Sheffield United's Rhys Norrington-Davies speaks out about his call-up by Wales while Nathan Jones, who has signed him on loan for Luton Town, thanks Chris Wilder
Rhys Norrington-Davies was enjoying a spot of breakfast at a cafe in Bedfordshire when the email, confirming he had been called-up by Wales manager Ryan Giggs, pinged through to his mobile phone.
The Sheffield United defender had an inkling it was coming. His agent, enjoying coffee and croissants across the other side of the table, suspected something was in the offing too.
But when Norrington-Davies relayed the news to his family, it came as a complete surprise.
“My mum started crying when I told her,” he smiles. “My dad was buzzing as well. For me, it was amazing, because it’s been one of my ambitions for as long as I can remember. But hearing how pleased they were, what it meant to them, well, that made it even more special.”
Norrington-Davies is seated in front of a computer, located inside a building at Luton Town’s training complex, as he describes the moment he discovered Giggs had named him in his squad for next week’s friendly against England and potentially the forthcoming Nations League meetings with the Republic of Ireland and Bulgaria. The 21-year-old, who joined the Championship club on loan at the beginning of the season, has long been viewed as a star of the future by United’s coaching staff. Thursday morning’s announcement confirmed Giggs, after tracking his progress with the under-21’s, is of the same belief.
“To be honest, he was always an idol of mine growing up,” Norrington-Davies admits as he continues the story. “He’s a legend isn’t he. An absolute legend in Wales and the game in general. So I’m looking forward to working with him. Then, the really hard work starts because I’ve got to show why I’m there.”
On Sunday, 24 hours after taking part in Luton’s game against Wycombe Wanderers, Norrington-Davies will travel to Wales’ training base on the outskirts of Cardiff and meet his new team mates. The trip marks the latest stage of a journey which started at Aberystwyth Town, included a brief pit stop at Swansea City before enrolling on United’s Steelphalt Academy youth programme three years ago. Every move he has made since - a stint with Barrow was followed by a placement at Rochdale last term - has been designed to equip him with the skills to challenge for a starting role in South Yorkshire. Dispatching him to Kenilworth Road, where Nathan Jones is manager, was also part of that process - given the principles the former Brighton and Yeovil defender shares with Chris Wilder, his United counterpart.
“Attitude is so important in any player,” Jones explains, acknowledging Norrington-Davies’ character was one of the reasons he signed him. “Actually, forget ‘any player’. It’s important no matter what in life. We place a great deal of importance on culture and environment here, the same as Chris does and who is someone I’ve got so much respect for. We don’t take people who pollutes it or dilutes it.”
“We did due diligence of Rhys,” Jones continues. “We don’t bring players in on a whim. With Rhys, he’s got all of that and then comes the footballer and his capacity for learning. Chris is 100 per cent right about attitude because the starting point is having people prepared to work. If they aren’t, you might as well get rid of them.”
A former left-back himself, Jones is perfectly equipped to teach Norrington-Davies about the art of defence.
“He gets on at me if I don’t do something,” the youngster laughs. “In fact, he’s straight on it.”
But having operated predominantly at centre-half during his spell at Spotland - “I had to watch him about 10 times, because he was in the middle so often and I wanted to see him wide,” Jones says, detailing his scouting missions to Greater Manchester - it is clear Norrington-Davies is being groomed to potentially become an overlapping centre-half within United’s 3-5-2 system.
“We felt he was a front footed defender,” Jones tells The Star. “That he was someone with energy and athleticism. He’s done very well but he’s still learning and we’re happy we were trusted with his development. Rhys has quickly fitted in and earned the respect of a group that’s been together a long time.”
Norrington-Davies has made six appearances for Luton since being signed by Jones, including an outing against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup. It will not have gone unnoticed at United, where defenders are also expected to augment attacks, that Norrington-Davies has claimed two assists as well.
If he develops as Giggs hopes, then Norrington-Davies could find himself on the plane to Sofia and Dublin - where United’s Enda Stevens, John Egan and David McGoldrick will report for duty with the Republic following Sunday’s meeting with Arsenal.
“I’ve not spoken to the lads yet,” Norrington-Davies says. “If I’m there, I’m sure we’ll have a word and a bit of banter. First up is England, though, and it’s never a friendly between us. My job’s to do well in training and then hopefully get some minutes in that. If I can show what I can do, then hopefully I’ll put myself in contention for the Nations League.”
Despite recognising he still has plenty of room for improvement, Norrington-Davies’ sense of purpose becomes evident as he describes his ambitions on both the international and domestic stage. Capped 14 times at under-21 level, his recollection of a conversation with Jones soon after moving to Luton reveals this is a player with a clear sense of what he wants, what he needs to do and where he eventually wants to go.
“We had a chat when I first came in and he asked me what I wanted to do,” Norrington Davies says. “One thing I told him was getting into the Wales squad, as well as doing well for Luton obviously. I’m getting exposed to different formations, different ways of doing things and, providing I apply it properly, that can only help.”