Rocky II - The Story Continues
Cash-strapped Wednesday have been fortunate in recent years to tap into a stream of young talent coming through the ranks at S6, Tommy Spurr, Mark Beevers and Sean McAllister all making the breakthrough into the first team and catching the eye with performances of great maturity for ones so young.
We all keep one eye on the reserve fixtures these days, looking for the next one off the production line. Rocky Lekaj, still only 18 and a junior Norwegian international, seems to have been there or thereabouts for quite a while now - he's been a regular in the second string since summer 2006.
A precocious talent at that age, maybe his reputation was enhanced purely because we wanted him to succeed - we love to spot players with potential and we love it even more when they make the step up. Rocky's first team debut was vs Colchester in March 2007, from the bench. A little too early, and too fast a step up into playing in the Championship? Could be - fellow Owls midfielder Sean McAllister benefitted strongly from a loan period at Mansfield, and one view on the forum is that young Rocky would gain valuable experience with a similar stay at a League One or Two club, to learn what life is really all about.
Brian Laws has faith in Lekaj, and sees the as yet unfulfilled potential. Awarding the Kosovo-born starlet a two year professional deal in July last year, he said 'Rocky has undoubtedly got an excellent talent and that is the reason we have given him a professional contract so early. He has a lot of potential, but at the moment it is all about progression. It is early days and I hope we get the best out of him.'
Rocky's reply: 'I've been working hard with (academy boss) Sean McAuley and the first team and the matches have been going well. I'm keeping going so I can hopefully play more in the first team. The manager has told me, 'Just keep doing your stuff and don't get afraid'. He's helped me a lot. I'm going to train hard and hopefully I'll get my chances.'
He might well at that, with the paper-thin Owls squad stretched once more by injury. But life in the reserves seems to suit Rocky just fine at the moment.. he's on a hot streak in front of goal, bagging two recently against Bradford reserves to take his tally to six in six. Talking to the official SWFC web site, Sean McAuley hit the nail on the head after that fine performance: 'The unfortunate thing for Rocky is that he came to prominence when he was really young and he got into the first team and expectations were placed on him. You have to remember he is still eligible to play for the youth team.'
We've all seen it so often, haven't we: talent burns brightly in the first flush of youth and reserve team football, but making the leap up to becoming a regular squad member isn't just about raw talent. It takes a whole new level of commitment and the right work ethic. Let's see if Rocky has that in his locker.
Because if he has, and he can put in the required hard yards, we might see another young Hillsborough hero before too long.
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