Alan Biggs at Large: Can this Sheffield Wednesday duo follow the lead of Nick Pope and force their way into the England squad?
How high can Sheffield Wednesday's pair of young goalkeepers take their career? Think Nick Pope '“ and then aim for the sky.
That’s one piece of highly qualified advice for Joe Wildsmith and Cameron Dawson.
Every player of a certain age has “potential” and it can be a bit glib when people talk of international honours for those in the infancy of their profession. Talent alone will not get them there.
But Pope’s call up to the England World Cup squad has demonstrated way beyond words what it is possible to achieve with dogged application, self-belief and a break along the way.
No-one should under-estimate the last of those because there is no god-given fairness in life. Taking the chance when it comes is all that can be controlled – and that’s exactly what Pope did when he got an opportunity to step up to the first team under Sean Dyche at Burnley.
Previously, the 26-year-old former Bury and Charlton keeper had been farmed out on eight separate loan spells, some of them in non-league. Suddenly, with his chance literally grabbed in both hands, he’s on the plane to Russia.
That’s the example Wednesday’s academy keeper coach is now putting in front of Wildsmith and Dawson, both 22 and competing for the first team jersey along with senior man Keiren Westwood, a brilliant specialist whose future is being debated through no fault of his own, more through the emergence of the other two and simple economics.
“Look at Nick Pope – you can see how quickly things can change for a keeper,” says Nicky Weaver, the Wednesday-supporting former Owls custodian. “He goes to Burnley, gets in the team through injury and suddenly he’s in the England squad.”
Can Dawson and Wildsmith aspire to the same level? “Absolutely,” Weaver insists. “They’re young, they’re English, they’re both playing Championship football. They’ve still got a lot to learn and are by no means the finished article but so far they’ve both done great. As a keeper it’s probably 27 or 28 before you reach your peak – so if they work hard they’ve got a long way to go.
“I was still playing when they came in full-time. Cam arrived first and then Joe a year behind him. Both have developed into top-class young keepers, of a good size physically and with huge talent. As a Wednesday fan myself, you want to see local lads come through like this.”
Not to forget Westwood. Weaver had a part in his development as well. He recalls: “Keiren was an apprentice when I was at Manchester City. He’s been a huge success – without doubt in the top two or three keepers in the Championship.”
Ultimately, it’s about more than ability, though. “Temperament is the biggest thing,” declares Nicky. “You’re going to make mistakes. It’s how you react. Joe’s made a couple of mistakes but has come back and made some terrific saves.”
There will, of course, be winners and losers when it comes to haggling for the first-team spot. But no question that Wednesday are winning all the way right now when it comes to inserting the first name on the teamsheet.