. That being said, i would personally liken his style to that of Sergio Busquets. A good sense of defensive positioning, partnered with the ability to time the tackle, and also very tidy on the ball, even under pressure.
Again, i know it's early days in his career, the comparison is just a simple opinion based upon an observation of his performances, granted from a small portion of games, mostly at a lower level.
Gerrard clearly rates the lad, he's kept him around the first team when a loan in January was possibly the more likely scenario in my opinion, just so he could get the right game time for his development and match fitness. It will be interesting come the summer to see what path Iroegbunam goes down. Whether that be a loan to the Championship with a defensive midfielder coming through the door at Villa, or whether Steven Gerrard really wants to utilise the starlet. I fully believe that Tim will go on to be a brilliant player, he has all the tools for the sky to be the limit. As i said at the start, it's usually best to reserve the expectations, but if a player is going to make it, they have to also deal with said expectation. Mentality plus ability is the only way you can make it at the top. Ideally, we see Tim get more minutes over the remaining games left of the season, and hopefully continue to see him putting in tidy cameos/performances. For now though, I think we should all be excited to have another brilliantly talented young footballer at our football club, and we should be extremely pleased he has been rewarded with a new long term contract recently. James