FROM Heasandford Primary School to England – Burnley’s own Jay Rodriguez celebrated a call-up to Stuart Pearce’s Under-21 squad on Wednesday.
And the 21-year-old hopes to proudly pull on the Three Lions on Tuesday against Italy in a friendly in Tuscany, at Empoli’s Stadio Carlo Castellani (kick-off 2 p.m., live on FA TV).
The former Barden High School pupil, a product of Barrowford Celtic, was watched twice in October, at QPR and Aston Villa, by Pearce, but missed out on the squad for the friendly with Germany the following month.
However, after starting 24 of the Clarets’ last 25 games, netting six goals in total this season, he has got the nod, named as one of three strikers, along with Chelsea’s Danny Sturridge, currently on loan at Bolton, and Aston Villa’s Nathan Delfouneso, as England step up their preparations for the European Championship Finals in Denmark in June.
Rodriguez, who is joined by Jack Cork in the squad, becomes Burnley’s first home-produced England Under-21 player since Richard Chaplow was capped for the one and only time in 2004.
And he is thrilled by the news. He said: “I’m really pleased, obviously it was a bit of a shock, but I’m looking forward to it.
“I’m buzzing, and my family are proud as well. They couldn’t believe it as well, they’re really chuffed and excited for me.
“My dad’s over the moon, and told me to play my normal game. He’d love to go, but I don’t think he’ll be able to.”
After being linked with a call-up in November, Rodriguez hasn’t let the speculation affect him.
He said: “I just thought to concentrate on my game here at Burnley, to try and keep improving myself and do my best for the club, and if anything comes of it, so be it. I never thought I would or wouldn’t be playing, I just concentrating on doing well for Burnley.
“But it’s massive to play someone like Italy, and just to be part of England is unbelievable, it’s something I never thought would happen.
“It will be a great experience. Fingers crossed I can get on and play. The main thing you want to do in your career is play for your country – it’s a massive step.”
And he thanked the coaches who helped develop him as a youngster, saying: “We’ve got some great coaches in the youth system – Terry Pashley, who I have big respect for, Vince Overson, who has brought me right through, and Brian and Jeff Taylor.
“They’re all great coaches and the younger players can learn a lot from them.”
He grew up watching father Kiko, who was on Burnley’s books, but became one of the area’s top non-league players with Padiham, Nelson and Burnley United, and he looked back on humble beginnings.
He said: “From Barrowford Celtic to here is a long way, but I enjoyed those days, growing up with my mates.
“It still hasn’t sunk in.
“My dad was my main influence growing up. I used to go and watch him play, and I went to Brunlea and then Barrowford, before getting brought through our system.”
Another mentor was Ade Akinbiyi, and no one will be surprised to hear the former Claret has been in touch with his young protege.
He said: “Ade always speaks to me, he said ‘well done’.
“I’ve got massive respect for him, he’s a great pro and a great guy, and he still helps me, even though he’s not here.”
Pearce feels Rodriguez merits a chance for the Under-21s: “We’re missing a number of players through injury, but it will give me a chance to look at a few new players.
“Rodriguez has been playing well for Burnley and deserves an opportunity.”
Two of the Clarets’ squad currently out on loan have also received international call-ups next week.
Defender David Edgar, who has joined Swansea until the end of the season, is in Canada’s squad for a friendly against Greece in Larissa on Wednesday.
And Alex MacDonald, on loan at Inverness Caledonian Thistle, has been called by Scotland’s Under-21s for a training camp from Monday to Wednesday.