He plays with a confidence and an experience well beyond his years but is this physical young defender ready to make the step up to the top level? Arsenal seem to think so.
Elliott Hewitt seems to be the most-watched teenager since Justin Bieber. Rumour has it that if any more scouts turn up to watch Macclesfield Town’s 17-year old defender, the club will fence off a section of the main stand and rename it the Elliott Hewitt Observation Deck.
Those scouts like what they see, and this week it has been reported that Arsenal are preparing a bid for Hewitt’s services. The magic number appears to be ￡1.75m – probably more than the sum total of all the money Macclesfield Town have spent on players in the club’s history.
Arsene’s men are in quite a queue though – Chelsea and Everton have also had scouts at the Moss, along with up to 15 other clubs. Silkmen manager Gary Simpson has said that ‘all the big boys’ are watching Hewitt closely.
The hype is justified. Promising young players usually take time to settle in to first team football, but every so often one comes along who already looks like he’s been playing for 10 years. The last time Macclesfield Town fans saw this was a decade ago, when a lanky young forward called Ricky Lambert impressed from his first touch of the ball. Lambert always looked destined for the higher leagues, and although it’s taken him a while to get to the Championship, he may yet play in the Premier League if Southampton continue their current form.
Hewitt will probably take a much more direct route to the top. Gary Simpson gave Hewitt a surprise debut in the final game of last season, a 1-1 draw at home against Hereford United, and although the young full-back’s assured performance got the fans a bit excited. At 16 years and 342 days he was the youngest player to feature for the Silkmen in the Football League.
Playing at right-back, Hewitt can be described as a ‘cultured defender’ in the sense that he can do more than just tackle. In fact, he’s a good all-round footballer with the kind of athletic ability that would probably allow him to play well in any position at League Two level.
The hype is justified. Promising young players usually take time to settle in to first team football, but every so often one comes along who already looks like he’s been playing for 10 years.
Hewitt has appeared for the Wales youth teams, at under-17, under-19 and under-21 levels, at times almost concurrently. Interestingly, the Welsh coaches play him in central midfield, and see him in that position long-term, although Hewitt himself and Gary Simpson believe him best suited to full-back.
For such a young player Hewitt is physically strong and fast. He can run up and down the right side of the pitch all day, at times resembling a second winger more than a full-back. His ability with the ball is also excellent, and his attacking runs almost always end with a dangerous cross or useful pass.
Perhaps his greatest strength is that unlike many players in League Two, he seems to have the mental side of the game pretty much nailed. He doesn’t make many mistakes under pressure. Against Bristol Rovers earlier this season, he marked Scott McGleish – at 37, old enough to be Hewitt’s dad - out of the game to such an extent that McGleish had to switch wings after half an hour.
Although he’s only made 11 starts in senior football, Hewitt makes League Two look easy. Gary Simpson reckons he’s as good as any right back in the lower leagues. His fast-track to the Wales U21 side seems to indicate that he has a future at full international level.
Where he’d fit in at Arsenal is another matter. Wenger’s record with young talent would make it an ideal destination for Hewitt in terms of coaching and training facilities, but would he get first team football in front of Bakary Sagna, Carl Jenkinson and Johan Djourou? It’s unlikely at the moment, but Hewitt has time on his side.
It would be a shame if he were to disappear into a Premier League youth set-up for a few years after doing so well in the Football League. Whichever team buys him could always loan him back to Macclesfield Town for a season or two – it’d make perfect sense, to Silkmen fans at least.
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