IRELAND v ENGLAND IN FOOTBALL’S NEXT STAR

by Lisa McGarry

WAYNE ROONEY was in the Everton team at 16, THEO WALCOTT played for England at 17. With has shone? And who will become Football’s Next Star? It is Ireland v England.

Over the past 6 weeks, 10 young men aged 16-18 have been battling it out to win the chance of a lifetime – a contract with JOSE MOURINHO’S reigning Serie A champions Inter Milan. Only three lads remain, two Irishmen and an Englishman – all desperate to be crowned victor in the final of JAMIE REDKNAPP fronted football talent show FOOTBALL’S NEXT STAR.

Inter coaches MARCO MONTI and PAOLO MIGLIAVACCA were looking for the very best undiscovered talent from across the UK and Ireland.  Thousands of boys applied and ten were chosen to fly to Italy where they have had just over a month to prove they have what it takes to make it in Italian football at the prestigious Inter Academy, Interello. Drawn from across England, Scotland and Ireland the final 10 included a devout “Christian” Ronaldo lookalike, a Premier League footballer’s cousin, a glasses wearer, a 16 year old that will buy his Mum a house with his first pay packet and another who has a condition that means he has to play with a support in one of his boots.

After six weeks of intensive training and broken dreams the families of the final three boys arrive to cheer them on, and mentor JAMIE REDKNAPP encourages the talented youngsters through their ultimate test. But only one will prove himself in a decisive training session with JOSE MOURINHO’S first team and claim the prize, a professional contract with Inter Milan.

Here are the final three.

Connor Smith (16) from County Westmeath, Ireland: The Inter coaches have tipped Connor as a big talent from the start and he hasn’t disappointed them in the competition so far. His devoted parents, a baker and teacher, head a close-knit family – and quiet, likeable Connor says he loves football so much he’d play for free. If he does well in Italy, it could be the biggest news the town of Delvin has had in a long time.

JAMIE REDKNAPP on Connor: “Connor understands the game. He has a good touch, good technique, but he needs to score more goals. He needs to work on the physical side of his game but I think that’s why Inter Milan like him. There are bits and pieces they can work on with him.”

Ben Greenhalgh (17) from Orpington, Kent: Ben and his family are devout Christians. Until he was 16, Ben had only ever played with a church team. His hero is Cristiano Ronaldo and he admits to copying Ronaldo’s image and playing style. Ben confesses to being a bit being cocky and says although it’s not very Christian of him he’d enjoy the wealth that professional football would bring. Ben’s parents are supportive of his promising football career and have allowed him to defer college for the chance to go to Milan. Ben once appeared as a body double for his hero in a TV advert.

JAMIE REDKNAPP on Ben: “Ben has a unique ability of going past people like they are not there. He can cut inside and hit a pass from 40 yards to put someone through or he can go down the wing and play a lovely cross with his left foot. My reservations are he has to be in the game more. I always say to him players like you need to be in the football match. It’s a waste if you’re not doing your stuff.

Craig Walsh (17) from Dublin: The second Irish lad in the final three, Craig is the oldest in the Final 10.  He’s played for Ireland under-17s and had trials with Manchester United and Leeds. Craig suffers from a condition that affects the alignment of his hips and he has to play with a support in one of his boots.

JAMIE REDKNAPP on Craig: “Craig is a central midfield player like I was; he’s technically good, he can pass the ball of either foot, he can score goals. I think Craig’s biggest problem is his home sickness. I hope he can somehow find it in himself to change that because it will all be a waste of talent if he can’t. He is too good a player.”

JAMIE REDKNAPP on what Inter will get when they make their choice. “If they want a central midfield player that can run box to box you go for Craig. If they want a front man that can do something a bit special, Teddy Sheringham like, brings people into play you go for Connor. If they’re looking for someone that can do a piece of magic, get it down the line, beat one or two and get a cross in you go for Ben.”

The seven other finalists were; Londoners ANTHONY O’CONNOR, NATHAN SIMPSON and HICHAM ABDELLAH, Staffordshire lad JORDAN FINCHER Glaswegian REECE McGILLION and DOMINIC MATCHAM from Cornwall and GAVIN COLTON from County Kildare.

FOOTBALL’S NEXT STAR. Sundays at 8pm, Sky1