FROM the mop-haired teen who made his debut nearly three years ago to a million-pound rated midfielder chased by Championship clubs – George Thomason has already been on quite a ride with Wanderers.

Though on paper the longest-serving player in the dressing room, there is still something fresh about the 22-year-old’s rapid rise from raw talent nibbling away at the edges of Ian Evatt’s squad to bona fide first team starter.

And while that slightly awkward left-footer first introduced in the empty stadia of the pandemic has taken a little time to ingratiate himself to the Bolton fans, his manager is delighted to see the direction that his career now appears to be heading.

“It has been a really good experience to watch him develop,” Evatt said. “When we first came in, myself and Peter (Atherton) liked what we saw immediately. We saw someone who had the skillset to do the things we wanted to do and the vision we wanted to play, he shared it, really.

“He is a real throwback in terms of his attitude to the game and the way he is as a person, really, he is humble, hard-working, wants to learn and ask questions. He is really coachable.

“He has been on a journey going from a boy to a man. If you watch some of the first images when he first broke through in that first season, his hair, everything, it was very different to what it is now. Physically he has developed incredibly and that isn’t through luck, it is through hard work.

“He has dedicated himself to improving all aspects of his game and he is a multi-functional footballer now, someone who can play as a six, an eight, I challenged him to have more of an impact in terms of assists and goals, and in the last few games we have started to see more of that side of his game as well.

“He is a really good person and I am extremely proud to work with him.”

Thomason is, in fact, the only player in the Bolton squad who was not signed by Evatt.

Keith Hill and David Flitcroft first brought the former Blackpool trainee to the club on a recommendation from his non-league manager, Lee Ashcroft, although he never made an appearance under the Boltonian management duo.

Thomason will need no reminder that his debut was a madcap 6-3 home defeat to Port Vale, and that in his early appearances many fans struggled to warm to his unique style, still being honed.

Evatt feels that the midfielder has learned to cope with the attention – both positive and negative – since those early days.

“That centurion look has gone,” he said, referring to that distinctive haircut, born out of a lack of barbers in the Covid era. “He is a shy and unassuming lad. And that is probably the biggest part of his development. For all the football stuff, that young boy who wouldn’t say ‘boo’ to a goose has now grown into the stature of a player who can represent Bolton Wanderers, a club of this size and magnitude.

“That has its pressures, and he has learned to deal with them.

“In my opinion he has taken some unfair criticism, for a young lad in particular. But as I’ve said to you and to him many times, I don’t get motivated by people telling me I’m good, it should be the other way around. George is cut from the same cloth.

“He wants to do well for him, his family, for us, and we are seeing the fruits of the hard work.”

Earlier this season, Bristol City bid £1m to take Thomason to Ashton Gate, with Wanderers leaving the final decision on his shoulders. He stayed, citing that he felt he could progress to the Championship with Bolton, and has since taken his game to a new level and signed a new deal to 2027.

Kyle Dempsey’s recent back injury has placed added emphasis on the central midfielders to push forward and contribute in the opposition box. And after watching the youngster score against Wycombe on Tuesday night, Evatt believes Thomason is evolving his game further.

“He is a young player who still has parts of his game that he has to improve, and the final third stuff is one of them,” he told The Bolton News. “But George is embracing that challenge and wants to work on his game.

“He is a credit to this club and to his family. The way he dedicates his life to being better.

“We had that conversation the other day. I always sit and look through the clips with George, talk about how he can improve, and he ‘gets it’. He has intelligence and experience beyond his years and he is learning all the time, picks things up.

“Literally a minute before the goal on Tuesday they came over for a drink because there was an injury and I said ‘look, we need the opposite eight to make that run because there is space in between their back three/five.’ By the next phase of play he’d done it and we’d scored.

“He picks that kind of information up quickly, so if he can add goals and assists to his game then he can pretty much do it all, so he is a good asset to have in our building, certainly.”