What were you doing when you were 17 years of age? Probably not sitting on West Bromwich Albion’s substitute bench in the League Cup and representing England on the international stage.
But for local lad Kyle Edwards, these feats are just the stepping stones of a highly-regarded and promising future for one of the Baggies’ brightest youth products.
Having joined the Premier League side when he was just six-years-old, the teenager was named on the bench by Tony Pulis for the trip to Norwich City in the third round of the Capital One Cup back in September, much to Edwards’ delight.
Despite not making his first-team debut at Carrow Road, the Dudley-born winger was happy to observe, relish and learn from his first-ever involvement in the senior squad, an experience that he hopes will bode well for him during the remainder of his youth career.
Featuring regularly for West Brom’s Under-21 Premier League side, who are currently undefeated and second in the table, Edwards takes inspiration from the likes of England striker Saido Berahino who similarly came through the Midlands’ youth set up.
Shoot spoke exclusively to Edwards about life at West Brom, his footballing idols and his ultimate ambition for both club and country.
You joined West Brom at the age of six. How have you enjoyed your time at the club so far?
“Obviously being here a long time, it has been good. I have done a lot of different things; we have been abroad to Germany, Denmark and all of those kind of things. Especially when you go away, they are probably the most enjoyable stuff. Obviously having been here so long, you can tell that they have been treating me well. The facilities; they have got the new 4G and the new dome so it has been great for me.”
You are said to be a dynamic, strong and nimble winger. What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses on the pitch?
“My strengths are probably dribbling, running with the ball and passing. A weakness for me at the moment is my finishing and goalscoring. I have just got to try add more goals to my game.”
Is that something you work on specifically in training?
“Not so much in training, but after practice I will go out on my own and do some extra shooting to try and improve that area of my game.”
Who did you aspire to be or model your game on when growing up?
“When I was a lot younger; I modelled my game on players like Ronaldinho by doing lots of skills and tricks, that is how I like to play the game. Now, it is probably more like [Lionel] Messi. He doesn’t do as much tricks, but he still plays that kind of way; going past players all the time.”
Having come through West Brom’s youth ranks, just how tough is it for youngsters, especially at a Premier League club, to graduate through their academy system?
“Yeah, obviously it is going to be hard. I have been here so long and seen players come and go. But, at the moment, the likes of Saido [Berahino] is in there now and he came through the youth academy. You can tell that we are getting there and there are lot more players breaking through. I’ve been on the bench and a couple of my friends were there from the academy as well, so you can tell what the club are trying to do.”
You regularly feature for the club’s Under-21 Premier League side but is there the possibility of you going out on loan to experience senior football elsewhere?
“I hope I can. I think that would be a good experience for me to try and play the game more, especially with men. At the moment, I am not sure if any teams want me, but hopefully they do! I would definitely like to [go out on loan]. It will help me learn to cope with the men’s game. The gaffer, Tony Pulis, also told me that he likes players to go out on loan. So if I can show that I can play at senior level, then perhaps I would have more chance of being in the West Brom first-team.”
West Brom are second in the Under-21 Premier League’s Division Two, unbeaten after six games. Are you confident of winning promotion this season?
“Yeah, I am quite confident and the team is confident. The manager, Jimmy [Shan], has done a lot of work with us on our shape. So we are secure at the back and going forward we have got a lot of players that can produce special moments. I am confident.”
You were named on the bench during West Brom’s League Cup defeat to Norwich City. Were you expecting to be in the squad?
“Well, the night before, we got told that we were travelling with them. So obviously then, it was a big shock. Everybody was like, “What is going on?” Then as we went there, the first-team players were telling us that we were on the bench. Then when he [Pulis] actually named us on the bench, it was a great feeling.”
What can you take away from that evening – being involved in the first-team on matchday?
“I was in aura really. I was warming up in front of all the fans, then warming up with the first-team players. Just to see how they are in the dressing room, it was so good! You just see how the players are before the game, see how they zone in. The feeling in the dressing room is different compared to our level, it is more serious. So I will take that away and try to add it.”
Have you had the chance to work with Tony Pulis much? If so, how impressed have you been by his managerial skills?
“Yeah, we have trained with him at the training ground. He is obviously a good manager; very professional. He knows what he is talking about and everything with him is on point. Everything that is happening is happening for a reason. And with me, he is nice. He talks to me and explains what I am doing wrong and helps me to try and improve. As you can see at the moment, he is liking the youth and he is bringing them into training, so hopefully he will keep doing that and I can impress him.”
Who do you look up to in the first-team squad in terms of inspiration and guidance?
“I would probably say the likes of Darren Fletcher. He has had a great career with Manchester United, winning titles and having been in the Champions League. If I can follow in his footsteps, then that would be a great career.”
Having represented England at youth level, what is it like to play for your country?
“It is amazing! The first time I played was for England Under-16s, and that was on TV. My friends and family all saw me and you just feel proud to be able to pull on the shirt.”
What was your reaction when you got your first-ever call-up?
“I was just so happy, I couldn’t stop smiling. It was amazing! Obviously I was a bit nervous as I was going there to see all of the other players, but after I was in and got settled, the whole time was just a good experience for me.”
What is your ultimate ambition in the game?
“To break into the first-team and then become a regular starter. I’d want to kick on from there though; score goals in the Premier League and get a lot of appearances, that would be great. Obviously I would also like to get to the England senior team and make my debut, that would be amazing. But even if I do that, I’d then want to go to a tournament likes the Euros or the World Cup.