Sam Allardyce has hailed the development of Arsenal loanee Ainsley Maitland-Niles at West Bromwich Albion, telling the Baggies website his immediate future lies in central midfield.
That must be music to the ears of the England international.
While versatility is a trait much admired in the modern game, Maitland-Niles has little interest in becoming a ‘jack of all trades’. He has his heart set on being a master of midfield, making it clear on numerous occasions a future at full-back holds little appeal.
Maitland-Niles filled in effectively on the right or left under Mikel Arteta and Unai Emery at Arsenal but has impressed in his favoured, box-to-box role since swapping the Emirates for the Hawthorns six weeks ago.
“Ainsley’s game is starting to get better and better,” Allardyce insists.
“Because he’s had many years of nearly always playing (at full-back) and not playing where he wanted to play, other clubs have only ever seen him as a full-back. I think even England played him there.
“He wants to play in midfield for us. He’s got the energy to do that and he has excellent ability with both feet.
“His overall game I’m very pleased with. Hopefully he’ll just get a bit better. He is going to keep playing in midfield for us.
“I think the only way he’d ever play full-back would be on the back of injuries and suspensions.”
Maitland-Niles did, however, miss a glorious chance during West Brom’s 0-0 draw with Burnley last week.
And Allardyce adds that, if he’s to really push on at Arsenal or elsewhere, Maitland-Niles needs to add a more ruthless streak to his game.
“There’s got to be a better finishing quality about him. Like any attacking midfielder who plays box to box, he needs to be making assists and scoring goals. That is what he needs to keep working on,” Allardyce says of a man who has only ever scored once in the Premier League.
“But by him not playing often enough in midfield, that’s something that will hopefully come to him quickly.”