Six months after a long-awaited takeover, Simon Grayson tells the Totally Football League Show about his progress at Blackpool and a 16-year-old wunderkind in his ranks…
Tony Weston: remember the name.
He’s the 16-year-old just given his debut by Blackpool, a player so young that he’s only allowed out of school a couple of times a week and to put his youth into some perspective, he was born a few weeks after Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea.
But Weston was handed his Blackpool debut against Maidstone in the FA Cup last week and if the glowing manner in which Blackpool manager Simon Grayson speaks about him is anything to go by, he could have a big future ahead of him.
“He’s just got absolute enthusiasm in abundance,” Grayson told the Totally Football League Show this week. “And so he should, at 16: you haven’t got the world on your shoulders worrying about what’s going to go wrong, home life, paying the bills and stuff like that.
“I watched him a few weeks ago in the reserves, and I’ve not stopped talking about him to staff or other people because he just gives me such a lift every time I see him with the enthusiasm that he’s got.
“He’s a throwback to lads that were just running around in the park when you may be a lot younger, when you’re just playing football, not to try and make money or anything else like that. He’s still got a long way to go. He’s still developing as a person, but also physically as well.
“We’re pleased with him, but obviously we’ve got to be careful with what we do with him because he’s not the biggest and not ready physically.
“But he’s a character: when he went out to do with the team the other week, the lads were getting him to sing. I was telling them: ”You can’t do this to a schoolboy.” But he said to me “gaffer, I want to get up and sing, and he did.” He sung something very badly. I think it was an Ed Sheeran song – it wasn’t very good.”
Weston has already been scoring freely for the youth teams, and despite his youth it must be tempting to throw him into the first XI, particularly given the recent absence of Blackpool’s top-scorer Armand Gnanduillet. But Grayson is being understandably cautious – partly out of choice, but partly by order of the headmaster.
“We can only get him out of school twice a week at the moment. We took him down to Ipswich for his development, and to be around the squad. He wasn’t on the bench then, but he was the Leasing.com game [against Scunthorpe], and then the FA Cup game [against Maidstone].
“It’s just about about seeing how he can handle playing with the first team players in training, and not throw in at the deep end too quickly. At the weekend we were 3-1 up with five minutes to go – it was a perfect opportunity for him.
“But what he has shown is that he’s not scared of mixing it with the first team players. He’s got good ability, hence why he’s with them, and that raw enthusiasm that you’d love to be able to just seal them give it to a lot of other players.”
His chances of playing more will increase if Gnanduillet continues to struggle with his thigh injury – or indeed if he’s targeted in the January transfer window.
The Frenchman might be available for this weekend’s game against Fleetwood, but how far could he go after that?
“Well, who knows?” said Grayson. “I think it’s a lot down to the individual. He will be first to admit that there’s been games this season where he’s not played anywhere his capabilities. And then there’s other games where he’s been absolutely outstanding.
“We’ve tried to work with him a lot on simplifying his game in terms of getting hold of [the ball], get it out to the wider areas and then getting into the box where we can get the opportunity to score the goals. And obviously at six-foot-four is he’s got good, height advantage over a lot of defenders as well.
“We want to keep our best players. -if he wants to go to the championship, hopefully that’s going to be with us. But we’ll just keep working and striving with him and other players to try and achieve our goal eventually.”
Blackpool sit eighth in the table, only out of the playoff spots on goal difference which is pretty good going considering the changes that have occurred at the club in recent months. The hated Oystons finally relinquished control of Blackpool in the summer, while Grayson returned as manager in July. Is Grayson satisfied with their progress so far?
“I think I’m pleased with where we are,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a new start for a lot of people at the football club – the owner, myself and the supporters have got their football club back again. But you’re never gonna go from where it was literally six months ago to being where you think you want to get it overnight. It’s a work in progress, both on the pitch and off the pitch.
“But ultimately, we’ve got a decent start to the season. We’ve given ourselves a platform and hopefully we can continue and try and take another step further on the second half of the season. But so far, it’s been a lot of positive signs, with a new group of players and a new sense of anticipation, optimism about the football club again. I’m pleased: do I think we can do better, do I hope we can do better? Well, hopefully that’s the case, yes.”
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