A reported £10 million price tag, Premier League interest and nine goals for England (even if it is in the under 17’s). Not bad for a player who only turned 17 on March 31st this year.
Since his debut, which came only 11 days after his sixteenth birthday making him Ipswich’s’ youngest ever player, the hype surrounding Connor Wickham has reached fever pitch. With a rumoured £5 million bid being rejected from Tottenham, and Arsene Wenger also reportedly keen to add him to his ‘collection’ of young guns, Wickham is hot property. But why all the fuss for a striker who has only scored 4 goals in 28 Championship appearances?
Well, of these 28 games, Wickham has only started 9 of them. He has scored three times from the starting line-up, with all these goals coming in four consecutive games in April to earn him the Football League young player of the month award.
Moreover, where arguably the extent of his potential has been really highlighted is the England U-17 team. The 6ft 3 striker fired the team into the final with two goals against France in the semi-finals and also scored in the final against Spain, helping England to their first ever U-17 trophy. Under 17’s coach John Peacock publicly praised Wickham declaring, “he led the line very well’’, and described his two finishes as ‘‘first-class.’’ There was even some speculation that if he hadn’t been sidelined for 6 weeks because of a thigh injury, he may have been given a call up to England’s recent friendly with Hungary, along with the likes of Jack Wilshire and Kieran Gibbs.
Whilst still not even being old enough to vote or legally buy cigarettes, Wickham shows composure and presence far beyond his age. One of his biggest admirers, Kevin Beattie, described him as possessing ‘everything, strength, skill, the lot.’ He even went on to say ‘’It would not surprise me if he were partnering Wayne Rooney up front for England in a few years time”. At 14 stone Wickham also shows great strength, especially in holding up the ball. His strength is certainly evident in his throw ins, with some people (even if they’re probably Ipswich fans!), claiming he will be better than the master himself- Rory Delap in a few years. Against Bristol City last season his stoppage time throw ended up in the net without a touch from another player.
Whilst it must be virtually impossible for him to ignore the hype surrounding him, Wickham has dealt with his situation incredibly well and stated “I’ve just got to keep my feet on the ground. I’ve got the right people around like my Mum, Dad and little brother.’ As well as his family, Wickham is also grateful to manager Roy Keane, “He’s helped me, he’s told me the right things and hopefully I can learn from him because he has experienced everything himself.” Keane certainly realises the importance of keeping hold of his young star, and in May joked that “The fans would lynch me if I sold Connor.”
Whilst undoubtedly some areas of his game need practice, the potential is evidently there. This in a sense, if you will excuse the cliché, leads to the comparison of an uncut diamond. Whilst he still may have his critics, Wickham is undeterred, and his dream is that “In five years time I’ll hopefully be playing week-in, week-out and playing for the England senior team in the World Cup.” Ipswich fans have seen a mixed bag of talent come through their academy and will perhaps be rather hoping for the next Darren Bent, rather than, erm, Kieran Dyer.
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