2018-19 has been a spectacular season for Wolves so far. It’s rare that a team with a vision and ambition ends up working together so cohesively from the top all the way down to the bottom. The manager, the signings, the players, the coaches, the youth team, the board all seem to have been acting as one, and the club is reaping the rewards already.
Somewhere in the midfield, sometimes hard to find due to his bite-like size is young Morgan Gibbs-White. Despite his diminutive stature, when he takes to the field, he doesn’t shy away from the spotlight. A versatile central midfielder with many different attributes, Gibbs-White is one of those players that can do everything in the centre of the park. His excellent distribution is well beyond his years already, and the way he can glide past defenders knocking them off their balance has seen him being compared to the iconic Andres Iniesta.
Gibbs-White’s emergence may be shoehorned in as part of this next generation of talent flowing through England at the moment. He has also been blessed with great vision and the ability to pick a pass. Under Gareth Southgate’s tutelage, England have been transformed into a competitive well-drilled team. Yet, there was a lack of creativity from open play; a key player a-la Steven Gerrard or Paul Scholes who could find and execute passes others just couldn’t.
Gibbs-White alongside Mason Mount and Harry Winks could become a dangerous trident in midfield that could see England dominate international football in a few years. An immediate international call up might be exaggerated, but the starlet is already on Southgate’s radar, and so he should be.
Born and raised in Stafford, Gibbs-White grew up supporting Manchester United. He joined the academy at Wolves aged 8 and began mimicking his game on his idol Paul Scholes.
“My idol growing up was Paul Scholes, it was just the way he kept things ticking in midfield and could pick out a pass from anywhere. When I was growing up I used to watch him and how he played, and I sort of try and add that to my game today.”
Still only 18, Gibbs-White has found himself down the pecking order in midfield behind the likes of Joao Moutinho, Ruben Neves and more recently Leandro Dendoncker. However, rather than allow frustration to get the better of him, Gibbs-White has remained patient and grabbed any opportunity he has been given with both hands. Limited to a handful of cameo appearances, it wasn’t until Wolves faced Spurs at home that the youngster truly displayed his talent.
He was introduced off the bench and completely threw Tottenham off their stride with his aggression and drive. Determined to make an impact, Gibbs-White prodded and poked at the Spurs backline with his shrewd passing and movement. He completed 3 dribbles and sprayed 24 passes – 4 accurate long balls – in a terrific cameo appearance. Wolves ended up falling to Tottenham that day, but Gibbs-White has been in the reckoning ever since.
“I’ve got to keep proving myself and hopefully the call might come,“ Gibbs-White said. “I believe I’m ready (for the Wolves first team) but it’s all about timing. I’ve got Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves in front of me, two Portuguese internationals with a lot of experience..I’m learning ridiculous amounts every day in training, not just on the pitch but off the pitch. It’s nice to hear the praise but I’ve got to keep myself humble and go again.”
He understands that he needs patience and to focus on the long run, and realizes just how much he can absorb from experienced professionals like Moutinho. His manager Nuno Espirito Santo agrees.
“It’s a long process of learning and he’s adapting to the high competition. We expect him to keep developing. He’s skilled and there’s no doubt we are speaking about a player who can be a very good footballer. It’s about him paying attention to all the things he can learn – not only from the technical staff but also his team-mates.”
For Gibbs-White, things couldn’t get much better. He is at a club that has ambitions to establish their place among the best in the country and he also has a manager that loves blooding in youth players and is a true student of how the game is played.
Gibbs-White bore fruit of this method of grooming young talents when he was handed his first start of the season. Against Chelsea. Yes, Chelsea have been shockingly inconsistent this season, and yes their away form has been patchy, but for Gibbs-White to be handed such an opportunity against a top side like Chelsea was a testament to Santo’s faith in him. Starting in place of the absent Ruben Neves, Gibbs-White was handed the creative reigns and was given the responsibility of unlocking that Chelsea defence. And boy, did he thrive in that role.
With his team trailing 1-0, he rode a tough Cesc Fabregas challenge, drove at the Blues defence, gliding past N’golo Kante before sending Jimenez through to score the equalizer. In doing so, he became the youngest player to assist a goal in the Premier League since 1999. It wasn’t just the assist, however, it was his overall performance. He showed extraordinary spatial awareness for someone so young and enormous strength for his size in the build-up to the assist. Throughout the game he would drop his shoulder and run into non-existent spaces, giving the likes of Kante the runaround a number of times. It was a coming of age performance and will be the barometer at which he will judge himself in the future.
His manager wasn’t the only one full of praise for his performance after that. Former England midfielder, Danny Murphy spoke on Match of the Day:
“He’s going to be special. I can’t help but get excited about him. He’s got the lot – he’s quick, a great passer of the ball. For someone so young, you can see he has confidence matched with a work ethic. He glides past people so effortlessly.”
“Against Tottenham when I first saw him, he was passing the ball in the middle of the park like Cesc [Fabregas]. He’s got that talent, he can dribble. He’s strong for a slight lad. His awareness as well and he rarely makes a mistake.He’s a super talent. I really believe this lad is going to be a special player.”
For those uninitiated in the ways of Gibbs-White; he’s got a touch of Dele Alli about him, a fiery spirit and determination that really makes him stand out amongst his peers. A U-17 World Cup winner in 2017, Gibbs-White shows a mentality that is so far beyond his age, it is hard to believe. Teammate and defender Ryan Bennett said,
“Because he’s been with us since day one, you don’t look at him as a young lad. In certain situations, in training you say, ‘who is the youngest?’, and it’s him and that takes you by surprise. He shows it every single day, he fits in like one of the lads.”
Gibbs-White is at the perfect place to continue his development because unlike some of his colleagues – Ryan Sessegnon, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Phil Foden – he is at a club where he’s going to get regular playing time. He is very much a Wolves lad, a player respected and well-liked by his more senior pros. Under the tutelage of Santo and Moutinho, Gibbs-White can thrive and truly become into, as his manager calls him, a “world champion.”
Edited by Srinvas Sadhanand
Image 1 via Shropshire Star
Image vs Spurs via Birmingham Mail
Gibbs vs Chelsea image via Sky Sports