He handed Gavin Bazunu a first-team debut at the age of 16, so it’s no surprise that Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley had no fears about the same man playing in a World Cup qualifier at the age of 19.
nd while his main focus this week is on his own job and ending a four-game losing streak for the Premier Division champions, Bradley says that Bazunu’s display against Serbia in midweek has already elevated him to a new plane in international terms while he also sees a Premier League future for the teenager.
“In my opinion, it’s as good as anything I have ever seen,” Bradley says of Bazunu’s display in the 1-1 draw against Serbia, where even the frustrated manager of the opposing side, Dragan Stojkovic, called for Bazunu’s efforts to be recognised.
“I know people will go back years and years talking (Packie) Bonner, Shay Given: there’ve been some top performances, I understand that. But that was up there with the very best, I think. Not just for Ireland, but for any international goalkeeper. It was right up there. Some people are surprised because of his age, but you shouldn’t be. When you know him, he’s different, he’s ready.”
Ready to even make it at Premier League level, be that at his parent club, Manchester City, or elsewhere? “Please God, if injuries allow. I don’t see anything stopping him,” says Bradley, who saw Bazunu save a penalty on his debut at 16 and thrive in the spotlight.
“That’s obviously for them [City] to decide. They have their plans and they know what’s in the building. Xavi, their goalkeeper coach, was there the other night and they really like Gavin. But again, I don’t know their plans for him.
“What I do know is that Gavin can play at the highest level, there is no doubt in my mind that he can do that. Please God injuries allow him to do that because in my opinion that is the only thing that would stop him.
“I said this before, when you are around Gavin and you understand how he operates and how he carries himself, and how respectful he is, how mannerly and hard-working he is, you get a feeling that this guy is different. He is focusing on being the best.
“Sometimes you get a kid who has had a good performance, but is it a one-off. With this guy, you know there is only more to come with him.”
Despite that Hoops debut at 16, Bazunu was something of a late developer, by no means the best player in his position in his early teens, and that’s a lesson for others, Bradley believes. “There is a lot to be said for the late developers and Gavin was obviously one of them. It creates a little hunger in people when they are not the top one at 13s, 14s, 15s, 16s, 17s. It sparked something in Gavin and it says a lot about the late developers,” he says.
The goalkeeping position is one of the concerns for Bradley right now, a focus on his veteran No. 1 Alan Mannus after the concession of questionable goals in defeats to Bohemians and Flora Tallinn.
“Alan has been around the block and understands how to deal with it. I’ve no doubts over Alan’s ability or quality. It’s just unfortunate that he had a bit of a rocky patch over the last couple of weeks but that’s fine, it happens,” says Bradley ahead of a test at home to Waterford, Roberto Lopes back from international duty to add steel to their defence while new signing Barry Cotter should make his home debut.
“When you look at it domestically, I think we’ve lost five or six games in two-and-a-half years. We need to relax and trust what we do and be calm. That’s football, you get tests every now and then, a little rocky patch now and then.
“That’s what happens but it’s magnified when it happens here and you’re top of the league. I understand that. We’ll be fine, we know what we need to do. We need to relax, trust what we do and work hard.”
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