Former Brighton & Hove Albion manager Dean Wilkins believes Lewis Dunk’s first call-up to the England squad shows that there is a pathway for any young player to prove themselves at international level.
Dunk has been selected for the upcoming UEFA Nations League matches against Croatia and Spain, and Wilkins explained how the centre-back’s story is a brilliant example for all aspiring defenders aiming to make the grade.
Wilkins, who was the club’s youth team manager from 1998 until becoming first-team boss in 2006, said, “It’s clearly a fantastic achievement that’s great for the club, and it’s a terrific rise for him.
“It’s a great story that will inspire others to come through the system and realise that anything is possible.
“What Gareth Southgate has done since he’s taken the position, is given every young player hope and he’s got a clear plan for the future.
“You only have to look at the squad that’s there now; James Maddison is in his first year in the Premier League and he’s now in the England squad. Mason Mount from Derby was also invited to train with them before the World Cup.
“It sends out a strong message to every young player in the country that if you’re good enough, you’ll get an opportunity.”
Wilkins recounted his time with Albion, and explained how the club’s ethos was to work with players on their development throughout their formative years.
“I would go to the centre of excellence at Falmer quite regularly during my time at the club, and we used to put some principles in place that were based around the work in both penalty areas.
“If I use his position as an example, it would revolve around how to use his body, heading techniques and blocking with either foot.
“We would encourage the younger lads at centre-half to hit diagonal passes too, and I would argue he’s one of the best exponents of a longer pass from a central defensive position in the country.
“I remember watching a ball that he hit against Manchester City and it didn’t get above eight foot in the air, but it flew 60 yards and it was an incredible pass.
“Things like that were encouraged from an early age. Even then you knew that the strength wasn’t there to hit those forty or fifty-yard passes, but it was something that was encouraged for the future.”
Wilkins feels that Dunk can seamlessly adapt to international football if given the chance, and explained how Southgate’s tactics can work to the centre-back’s strengths.
“I think he’s prepared for anything now after playing so many games. It’s just a case of trusting his instincts and doing what he’s done so well over the last few years.
“I believe the way England are set up with three centre-halves could suit him even more, because he’s more than capable of coming out of defence and picking a pass at the right time.
“Lewis has probably learned so much from playing in the Premier League, where players can become invisible for a period of time on the back of your shoulder, whereas in the Championship or lower down, they’ll present themselves in front of you a bit more.
“I do believe that the basis for every player is their movement and awareness. The more you see and the better you move in terms of your footwork, the better results you get. He’ll continue to improve by playing with better quality players.”