If Nathan Delfouneso lives up to the billing given by his manager or the nickname bestowed upon him by one journalist, there are Happy Days ahead for the Aston Villa youngster.
Delfouneso, pronounced Del-fonz-o, was referred to as ‘The Fonz’ when his name came up before yesterday’s press conference ahead of tonight’s UEFA Cup tie with MSK Zilina.
The 17-year-old striker is strongly tipped for his first claret and blue start in the Group F match, which could see Villa wrap up qualification for the knockout stages with a match to spare.
Expecting Delfouneso to turn up for first-team duty in a leather jacket and cockily combing his slicked back hair may be too much to ask of a player young enough to feature for the youth team.
However, the homegrown academy kid is sure to have a swagger that would do Henry Winkler’s character proud if he is given the thumbs-up by Martin O’Neill for this evening’s European game.
“I don’t know yet whether he’ll start, I haven’t finalised things, but it’s a
possibility young Delfouneso might come into the reckoning,” said O’Neill. “It would be exciting for us, because I’d like to see what he’s capable of. I’ll see how the injuries are in the morning, but he’ll definitely be on the field at some stage.”
So far Delfouneso has been restricted to bit parts for Villa’s senior side, enjoying a couple of cameo appearances from the bench in the UEFA Cup run.
However, the Birmingham-born forward trains with the first-team squad most days and is not fazed by rubbing shoulders with Gareth Barry and Co.
O’Neill sees similarities with Gabriel Agbonlahor in the way Delfouneso’s game and physique has developed over the past 12 months.
If opportunity allows Delfouneso could take Agbonlahor’s place this evening with the manager keen to protect England’s newest cap from burnout.
“Is there the same feeling about Nathan there was about Gabby when he was at that age?” said O’Neill. “For me, absolutely. I arrived here when maybe Gabby had gone past that. I didn’t know what Gabby was like at youth team level.
“They said he’d scored a lot of goals and he was quicker than most people, blah, blah, blah. But this boy, Delfouneso, I’ve seen develop, so I’ve got great confidence in him. I don’t care whether he doesn’t get a kick against Zilina, he’s got really great talent.
“He’s been training with us a lot so, other than the excitement of playing a big game, he’s been used to being with the first team. He trains with the first team 85 per cent of the time.
“I don’t think he’d be overawed.”
O’Neill, taking on the role of protective parent in the way Mrs Cunningham cared for Fonzie, is anxious to avoid piling too much pressure on Delfouneso’s young shoulders. However, the manager reckons it is only a matter of time before the talented teen is snapped up by a football agent.
“I think he’s got an awful lot of natural ability and he’s raring to go,” added O’Neill. “He’s still eligible to play youth football on Wednesday against Arsenal.
“He’s great. The last thing you want to do is go and build somebody up for the sake of it, but there really is a lot of excitement about him.”