He is the teenage prodigy who burst onto the international scene last weekend to keep Wales in contention for a place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Scoring the only goal of the game on his international debut to earn his country a valuable three points against group rivals Austria on Saturday, the 17-year-old made another huge impression from the bench by setting up Wales’ opening goal against Moldova a few days later.
His incredible impact has had the entire nation talking about the young Liverpool star, who initially made headlines last November by beating Michael Owen’s record to become Liverpool’s youngest-ever goalscorer. Since then, opportunities for Woodburn in Jurgen Klopp’s team have been limited, but when you consider that he potentially has another SIX years in the Under-23 team, time is most certainly on Ben Woodburn’s side.
Make no mistake about it, this is an old head on young shoulders. Chris Coleman had a wealth of experience on the bench that he could have brought on in the crucial 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Austria and Moldova with both games finely in the balance, but on both occasions, he turned to Woodburn.
This was not a throw of the dice, this was a calculated decision based on his performances in training in the build-up to the games. Woodburn was well-aware of the importance of the occasion against Austria last Saturday, and that only a win would do. At 17 years of age, he stood up and took charge of the situation.
He opened his Liverpool account on only his second appearance by scoring in-front of the Kop last November. The youthful exuberance in his celebration was a natural reaction, and while the finish showed his quality, the celebration showed his passion.
Woodburn gave a number of media interviews after his wonder goal against Austria, but there was no childish excitement, just an appreciation of what the collective team had achieved and that there was still work to do. He showed us that he is mentally ready for what the game can throw at him.
But there is controversy over his decision to represent Wales, and he has been at the centre of the main topic of debate across the British media over the course of the last week. Born in England, raised in England, Woodburn qualified for Wales through his grandfather, and he has spent the last few years developing his talent through the Welsh football pathway system. He is proud to represent Wales, and while the decision has upset those fed up of England’s international disappointment, the country of the colours he wears simply couldn’t care less what they think.
These are exciting times for Wales as Chris Coleman’s side head into the final two qualifying games, and these are exciting times for Ben Woodburn as the potential that Liverpool always knew existed within him finally comes to national attention. However, he still has a long way to go to make a long-term success of his obviously exceptional talent, but he appears to already have all the physical and mental attributes needed to make it to the very top. Don’t believe it? Let me explain.
Woodburn’s goal against Austria on Saturday night was a thing of beauty, and whatever happens, it will be one of the defining moments of this qualifying campaign. His first touch to control the ball was that of a player far beyond his years, and his ability to strike the ball with so much force from such a small backlift defied his physical size and age.
But while poor defending from Austria presented him with his chance, there was still plenty to do before the ball hit the back of the net.
Move forward a few days to Moldova away, and with the score again at 0-0, it was almost inevitable that Coleman would turn to his new hero. His contribution to the opening goal follows later for different reasons, but it was his own effort on goal in the match that again showed his composure, quick thinking and ability to shoot with power and accuracy from long-range.
Although he failed to score, the way he made space for himself for the goal to open up was a special moment that made every Welsh fan hold their breath in anticipation. Add to that the tricks, flicks and back-heels that opened up the home defence following his introduction, and you see where we are going with this.
Finally, watch video clips of a teenage Ryan Giggs bursting onto the scene for Manchester United and Wales in the 1990s and you will see Ben Woodburn. Watch Gareth Bale storming past the Inter Milan defence in the colours of Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Champions League in 2010 and you will see Ben Woodburn. Watch the deceptive strength of a young Lionel Messi and how he controlled the ball under pressure and you will see Ben Woodburn. The boy is that special.
Of course, a lot can change before we see the best of Woodburn, and he has many years ahead of him before we find out just how good he can be. His style of play carries with it the risk of injury, and while he is already mentally mature, his rise to super-stardom needs to be carefully managed by those around him.
However, he has taken Wales a step closer to the World Cup finals, and if he does get to star on that particular stage, then the sky really is the limit for this prodigiously talented teenager.