DOUGIE Freedman has heaped praise on Josh Vela after watching the young midfielder change his ways at the Reebok.

The Wanderers boss feels that the 20-year-old academy graduate is closing in on first team football after ridding himself of the fitness problems that have plagued him over the last 12 months.

Vela has played just twice for the first team this season with Freedman voicing concern late last year that persistent knee troubles could end up stunting his talent.

But the Salford-born playmaker – once chased by Premier League Liverpool – turned in a man-of-the-match display at the Reebok on Monday night for the development squad and is now knocking on the door for a first-team recall.

“Josh Vela was the best player on the park on Monday night – he was outstanding,” Freedman said.

“When I came through the door everyone told me how wonderful he was but to play at the level I expect, he was nowhere near it. He was complaining about his knee quite a lot but he’s changed his lifestyle, and we’ve had some very frank meetings about what he’s got to do on that front.

“He changed his intensity in training and now we’re starting to see a young player who you guys knew about but I didn’t see when I came here.”

Freedman again emphasised the importance of home-grown players such as Vela, who came through the Wanderers ranks from the age of seven.

The manager has been criticised this season for the lack of opportunities offered to younger players – but insists that waiting for the right time to blood them into his senior ranks will benefit their longer-term progression.

“This football club is not going to survive unless we get local talent through the Academy, it’s as simple as that,” he said.

“Yes, we can go and buy non-league players or lower division players for the right prices and once in a while we can buy a huge potential talent, but I think the majority of our players are going to have to come through our system.

“I really want to bring lads like Joe Riley and Josh Vela through. But they have to be ready – they need the right attitude and the right ability.”