Here at Shoot! We endeavor to provide you with the latest news from our academies, as we scour the United Kingdom for the next young prospects.
Having recently focused upon the Kassam Stadium and Stamford Bridge, today we turn our attention to Wales; Swansea to be specific. Following a look previously at Brandon Cooper, today is the turn of one of his teammates for which reaching the top level would mean everything.
It’s a question that always divides opinion. Who do you think the greatest Premier League player has ever been? Wayne Rooney? Eric Cantona? Alan Shearer? Thierry Henry?
For 17-year-old Swansea winger Liam Cullen, all have been a source of inspiration as he makes his surge to the top of the British game. Ask him who his favourite out of that list is though and the answer would be easy; the teenager would opt for Thierry Henry, a player of immense skill and physicality. It’s not a bad player to aspire to be like.
But they always suggest that the best player to mould yourself on is yourself. Add the correct attributes to his game and, who knows, in years to come, we could be discussing Cullen being as much as a legend for Swansea as Henry was for Arsenal. The youngster can Shoot for the Stars.
Wales. A country of rural environments. A country of rugby. A country where stars have been born.
This particular Welshman didn’t have an interest in any of that. In fact, he sort of found Rugby a bit boring. There was only one sport for him: football.
He idolised it from a young age. But no matter how much hard-work you put in, you also need a bit of ability to reach the professional game. There was no doubt about it; Cullen had the ability.
After featuring in local Sunday League football around his local town of Tenby he was snapped up by Swansea at the age of eight. The idea of academy football enticed the youngster to the Swans. But Premier League football seemed a long way away. Not just for him, but for the club also. Swansea had just finished seventh in League One the year before and had not been in the top division some 14 years before even the birth of the winger.
But at that age the sport is just for enjoyment. For Cullen, however, it was clear that Swansea took his ability seriously. He improved continuously and, as a result, was playing well above his age group.
By the age of 13, he was playing at under-16 level. He was like the little child who knocked a ball about with his older brother and his friends. But you never wrote off this boy. If you did, he would tear you to shreds.
By the age of 14, it was apparent that the Swans (who had that year just won the League Cup months earlier, their first major trophy in 101 years of existence) had a gem on their hands. With other clubs lurking in the background, it was fundamental they penned down the winger. They did that by offering him a scholarship. That’s not a bad thing to celebrate at the age of just 14.
But, even though the scholarship had been signed, he had still not achieved anything yet; nothing with Swansea, and nothing with Wales.
But his national side did take an interest in him. Later that year, he was featuring for the Under 16’s in the Victory Shield. Despite a 1-0 defeat over the English, it was the night of dreams for Cullen.
He would continue to progress with the Welsh National side. While his first taste of international football may have ended in a rather disenchanted manner, the following season’s Victory Shield was one to remember.
He was part of something which has not been seen since the year 1949. After 65 years of watching the other home nations rule the competition, this was the time for the Welsh dragon to roar. A 2-0 victory over Northern Ireland in November of 2014, earned the Welsh there first Victory Shield since the days of Cullen’s grandparents’ youth; his goal against the Green and White army secured the victory, and secured a place in history for this crop of Welsh youngsters.
Since, as he has made the step-up to the Welsh Under 19’s side, he has developed for his boyhood club. Cullen is now a regular within the Under 18’s for the Swans as he commands the wing for the South Wales outfit in the FA Youth Cup. It is in this competition where he has really found his colours; despite eventually losing to Newcastle, the highlight for Cullen was netting in a 2-1 victory over Wolves at Landore.
Last year, we saw the “golden generation” of Welsh football perform the improbable when reaching the semi-finals of the European Championships. With a Victory Shield in the bag, could the next generation just be blossoming at the moment? If so, Cullen will be a fundamental part of that future side. Who said that the national sport of Wales is rugby?