NI's Shea Charles learning from defensive midfield masters at Manchester City

Northern Ireland's Shea Charles with his eye on the ball against San Marino. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Northern Ireland's Shea Charles with his eye on the ball against San Marino. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

IN TERMS of learning the defensive midfield role, Shea Charles could have few better learning environments than Manchester City.

His club manager Pep Guardiola was a renowned ‘number four’, but the teenager has been absorbing lessons more so from other club-mates on the training pitches, he explains: “It’s more with the likes of Fernandinho before he left, Rodri now, Kalvin Phillips as well now, because they play in my position. Watching them, learning, asking questions, that’s the main thing.”

Although he’s made just five senior international appearances, Charles has surely already established himself as the long-term base of the Northern Ireland midfield.

The 19-year-old was calmness and composure personified on the pitch against San Marino on Thursday night, on and off the ball, and that’s an approach he carries off the pitch too.

Asked about his future, he coolly passed that question off, responding: “At the moment I’m just going to see out the season and we’ll see what happens. Hopefully… I’d love to stay at City, that’s obviously the main target, but you never know, so we’ll see.”

Breaking into one of the best teams in the world will be a really tough task, he acknowledges, but he has the self-belief to think that he can follow other youngsters into the City side:

“Yeah, it will be difficult, but I’m confident in my own abilities. Training with them, learning from them all the time, it’s just a great experience.

He knows the qualities required of him to play that position at a high level - “reading of the game – game intelligence and a good range of passing is really important” – and he has exhibited those traits every time he has appeared on the international stage.

He was content with NI’s patient approach in San Marino, starting fairly slowly but then scoring midway through the first half, via Dion Charles’s first senior strike, before the Bolton Wanderer added another early in the second half to seal a 2-0 victory:

“It was good to see that we could score one of our early chances. It’s kind of expected when you come away from home that some teams will sit back and make it difficult for you to score. Michael [O’Neill] said that before the game, and said ‘Just relax, your time will come’.”

His namesake Dion broke his scoring duck in his 14th appearance, and Shea feels that will encourage him to add more to his tally: “He’ll be buzzing to get those goals. It’s obviously good for his confidence as well, going into Sunday, so let’s hope he can do it again.”

Fielding Jamal Lewis and Conor Bradley as very attacking wing-backs also worked well, those two able to push forward knowing that Shea Charles and the three centre halves were keeping matters solid at the back: “Yeah, that’s part of the way we play, Jamal and Conor bombing up the pitch. They both played really well.”

The future will be taken in its turn. For now, Shea Charles is keeping his eye on the ball, and the next qualifier, at home to Finland on Sunday night: “We’ll look at Finland on Friday and Saturday, turn our attention to that, and hopefully we’ll get a good result.”