Shea Charles has admitted he was surprised to make his Northern Ireland debut in the 1-0 Nations League defeat to Greece on Thursday.
The 18-year-old provided one of the highlights of an often-flat night at Windsor Park as he came off the bench to replace George Saville with 11 minutes remaining, and the Manchester City teenager had no looking out of place.
“I didn’t expect to play in this match, but obviously I’ll take every opportunity that comes my way,” said Charles, whose match shirt will soon be framed and hanging on his wall.
“It’s a great feeling to make my debut – obviously the loss was small, but on a personal level it was a big high for me to make my debut.”
After the match, Ian Baraclough praised Charles’ fluid style as he was able to stroke the ball, keeping it moving for Northern Ireland as they pushed for a late equalizer that never came against Gus Poyet’s team.
“He just said go do my thing, really,” Charles said of his instructions. “I was playing a defensive midfield role, so that’s what I did.”
Charles is also skilled in defense and has long been defended by Gareth McAuley, who had worked with him in the Under-19 setup. Charles made the move to the Under-21s in March but immediately moved up to the senior side after impressing at an end-of-season camp.
Charles said he wasn’t really aware of the buzz around him, but he is one of many young players in and around the Baraclough squad that Northern Ireland fans are excited about.
When asked if his debut could be the start of a great career for the country, Baraclough replied: “Maybe. I don’t want to put huge pressure on the young boy. He was in the under-21s once. He probably didn’t expect to make his debut when we continue the game.
“He didn’t seem agitated, he didn’t seem in a hurry in his decision-making. He is gentle, a good player on the ball.
Not bad for a player who has never played a senior club game, although he is regularly tested when given the chance to train with City’s senior stars.
“Every time we train with the first team, the standard is so high and we are still learning every day,” he said.
“I would come against people like Rodri and Fernandinho. Yes, it is hard but it is also pleasant. You learn a lot, not just from the two of them, but from the whole team and of course from the coaches.
Baraclough says Pep Guardiola has been impressed with what he’s seen of Charles in training, although it’s not yet clear if his club’s future could include a loan deal or if he will. part of the players that City choose to develop internally.
“We’ll see what happens next year, but it depends on how training goes and each game as it goes,” Charles said.
For now, his focus is on Northern Ireland’s away games in Cyprus and Kosovo, and the ongoing search for a maiden Nations League victory.
“It’s important to go to Cyprus now and hope to win,” he said. “It will build confidence for the next two games after that.
“We can hopefully put that behind us, but also learn things from this game and put it into our next game.
“We haven’t given Greece too many chances, but we can’t allow them to score the only chance they have. That’s probably the main thing.”