Southgate challenges Boro graduates to follow Wheater

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The Independent Football

The Middlesbrough manager, Gareth Southgate, has challenged his club's youngsters to follow David Wheater's example and seize their opportunity when it arises.

The 21-year-old central defender started the season behind Jonathan Woodgate, Emanuel Pogatetz, Robert Huth and Chris Riggott. Injuries gave him a chance and he then found himself in England manager Fabio Capello's squad of 30 for the friendly with France last week.

Wheater did not make the final cut for Paris but he has been given the perfect incentive to push himself even harder.

The Redcar-born defender, like the winger Stewart Downing, who was used as a substitute in Paris, is a graduate of Boro's hugely productive academy. Southgate is delighted with the example both men have set for the club's current crop of youngsters.

"It is really positive for the academy. It shows the talent they have been able to bring through," said the Boro manager. "We have had an outstanding crop of young players come through. The downside of having a small squad is that you get a few injuries and you really are stretched.

"But the positive thing about it is that young players get their chance and without an opportunity who knows whether people are going to make it. That is what has happened with David this year. He has got an opportunity that maybe at another club he might not have got and he has grabbed it.

"The thing about sport is when you get those opportunities, you have to take them."

Boro's academy was set up in Bryan Robson's time as manager but started to bear fruit under his successor, Steve McClaren, and the process has continued under Southgate. The likes of Downing, Wheater, Adam Johnson, Andrew Taylor, Lee Cattermole, Seb Hines and Jonathan Grounds have emerged over recent seasons.

Downing, Wheater and Cattermole were boyhood fans, but the former captain George Boateng believes the academy's reputation could help them to spread their net wider.

The 32-year-old said: "It is only good news for Middlesbrough because any young player in the country now realises that if Middlesbrough wants to sign him, he has a chance of making it to the first team.

"People maybe think we do not have a strong squad but we do, so to get into the squad is already a big achievement. We started the season with Jonathan Woodgate, Robert Huth, Emanuel Pogatetz and Chris Riggott as our four centre-backs, so you know how well Wheater has performed to not only be in the team, but to keep his place."