New Faces for the New Year / Football: Pollock confirming Premier credentials: Guy Hodgson on the Middlesbrough midfielder who is aiming to continue his climb through the England ranks

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THERE are not many British footballers who have scored a hat-trick for their country and even fewer who have done so and ended on the losing side. Jamie Pollock has, albeit for the England Youth team.

Pollock, a Middlesbrough midfield player with enough bite to his tackling to unsettle one of his predecessors at the club, Graeme Souness, became the answer of a difficult quiz question last summer in the European Under-18 Championships when England lost 13-12 to Portugal in the semi- finals after a penalty shoot-out that beggared belief by lasting 35 minutes. He scored once in the first 90 minutes and twice from the spot.

Those goals counted for nothing, however, except for embellishing a reputation which already had the sheen of being part of Middlesbrough's promotion team last season. A more tangible credential is his being a Premier League regular at such a tender age.

Not that Pollock carries the wide-eyed innocence befitting his 18 years. Against Arsenal last month he had Highbury seething at some of his wilder tackles while in the Rumbelows Cup last year he unceremoniously dumped Bryan Robson on to the ground during the semi-final at Old Trafford.

'It was a great thrill to play against Robson,' Pollock said afterwards, 'but on the field he was just another opponent. I did not hold back in the tackle.' The former England captain's bruised frame would testify to that.

Which might imply Pollock is merely a hot-headed youngster who goes around kicking his olders and betters, but, like his boyhood heroes Peter Reid and Steve McMahon, there is more to him. He is comfortable with the ball and a good passer, personifying the sort of rough diamond Bill Shankly would buy in the Seventies after a handful of appearances and hone for Liverpool's future in the reserves.

'He has the potential to be a good player at this level,' Middlesbrough's manager, Lennie Lawrence, said. 'I'm not going to say he's a future England international because I wouldn't want to burden him with a label he might find hard to live up to. There's a lot of hard work and matches to go through before he gets anywhere near that stage.

'He's strong, very competitive and dives in where angels fear to tread at times. His one weakness is that he doesn't get enough goals, but that apart he has a lot of assets to work on. He isn't intimidated by other players, either. He'll shout and scream at more experienced team-mates if he feels it's necessary. Several people at Manchester United made favourable comments after last season's semi-final.'

Pollock's rise last year, which despite Lawrence's misgivings included a 30-yard volleyed goal against Leicester in April, suprised everyone at Ayresome Park. A Teessider who supported the club as a boy, he had trials at Arsenal and Nottingham Forest and was about to sign for the latter until the heart pulled in the direction of his local club.

Even so he began last season unable to get a regular game with the reserves and finished it starting in 33 first-team games and playing a part in the goal that earned Middlesbrough promotion into the Premier League.

It was his run into the Wolverhampton Wanderers penalty box that instigated Paul Wilkinson's headed winner in the last game of the season. The play-offs had seemed a more likely destination for Boro when centre-back Nicky Mohan was sent off and Wolves took the lead almost immediately afterwards.

Since then Pollock has appeared for England Under-18s, not only playing in the European finals in Germany but helping get them into the last stages of the World Youth Championships in Australia, which, like Chris Bart- Williams and Sheffield Wednesday, is likely to deprive his club of his services from the end of February for five weeks.

'He came back from playing with England this summer and couldn't get his act together,' Lawrence said. 'He had a few niggling injuries which disrupted him a bit and it took him a while to regain his first-team place. He's in there now on merit. All you can say is so far, so good.'

By the end of 1993 Lawrence will have a better idea whether the word 'very' is destined to be added to the good.

(Photograph omitted)