Birmingham City academy manager Terry Westley has urged his young players to relish the rarity of reaching the latter stages of the prestigious FA Youth Cup.
The club’s under-18 set-up take on their Liverpool counterparts at St Andrew’s tonight in the first-leg of a semi-final tie before heading to Anfield in eight days.
To join the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City in the penultimate stage of the FA Youth Cup is undoubtedly a huge achievement for Birmingham, who have limited resources compared to the academies of Premier League giants.
In chronological order, Birmingham have beaten Lincoln City, Crewe Alexandra, Cardiff City and Watford to get this far but a much greater hurdle now stands in Blues’ way in the shape of one of world football’s powerhouses.
While the FA Youth Cup may not often receive the acclaim it deserves, it is a clear indication of where the most fertile breeding grounds in English football are located.
Now Westley wants to see his underdogs bare their teeth for the biggest game of their fledgling careers.
“I think this will be the biggest game so far for all of them, even if they’ve played in the first-team,” admitted Westley. “Even for a young player who has maybe been on the bench for the first-team or played for England those occasions might come again. Hopefully you’ll have more first-team and international appearances but you don’t often get the chance to play in the semi-final of the Youth Cup.
“There will be some players who have gone on and had great careers but may have never got that award or played in a cup final. This occasion gives them that opportunity so for the boys it’s a big game, there’s no doubt about that.”
The young Liverpool side includes a continental blend of Finnish, Spanish and Danish players while the son of the former England international midfield general Paul Ince is also likely to feature at St Andrew’s tonight.
Both legs have also attracted the subscription television cameras to help add to the occasion.
Eager not to see a dead rubber when they re-lock horns at Anfield in just over a week, Westley has urged his talented crop of teenagers to not get too ahead of themselves against, potentially, a very dangerous unit.
“Lets make it competitive, lets make it as untidy and scruffy for them when they get the ball as possible,” he added. “If they want a nice little football match we’ve got to get amongst them.
“When we get it we are good enough to play. With Ashley Sammons and Mitchell McPike in midfield they are footballers and are not real fighters so they’ve got to get on the ball.
“So when it turns over and we get the ball then we’ve got to express ourselves. But my goodness, when they get it then we’ve got to get after them,” the academy manager added.
Westley has been forced to make one change to his side that beat Watford 1-0 in the quarter-final last month.
Injured right-back Jack Rutter has been replaced by Slovakia Under-17 international Jakub Hronec.