Chris Coleman has welcomed Antonio Conte’s positive comments about Ethan Ampadu’s international call-up and believes that the Chelsea manager’s stance, which contrasts sharply with the way in which Jürgen Klopp responded to the news that Ben Woodburn had first been named in the Wales squad, owes much to the fact the Italian understands what it means to play for his country.
Ampadu, 17, who made his debut for Chelsea last week , has been named alongside Woodburn in the 23-man Wales squad that take on Georgia and the Republic of Ireland in the final matches of their World Cup qualifying campaign at the start of next month. After Ampadu’s previous Wales call-up and prior to the teenager making his first appearance for Chelsea, Conte denied that senior international recognition at such a young age had heaped pressure on the player.
“You must be proud of this [achievement],” Conte said. “But, for sure, he has to work a lot to deserve another call-up to the national team. We must be pleased because this player is a Chelsea player.”
Those comments were appreciated by Coleman, who experienced a very different reaction from Klopp in relation to Woodburn’s promotion to the senior Wales squad six months ago. The German, who was keen to keep Woodburn out of the spotlight after the teenager scored on his Liverpool debut, expressed his surprise that he had not received a phone call from Coleman before the 17-year-old’s inclusion and also questioned how well the Wales manager knew the forward.
Although Coleman did not mention Klopp until he was specifically asked about the Liverpool manager, it was hard to escape the feeling that he was making a point in relation to how differently Conte had dealt with Ampadu.
“It helps if you have played international football and understand what it is all about,” Coleman said. “When I read Conte’s comments I felt he put it all really well, how he said it, and it is true. If you are good enough as a young player, then why shouldn’t you be involved? I can see the players don’t belong to us and are not contracted to us and international football is a choice – you either want to do it or you don’t want to do it. But if you have played it, you understand the importance of it and the honour of it.
“I wasn’t surprised by Antonio’s comments, of course they were welcome and it made total sense to me. I have played international football myself. It is great for anybody to be called up by their country, and if they are good enough, if they are 16, 17 or 18, they shouldn’t be put in a situation where they feel under pressure, certainly not by us.”
Woodburn made a stunning impact for his country in Wales’s last qualifying matches. He came off the bench to score a superb winner against Austria in Cardiff and then made another crucial contribution against Moldova, three days later, when he was once again introduced as a substitute with the game goalless and set up the opening goal for Hal Robson-Kanu.
“I think Jürgen was probably looking at Ben and thinking he wasn’t ready,” Coleman said, reflecting on the Liverpool manager’s comments back in March. “He was honest in his assessment. But my point was he has been in the Liverpool squad and scored on his debut at Anfield. I look at him in our younger teams like how I look at Ethan Ampadu. I think the acid test is when they come and train with us. Training is not playing with us, I know, but you see certain signs and whether they can step up or not. All the signs for us with Ben were good signs and certainly in his first few caps with us I think we were right in assuming he was ready to come and play a part for us.”
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