• Liverpool’s 17-year-old striker in squad for World Cup qualifier against Ireland
• Woodburn eligible to play for England but is a Wales youth international
Chris Coleman has insisted his decision to give Ben Woodburn a first senior call-up at the age of 17 has nothing to do with trying to commit the Liverpool striker to playing for Wales rather than England.
Woodburn, who wrote his name into Liverpool’s record books in November when he became the club’s youngest goalscorer, is eligible to play for England and Wales. He was born in Nottingham and has been the subject of interest from England in the past but also qualifies for Wales through his maternal grandfather.
Coleman pointed to the fact Woodburn has played for Wales at schoolboy and youth level as a reason why the teenager’s elevation for next Friday’s World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland is a “natural progression”.
The Wales manager said Woodburn, who has made seven appearances for Liverpool this season, has been called up on merit and “there won’t be any knee-jerk reaction to cap him” in Dublin in order to close the door on England.
“If Ben wanted to go and play for England, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it because none of our players belong to us,” Coleman said. “They are not contracted to us, they are contracted to their clubs. But because he burst on to the scene with Liverpool – he was in the squad and then he scored at Anfield – everyone starts getting excited and it makes me laugh. I’m thinking: ‘Don’t tell me about this kid I’ve been looking at for five years.’
“We know all about Ben, we know he’s a good player. We can’t start going: ‘We’ve got to get him in.’ That’s not the way to do it. He has earned this call-up because he’s done very well. If I thought it was too early for him I wouldn’t have called him up, because this game is massive for us. I am thinking about what is the best squad to get together to meet this next challenge. And Ben has done enough. As far as I see he is a Welsh international. He hasn’t played for England or Scotland. He’s played for Wales since a young boy, so it’s just that natural progression.”
Woodburn joined Liverpool more than a decade ago and was identified by Frank McParland, their former academy director, as the brightest prospect at the club. He got his breakthrough under Jürgen Klopp this season, making his Liverpool debut as a substitute against Sunderland in the Premier League. Three days later Woodburn came off the bench to score in Liverpool’s EFL Cup win over Leeds at Anfield.
Aged 17 years and 45 days, Woodburn eclipsed Michael Owen as Liverpool’s youngest goalscorer and there was talk of a contest for his services at international level.
Coleman, asked whether there was any thought of giving Woodburn a cap now because of his dual nationality, replied: “No, absolutely not. If he doesn’t start and I feel the need to make a change in the game, and he needs to come on for tactical reasons, then that’s what will happen. It won’t be because I’m worried about anyone else looking at Ben. We see Ben as an international player for Wales. He has been since he was a young boy and we expect him to be going forward. We think he’s got a good future with us. But, no, there won’t be any knee-jerk reaction to cap him.”
Woodburn will join up with a Wales squad who include Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, who completed 90 minutes for Arsenal against Lincoln last Saturday for the first time since returning from a calf injury.
Goalkeepers W Hennessey, D Ward, O Fôn Williams.
Defenders A Williams, C Gunter, N Taylor, J Collins, J Walsh, S MacDonald, B Davies, J Chester.
Midfielders J Allen, A Ramsey, A King, J Ledley, J Richards, D Edwards.
Forwards G Bale, S Vokes, T Lawrence, T Bradshaw, B Woodburn, H Robson-Kanu.