Valerien Ismael: West Brom youngster Taylor Gardner-Hickman made an early impression on me

Albion boss Valerien Ismael says he spotted Taylor Gardner-Hickman’s potential from the moment he reported for pre-season training.

West Bromwich Albion's Taylor Gardner-Hickman and Huddersfield Town's Harry Toffolo
West Bromwich Albion's Taylor Gardner-Hickman and Huddersfield Town's Harry Toffolo

A graduate of the club’s academy, Gardner-Hickman burst on to the scene earlier this month with an impressive display against Hull.

The right wing-back then caught the eye again when the Baggies took on Huddersfield.

And he continued his fine start to life in the first-team when – playing out of position in central midfield – he picked up the man-of-the match award in the win at Coventry last weekend.

Those three performances have thrilled Albion’s fans.

And they have also pleased Ismael – a manager who prides himself on giving young players a chance.

“We first spotted him in pre-season,” the boss said.

“We saw three or four players in the under-23s that could be a possibility (for the first-team).

“Taylor was the first one because of the intensity he plays at.

“He’s fast, he’s able to cover big distances, he has high speed, he can sprint, he has quality on the ball, he is calm and he has no fear.

“It was always just a question of time.

“At the beginning he got an injury and it took him away from the first team for six weeks.

“He needed to come back though the 23s. But as soon as he played with consistency for the under-23s, there was no doubt he would play.

“I always say to the young players, we are ready to give you a chance – your job is to make sure you are ready, train hard, work hard, play well for the under-23s and when your chance comes take it.”

Ismael says Gardner-Hickman’s versatility means he will feature plenty more times for Albion this season.

“I think it’s important – as I always say – that I like it when a player is able to play two or three positions,” the Frenchman continued.

“I think Conor (Townsend) is the perfect example.

“I think Taylor is a wing-back but he is able to play now in the sixth position.

“Everything was not perfect on the game against Coventry, he made a few mistakes.

“But for that game we needed to find a solution and I think we found a solution in Taylor.

“He is not a specialist for the six position but we have given him the confidence to be flexible.

“And when you are flexible, you have more chance to to play.”

As well as being impressed with Gardner-Hickman on field, Ismael has also been impressed with the youngster off it.

“He is very respectful, he is humble and he asks a lot of questions,” the boss added.

“I remember last week before the game against Coventry, I spoke with him in my office – we were going through the clips and what we expected of him.

“And after that he text my video analysis and my assistant with questions.

“That is great to see, when they played is ready to go with you that way you can get the rewards quickly.”

Meanwhile, Ismael confirmed two – potentially three Albion – players will miss today’s game with Reading after testing positive for Covid-19. “We’ve got two positive cases and possibly a third one,” the boss said. “Two players will definitely miss the game.”

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