Partridge well on way to senior stardom
By PHILIP QUINN WHEN Gerard Houllier called Brian Kerr on his mobile phone recently to ask him what he thought of Richie Partridge, the FAI's...
WHEN Gerard Houllier called Brian Kerr on his mobile phone recently to ask him what he thought of Richie Partridge, the FAI's Technical Director responded, half-jokingly: ``Jaysus, what can I tell you about your own player that you don't know already.''
The Liverpool manager, who regularly taps into Kerr's vast football reservoir, pressed for a `handle' on Partridge and Kerr being Kerr was only too happy to oblige.
On a fleeting visit to the Irish team hotel yesterday, the Irish underage supremo again summed up the qualities of one of Irish soccer's brightest prospects, set to star for the Irish U-21s against the Czech Republic at Belfield tonight (7.30).
``Richie's like a throw-back to the days when Celtic used to play with two wingers. He can play wide right, or wide left and scores a lot of goals by coming on the inside of defenders.
``At Liverpool they think he's quicker than Michael Owen, and he possibly is. He loves playing wide but the way Liverpool are set up, I could see him ending up in the centre of midfield.
``He's skilful, good tactically, and is a keen student of the game. He was held back by a terrible knee injury but was fit in time to help us win the Europeans in Cyprus. A lovely, co-operative, lad. One to watch.''
Houllier thinks so too. Before Christmas, he promoted Partridge from the Liverpool Academy to train with the first team squad at Melwood.
And the career graph continued on an upward spiral when Partridge played for the first team against Bournemouth in a friendly at Dean Court earlier this month, scoring on his debut in a strong team that included Vesterveld, Hyppia, Henchoz, Hamman, Berger and Camara.
STEVE STAUNTON, who also played in that game, has kept a watchful eye on Partridge's progress. Rarely one to resort to hyperbole, Staunton believes the Blanchardstown boy has what it takes to reach the top.
``Richie's on fire,'' said Staunton. ``In a reserve game the other week, he absolutely destroyed the Bradford left-back. He's as quick as lightning, can cross, shoot and has a trick or two that catches out defenders.
``He's not far off the first team the way he's progressing. His size may hold him back a bit but his pace makes up for that. Michael Owen isn't particularly big either but his speed puts fear into defenders and it's the same with Richie. His feet are firmly on the ground and I don't think anything's going to stop him,'' added Staunton.
Partridge, who has been at Liverpool since his 16th birthday after being spotted playing for Stella Maris by Noel McCabe, is the latest class act to roll off the club's Academy conveyor belt near Kirkby.
In following the likes of Dominic Matteo, Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and David Thompson into the first team set-up, Partridge clearly has a role to play as part of Houllier's revolution. Admirably, he is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
``I'd say my progress is going according to plan as I'll be four years at Liverpool in September and I lost almost all of one season with a serious knee injury.
``Getting the call to train at Melwood was a massive boost and while it's hard to break into the first team on a regular basis, my ambition is to play well for the reserves, keep working hard, and maybe next season I'll get my chance.''
Partridge, who has two and a half years left on his contract, could, in time, come into the reckoning at senior international level as his preferred position, right-wing, is something of a problem area for Ireland.
That's down the line. For the moment, it's about taking things each speedy step at a time, continuing at Belfield tonight where Don Givens has named a bold attack-minded 4-3-3 formation for his first game in charge.
It's also a big night for Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Alan Quinn, who wins his first cap.
QUINN replaces Celtic's Colin Healy while in the only other change in the team which beat Macedonia in November (under Ian Evans) Everton centre-half Richard Dunne returns from suspension and replaces Jason Gavin.
Givens admits he is still not very familiar with many of the players and has had to lean on Evans whose sole task now is as assistant to senior boss McCarthy for guidance in the initial selection.
``Over the next few games I intend to look at as many of the lads as possible because we now have quite a number to choose from at this age level. The Czechs have agreed to virtually unlimited use of substitutes tomorrow night for both sides, and I'm more than happy with that.''
Republic of Ireland U-21s (v Czech Republic) O'Reilly (Northampton); Heary (Huddersfield), Dunne (Everton), O'Brien (Bradford), Clark (Stoke); B Quinn (Coventry, capt), A Quinn (Sheffield Wednesday), Rowlands (Brentford); Partridge (Liverpool), George (Luton), Doherty (Luton).