Football: Wright takes off the kid gloves

Ipswich's young keeper is ready if he gets the international call.
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The Independent Online
IT SEEMS a long time since England had a promising young goalkeeper to shout about, and given David Seaman's return to top form for Arsenal it may be a few years before one is needed. But in Richard Wright of Ipswich Town, Glenn Hoddle's goalkeeping guru Ray Clemence believes he has identified a player with the potential to become the next in an illustrious lineage, from Banks to Seaman via Clemence himself and Shilton.

Wright, who celebrated his 21st birthday on Guy Fawkes night, was called up to the senior squad from the Under-21s for the first time this week and although a place on the bench is probably as much as he dare hope for to start with tonight, the chances are that he may play some part in the latter stages of the game.

"He's got great reflexes, his concentration levels are very good, which you need to be an international goalkeeper, he's a good communicator with his defence and he's gaining experience every week by playing First Division football," Clemence said of his latest prodigy. "Playing first-team football every week is the best learning curve you can have."

Like the current England No 1, and in direct contrast to someone like Peter Schmeichel, Wright belongs to the undemonstrative school of goalkeeping. Even the distinctive all-white outfit he wears when playing for Ipswich Town is club issue rather than any fashion statement on his part and, not surprisingly, he cites Seaman as his role model. "It's his presence more than anything," Wright said, "and how cool, calm and relaxed he always appears."

Despite Wright's undoubted ability, the elevation of a First Division goalkeeper to the full England squad is a clear reflection of the abundance of foreign keepers in the Premiership, where Clemence counts only seven who are qualified to play for England and good prospects like Ian Walker, not so long ago regarded as Seaman's deputy, is languishing in the Spurs reserves.

"In the 1970s and '80s we used to think England goalkeepers grew on trees," Clemence said. "Going back to that era there were probably eight or 10 who could have played international football. Nowadays it is a problem and if we don't address it and start developing goalkeepers rather than just taking them for granted, it will become a major problem."

Thus far Wright has remained rooted to Ipswich, the club he joined straight from school and although he recently left home, he still lives near enough for mum to pop round and cook the odd meal for him. But he admits that, sooner or later, with Ipswich or someone else, he will probably need Premiership football.

"Experience-wise I think it's important," he said, "but at the moment I don't think I could go anywhere and get first-team football - well, maybe I could, but I'm happy at Ipswich and we're going to get promoted this year anyway."

Whether Wright eventually fulfils his potential remains to be seen but Clemence, for one, feels sure all the signs are right. "He's a very stable person," he said. "I've known him since he was a youngster and I've seen the way he's grown up - he's coped with every situation that's been put in front of him, he always wants to learn and he always wants to listen.

"Sometimes you see young goalkeepers at 15 or 16 and you think they could go on and be very good. But somewhere along the line, at 18 or 19 years of age, it doesn't happen for them for a variety of reasons - they find other distractions or they don't work as hard as they should. But Richard is not like that, and that's why he's progressing all the time. He can go as far as he wants to go."

A first cap for England tonight would be a significant step along that road.