Ricketts lives up to pedigree

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The Independent Football

This time last season, Sam Ricketts was playing for non-League Telford against Canvey Island in the FA Trophy semi-finals. It was the highlight of his career. Yesterday, he was on the Wales team plane departing Cardiff for this city, looking forward to his second competitive international cap. The 23-year-old's story is indicative of the huge task facing the Wales manager, John Toshack, and why youth, not experience, is the way forward.

This time last season, Sam Ricketts was playing for non-League Telford against Canvey Island in the FA Trophy semi-finals. It was the highlight of his career. Yesterday, he was on the Wales team plane departing Cardiff for this city, looking forward to his second competitive international cap. The 23-year-old's story is indicative of the huge task facing the Wales manager, John Toshack, and why youth, not experience, is the way forward.

With Wales having no chance of qualifying for the World Cup after Saturday's home defeat to Austria, tomorrow's reverse fixture could mark the real dawn of a new era. "A year ago, I'd never have envisaged I'd be on the same pitch as Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy and John Hartson, let alone in the same team," said Ricketts, who became unemployed when Telford folded and was picked up by Swansea last summer. "I never thought I'd be screaming at Giggs to pass me the ball."

Though his family's sporting background is horses - his father, Derek, is a former showjumping world champion and the current manager of the British equestrian team, and his uncle is John Francome - Ricketts hopes he can become a footballing thoroughbred. The leap in class is something he is still getting used to.

"The difference with international football is about keeping the ball," said the left-back. "You have to keep the ball a lot better. It's more about position and mentality, rather than physical presence."

Talking about Saturday's defeat, and how Toshack's younger players will need time to learn, he added: "If you go out there scared to make a mistake you won't ever play football. Mistakes happen and you just have to pick yourself up."

Hartson, 30 next month, literally had to pick himself up on Saturday, after being "mullered" several times by opponents. He added spice to tomorrow's game by saying some of Austria's challenges were "outrageous" and the referee had provided "licence" for them.

As the debate over Robbie Savage's Wales retirement continued, Hartson reiterated that he intends to play on indefinitely. "To wear the No 9 for your country is the biggest honour you can have, and I'll keep doing it for as long as I can," he said. "I just want to keep going until I'm actually shoved out of the door, or not getting picked any more."

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