Harry Wilson may not be a household name as yet, but he is already an international footballer after making his debut for Wales on Tuesday night. The 16 year old Liverpool midfielder came on as a substitute against Belgium as despite having not made a first team appearance for his club. He becomes the youngest ever player to represent Wales, beating previous record holder and welsh legend Gareth Bale by 108 days. Born in Wales to Welsh parents, playing for his country of birth looked like the only option but an English grandfather meant that he could have crossed the border to play for the three lions. Wales boss Chris Coleman, well aware of the English connection and amidst rumours of interest decided to call up Wilson to his full squad now, rather than risk losing him.
Wilson joins a long list of young talented players who have been handed full international honours by Wales in attempt to secure their long term commitment to the country. Learning from past mistakes when they nurtured talent through the junior ranks to under 21 level only for the player to then switch allegiance to neighboring England. The problem lies deep within FIFA guidelines that only recognize that full international competitive caps as international status. Once capped, players cannot represent any other nation unless under extreme circumstances such as separation of state (similar to Yugoslavia in 1992 which is now broken into seven new countries. Capping Wilson now in a world cup qualifying game, even at 16 years old, was smart on Coleman’s part as it secures him to Wales’s cause.
However is it really fair to do so? Wilson is still very young and with options in front of him around who he represents, does Wales somewhat selfish move act to manipulate his desire to play at the highest level of football? After all what 16 year old would pass up the chance to play international football? Granted the call up is an invitation that can be refused (Manchester United whizz kid Adnan Januzaj recently turned down an approach by Belgium last month as he is yet to decide who he wants to play for) but can someone of Wilsons age really be asked to choose then? Wales is by no means alone in their approach with other smaller nations following suit. Wales’s group e rivals have all been guilty in the past of looking and capping young promising players in order to deepen their selection pools and will continue to do so until the guidelines are adjusted by FIFA. It might not be ethically fair right now but it’s the system the game operates under so Wales and other nations for that matter are within their rights to play within these rules. But a few people are uneasy at this approach including Welsh striker Craig Bellamy who is unsure if capping early makes sense especially if it’s only to secure loyalty.
One person not arguing about Wilsons cap is his welsh grandfather who is due for a huge payout of £125,000 from bookmaker Ladbrokes after placing a £50 bet when Harry was only 18 months old, that his grandson would be capped by Wales. His grandfather Peter Edwards, 62, was quoted odds of 2,500/1 when he placed the bet with the bookmaker in Wrexham. Surely he has to split those winnings with Wales’s manager Chris Coleman, who handed the player his debut? As for the player, Wilson spoke on twitter of his delight at making his debut and for the support he received. The player has a bright future ahead both domestically with Liverpool and now with Wales but he needs to not let the cap go to his head and focus on becoming a Liverpool first team regular. For the time being, Wilson will now go off and celebrate becoming Wales’s youngest full internationalist likely with his grandfather who will be working out how to spend the winnings his grandson just earned him.