COLIN Cooper has called on Hartlepool United fans to be patient with “exceptional” talent Brad Walker.
The 17-year-old is currently away training with the England Under 18s and received his first call to join the junior set-up in November when he spent two days training at the FA’s National Football Centre at St George’s Park, in Burton.
He impressed coach Neil Dewsnip so much that he returned for a second training camp yesterday for another couple of days with the cream of English teenage talent.
Billingham-born Walker will return to the North-East on Tuesday night.
The midfielder started the season well but lost his place through injury before returning to the first team over the festive period.
Walker was impressive alongside Matty Dolan against Chesterfield and Morecambe but, like many of his team-mates, struggled in the 3-0 home defeat against Bury on New Year’s Day.
His manager said he heard rumblings from some fans around Victoria Park against Bury but said the teenager should be given some credit.
Trimdon-born Cooper, 46, said: “I thought Brad was exceptional against Morecambe and played his part against Bury.
“Because of the way we are trying to play, Brad sits and he wants to play forward and run forward and he had a couple of attempts on goal against Bury
“For someone of his age, the standard that he is producing is exceptional and he is playing his football in League Two.
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“If he was a 17-year-old in League One or the Championship then the world would be sitting up and noticing.
“Because at this moment in his career he is playing in League Two we can recognise the talent he has and Neil Dewsnip at England has recognised that and said when he went down for the England camp he was exceptional.
“Hopefully at some point he will take part in a competitive game.
“But he is more than capable of that as long as he keeps his feet on the ground and keeps wanting to keep learn.”
Walker’s manager believes he is just as talented as the likes of Bryn Morris, the Hartlepool-born Middlesbrough midfielder and captain of the England Under 18s.
Cooper, a former Middlesbrough coach, added: “Brad has the physical attributes of people who are way, way ahead of him.
“I worked with Bryn Morris at Middlesbrough, who is the captain of the England Under 18s, and Brad can play alongside Bryn without a shadow of a doubt.
“That is a massive pat on the back for him and his family and the way he goes about his business.
“He has no fear and wants to play but he is going to make mistakes.
“I heard rumblings around the ground [against Bury] and I’m thinking this boy is 17, give him a bit of credit.
“He does a lot more better things than he does bad things, all you want is for the fans to say ‘go on son, go and express yourself in the way you want to’.
“We absolutely recognise he will make cock-ups, we all do.
“I think as a 17-year-old if you give him a pat on the back, a bit of love, and just tell him to go and express himself he will alright, he will be fine.”
The imposing midfielder finished top scorer for the youth team last season and has gone onto make 20 appearances for the first team so far this season after signing his first professional contract with the club in pre-season.
Walker impressed Pools’ management duo of Cooper and Craig Hignett during the club’s pre-season trip to Holland and made his senior debut when he was selected to start in the opening League Two game at Rochdale.
- RICHARD MENNEAR
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