ENGLAND C chief Paul Fairclough has hailed Adam Watkins’ ‘freshness and exuberance’ after making him the only Hatter to be called up for their International Challenge Trophy clash against Italy at Fleetwood’s Highbury Stadium on Tuesday, February 28, writes Mark Wood.
He believes that the 20-year-old midfielder, who has played 28 times this season and scored five goals, has cast aside his boyishness and developed into a force to be reckoned with in midfield.
Fairclough said: “I’ve seen a lot of him this season. I use Luton as one of my bases and the club is very good to me. It gives me an opportunity to see their games and the opposition teams.
“I think he has matured. He is not the boy he was any more. He has matured, there’s no question about that.
“His performances are more mature. They were quite boyish in the beginning. I think Gary Brabin has done an excellent job nurturing him over this first half of the season.
“I think Gary would be the first to admit that due to other injuries and a lack of form from other players he has probably played too much.
“He has grown as a person and as a player. That’s why he has been picked for this really important game.
“He will be playing quite a disciplined role for me which I’m more than confident he can do. The Italians will play a rigid 4-4-2 with two anchor men in midfield.
“Adam’s going to be facing one of them that will have to deal with that and play well. It’s a critical area of the game for us.
“We know Adam is good when he is set free but I’m confident he can play a disciplined role as well.
“The great thing about being manager of this team is the age. I can pick young players who are fresh and are still malleable and open to new ideas and have less fear than more senior players.
“Younger players like Adam are often quite fearless and I like that.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to win the Conference twice and my teams have been full of young players. No-one wants robots. I want players who can play a role the manager tells them to but express themselves at the same time and that’s the type of player he is.”
But Watkins is not guaranteed a starting berth, with Fairclough saying:”I wait and see the mood of the players when they arrive. After the first training session I have a good idea whether they will be right for the occasion.”
Fairclough revealed a number of Luton’s other young stars came close to a call-up, but injury, a loss of form and a lack of suitability curtailed their selection.
He said: “There were a few players that came very close. Greg Taylor came very close.
“Robbie Willmott has been with us a couple of times before and was very close but his first team appearances have been restricted. We’ve got to pick players who are on top of their game. I can’t go into the game with players who aren’t 100 per cent fit yet. I’m a big fan of Amari Morgan-Smith’s but that’s the main reason he hasn’t been selected.”
Midfielder John Paul Kissock was another, with Fairclough saying: “He has not been a regular starter and the shape I’m going to play against the Italians is perhaps not the shape that would suit John Paul. I’ve picked a specific team to win the game.”
But there is a chance they could be involved later in the year, with the England boss adding: “We go to Russia in June which is something else for everyone to aspire to. It will be the first time that this team will be out there.”