Scouting Report: Birmingham's great Blue hope
The Carling Cup is seen by many English clubs as a playground for developing their best young talent. But for this year's winners, Birmingham City, top quality home grown prospects have been hard to come by.
Alex McLeish spoke earlier in the season about his desire to develop The Blues' academy, whose most significant graduates of recent years include Andy Johnson and Darren Carter. He warned fans in January of the tough transition to producing exciting young players, yet in Nathan Redmond they appear to have stuck gold before they've even begun digging.
Redmond follows the typical blueprints for a modern English winger. Pace, technique, versatility and composure - yet unlike so many before him, a refreshing attitude. The 17-year-old has a confidence and swagger in possession, but this is tempered with a solid work ethic and consistently positive body language.
Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and a number of other clubs had previously followed the Birmingham-born starlet, but the signing of a three year professional deal last month warned them off. Redmond has trusted his development to McLeish, a man who nurtured many blossoming talents through Rangers' system before moving South in 2007.
Nathan has always been a cut above the rest. He played Under 18 and Reserves football at 15, and was then given a squad number and a first team debut at 16. McLeish sensed his potential, and, spurred on from updates from trusted academy boss Terry Westley, he handed the winger a run out in the Carling Cup tie with Rochdale in August. Playing on both the right and left, Redmond injected his exciting mix of pace and end product, bursting away from his full back on a handful of occasions and coming close to scoring. McLeish did little to dampen the buzz, by saying the teenager was set for a 'big future'.
League Two Burton Albion thought they'd be the first, away from privacy of Birmingham's Wast Hills training centre, to get a closer look at Redmond in January, but a Football League rule banning first-year scholars from signing on loan curtailed an initial one-month deal. Nathan was effectively too young to play at this level, or so the rule book said.
The Yardley-based youngster has also made strides on the international front, winning the 2009 Victory Shield and then helping England's Under 16's reach the final of the Montaigu Tournament. Nathan really showed his promise for his country two weeks ago, when he scored to help the Young Lions to a 2-1 win over the much fancied Spanish, to finish top of their Elite Round qualifying group for the UEFA Under 17 Championships in Serbia later this year. It was quite an achievement.
Aston Villa may be one of the leading lights in youth football at present, but if Nathan Redmond continues to build on his mass potential, it will be the blue half of Birmingham who may yet produce the next big thing.