JOHN Hughes will protect Luke James between now and the end of the season – but he insists the starlet has a “massive future in the game”.
The Pools boss is delighted to have seen the teenager re-emerge in recent weeks having endured an injury-plagued first half of the campaign.
James was outstanding for the club’s reserves in their win over Rotherham United last week and has also caught the eye during substitute appearances at senior level.
But Hughes is reluctant to place too much pressure on the striker’s young shoulders.
“Luke has a massive future in the game, he has something a lot don’t have – natural enthusiasm and that’s not a given, trust me,” he told SportMail.
“He has a spring in his step and an energy about him but we have to protect him and look after him.
“I really worry about putting too much expectation on him.
“We will give him bits here and there, let him look at the game, educate him and let him become a better footballer.”
James had started the season as first-choice partner for Steve Howard but soon succumbed to a groin problem which was eventually diagnosed as a hernia.
He has come from the bench during the last two victories at Portsmouth and at home to Notts County.
But it is on the training field where James has impressed his manager most.
“The most important thing for Luke is that he keeps his enthusiasm,” Hughes said.
“It makes him what he is. He wants to be a grafter.
“He has a part to play in and around the first team but we don’t want to turn him into something he isn’t yet – there’s a couple of years learning in him before he’s a first-team regular.
“You have to be guarded so he’s not built up into something and I’ve seen that happen to many players.
“If we keep kicking his backside to keep him grounded he will be better for it.”
Hughes went on: “He has good values and principles.
“He wants to learn and asks questions all the time
“He plays without fear – I was talking to my mate John Collins at Livingston about players, some of the young ones I know.
“There’s one there the same as Luke - works hard, runs all day, works his backside off, doesn’t have respect for who he is playing.
“John said that since the kid started thinking about it too much he’s not the player he was.
“It’s about being natural, Luke has that.”