FOR Hearts’ loan signings Michael Ngoo and Danny Wilson, Sunday’s Scottish Communities League Cup Final is “their biggest game,” according to former Liverpool manager and Scottish football legend Kenny Dalglish.
Speaking at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh yesterday, Dalglish recalled having both players in his care at Liverpool, Wilson having signed from Rangers before Dalglish’s last stint as manager, and Ngoo being a member of the club’s football academy while Dalglish was there in 2009.
He is convinced both players will revel in the experience of a final at Hampden. “I hope the two of them do really well and have a bit of success,” he said.
“Both of them have been fortunate that John McGlynn brought them in and they have a chance of playing in the final. On Sunday it will be the biggest game in the world for them, and for the two teams.”
Dalglish has been following the lanky Ngoo’s progress in particular, and was delighted to hear that the youngster had said that he chose to go to Liverpool rather than Manchester United after speaking to both Dalglish and Sir Alex Ferguson.
“I must have spoken better English than Fergie,” quipped Dalglish, who recalled Ngoo’s arrival at the Liverpool academy as a 16-year-old.
He said: “Rafa Benitez had just revamped the academy and [academy director] Frank McParland saw Ngoo playing for Southend and brought him up. He was a very pleasant boy, and mannerly.
“He is a big boy who can play on the left as well. His coordination wasn’t what it is now, but they had a look at him and decided to give him an opportunity.
“He was good as gold, did all the training and worked really hard. It’s great for him to be up here and getting this opportunity. Playing first-team football is not going to do him any harm.
“I don’t think at 20 he is going to put Luiz Suarez or Daniel Sturridge out of the Liverpool first team. It’s a bit much to expect at his age, but it’s fantastic for him to have come up here and to have played at Hampden.”
Ngoo scored the equaliser against Inverness Caledonian Thistle in that semi-final, his first match for Hearts. He also slotted away one of the shoot-out penalties that gave Hearts the victory.
“He played 120 minutes that day and only came up here on the Friday,” said Dalglish. “Now he’s looking forward to the final. It’s great experience for him that can only stand him in good stead.”
The same remark applies to 21-year-old Wilson. “He came down to Liverpool because they liked what they saw, and he has not lost that – he just needs to progress it,” added Dalglish. “I gave him games in the Europa League, sometimes at left-back, and it was not a problem whatsoever. Left-back or centre-back, he would go and enjoy it and do his best for you.
“It’s difficult to get into the first team down there. People think that when you move from Scottish football down to the Premier League that you are going to go straight in, but, with all due respect, it is going to be hard for him to get in.
“At 19 years of age when he came down, he was still developing and he picked up a couple of injuries as well. But if he gets a break he will have a career in football.”
Speaking at the Scottish Parliament which he was attending in his capacity as Head of Scottish Football for McDonald’s, the SFA’s community partner, Dalglish was particularly enthusiastic about the Quality Mark programme for developing football at the grassroots.
In company with Sir Geoff Hurst, McDonald’s Director of Football, Dalglish told an audience in the Scottish Parliament that the growth in popularity of football at grassroots level in Scotland is “hugely encouraging and potentially brilliant for the future of the game”.
The report –Ten years of Teamwork – was commissioned by McDonald’s in association with Loughborough University’s Institute of Youth Sport to celebrate the tenth anniversary of McDonald’s partnership with The Scottish Football Association.
Ten Years of Teamwork revealed that nearly 400 clubs have been awarded Scottish FA Quality Mark status since 2006. Dalglish said: “There is no doubt that the programme has made one of the biggest impacts on the grassroots game.”
l For more information about McDonald’s partnership with the four home nations visit www.mcdonalds.co.uk/kickstart