England, as the world already knows, is the mother country of the sport of football as we know it. From far and wide, names of the past like Sir Bobby Charlton, Alf Ramsey, Gary Lineker, and Bobby Robson; to modern ones like David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand, and others are recognized far and wide.
But those that follow that follow the world game will need to keep a keen eye out for the man I proudly proclaim the next Steven Gerrard.
Connor Wickham is a striker hailing from Hereford and playing for Football League Championship side Ipswich Town. Why Wickham? Because he helped the England U-17 national team defeat Spain on Saturday 2-1, ending a 17-year drought for England in winning a championship.
Delightful coincidence, isn't it?
And this is a player who considers Liverpool's Fernando Torres as one of his heroes. The same Fernando Torres that will be suiting up for La Furia Roja in a few days' time at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The son of an Army officer, Wickham was born on March 31, 1993 in Hertfordshire's county town. Indeed, Hereford means—in the old Anglo-Saxon vernacular—"a place where an army fords or crosses the river," in this case, the Wye River.
The home of Hereford United Football Club, Hereford is home to one of the oldest nine-pin skittle league, founded on October 24, 1902. Skittle is a precursor to ten-pin, duckpin, and nine-pin bowling. Interestingly enough, skittle exists in the German communities of Texas under the name kegeln.
But Wickham was not going to dwell into taking down nine pins at a pub. It was the thrill of emulating Torres on the football pitch that drove him.
A fixture at Colchester's Gilberd School, Wickham juggled academics and athletics as if they were a sphere of ambitions lifted high into the air. From 2002-2006, Wickham played for the youth sides of Reading F.C. before beginning his career playing for the Tractor Boys of Ipswich Town.
Eventually, his career rose to new heights with his ability as a striker. On April 11, 2009, Connor Wickham, at the tender age of 16 years and 11 days, became the youngest player to play for Ipswich. The beat the record held by Jason Dozzell by 46 days.
Three appearances later, Wickham hit paydirt, scoring two goals in the 11th and 59th minutes to go with a conversion against against Shrewsbury Town in the 2009-10 Football League Cup First Round.
Two days after signing his first professional contract, Wickham scored in the 90th minute en route to a 3-1 Ipswich victory over Derby County in April 2010.
The fruits of the young prodigical son began to take shape at the 2010 UEFA U-17 Championship.
In Group One of the qualifying round (first qualifying stage), Wickham scored a hat trick against Azerbaijan on October 28, 2009 in Baku. The Three Lions only had two goals scored against them—both against Kazakhstan in a 6-2 rout two days before Wickham's hat trick—while scoring 11.
In Group Seven of the elite round (second qualifying stage), Wickham brought home more of the same with a 21st minute strike against Sweden en route to a 40 win on March 27. He followed that up with a 60th minute goal against Slovakia to help England secure a spot in the finals, held in Liechtenstein. This time, while England's XI scored another 11 once again, they were not scored on.
And Wickham may have failed to score in the group stages, but in the 3-1 victory over the Czech Republic, Wickham proved that an assist is fine too. Times two. After a impressive display against Greece, he was given a rest against Turkey, which England also won.
In the semifinals, Wickham pulled off an impressive brace against France.
Armed with a deadly left-foot shot, Wickham was clutch, scoring goals in the 23rd and 40th minutes to pace England to a 2-0 victory...and a date with Spain.
Spain had a couple of deadly attackers in Francisco Alcacer and Gerard Deulofeu. Gerard opened the proceedings in Vaduz's Rheinpark Stadion with a 22nd minute strike.
However, the tables would turn soon after.
Andre Wisdom equalized in the 30th minute of play, and who else but the great Connor Wickham would all but seal the deal in the 42nd?
Not only can Wickham deliver a scorching finish, he can beat two Spanish defenders while putting goalkeeper Adrian Ortala on notice.
This is no ordinary young player making his mark. Wickham already has secured a sponsorship deal with Umbro this year and there has been talk of Wickham joining Tottenham Hotspur for £5 million.
That's how good the young man donning the No. 40 for Ipswitch Town is. And the scary thing is...he's only going to get better as time goes on.
Look out England, look out Europe, and look out world. Connor Wickham is coming, and he wants to eat your lunch.
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