Bolton Wanderers manager Dougie Freedman says more youth players should be flying the national flags

BROKEN THROUGH Chris Lester

BROKEN THROUGH Chris Lester

First published in Headlines

DOUGIE Freedman has challenged Wanderers to get more of their youngsters into the international fold in the future.

The Scot wants more of the club’s players to be flying the flag for their country at youth level, which he believes would help their integration into his senior ranks.

Chris Lester – one of the players handed a debut in midweek against Leicester City – broke into the Northern Ireland Under-21 squad 12 months ago.

And Freedman is keen to push more of his young players towards representative honours, an experience he feels is key to them maturing into young professionals.

“I think we need to get one or two more into the international set-up, because that gives you good recognition,” he said. “We’re lacking in that.

“If we can get kids into the England, Scotland and Wales set-ups, that can only help us. It means when they do come into a first-team level, they are used to a standard of football, it doesn’t come as such a shock to the system.

“I found at Palace that you have all these talented kids at youth level and if they are not handled right on and off the pitch, all the talent in the world is not good enough on its own.

“If you can get these players involved internationally from under-16s and through the system, there is a little standard there. They understand how you are meant to act when you go away with your country and it certainly makes it a little easier when you bring them into a first-team environment.

“We might have to do it the reverse way, and it might be they have to play for us a few times and then get the honours, but either way we have to be trying to hit that benchmark with them.”

Hayden White, another handed a full debut against Leicester, played for England at youth team level before his arrival from Sheffield Wednesday last summer. Georg Iliev has also been involved in the Bulgaria youth set-up.

Historically, Bolton has been a rich seam of international talent below senior level with the likes of Peter Reid, Kevin Nolan, Nicky Hunt, Alan Thompson, Joey O’Brien and Ricardo Vaz Te all gaining U21s experience.

Youth caps have also been won by players such as Francis Lee, David Burke, Chris Thompson, Wayne Foster, Dean Holden, Hasney Aljofree and Tope Obadeyi.

Freedman was able to give a senior bow to Andy Kellett on Tuesday night, the first Boltonian to make his debut for the club since Sam Ashton in 2006.

Long gone are the days that Wanderers would be made up of players from within the town – but the manager likes the idea of having a more local flavour to his squad.

“Of course, the dream would be to have every young player come from the Bolton area,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way but it would be great.

“We brought in someone like Hayden White who has got that pedigree and experience playing for England at youth level, and that’s the level we have to hit.

“I’ve got no fear of playing younger players but they have to be good enough. We have to be realistic in that. It can’t be a case of throwing players in just because I need to be seen to play younger players.

“But if we’re producing the right quality of player through the system and into the development squad, then I’ll certainly look into it.”

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