Ashley Westwood: Burnley is the best place for 'special talent' Dwight McNeil
Midfielder Ashley Westwood is certain that Burnley is the best place for ‘special talent’ Dwight McNeil to continue his development in the game.
The England Under-21s international’s progression hasn’t gone unnoticed – with Crystal Palace reportedly the latest club to throw their hat into the ring – but the former Aston Villa man says that his team-mate is better off staying put.
McNeil, 20, has already made 51 appearances in the Premier League, more than all-but-one of Aidy Boothroyd’s Young Lions squad, and has clocked up five goals and 10 assists since making his professional bow at the end of the 2017/18 campaign.
“Dwight McNeil is in the best place,” said Westwood. “There are young lads that he’s playing with at England who are still playing Under 23s football.
“He’s already racked up more than 50 games in the Premier League now, which at his age is phenomenal.
“He’s producing as well so if he keeps doing that and we all keep doing what we’re doing then there will be teams circulating.” The former Manchester United Academy player has been getting his fair share of attention since bursting onto the scene and that interest isn’t showing any signs of evaporating anytime soon.
The lure of a big move can prove too much of a pull for some, but Westwood is confident that the Clarets winger will make the right call if and when it comes to the crunch.
McNeil, who once earned a place in L’Equipe’s list of the world’s top 50 players under 20, put pen-to-paper on a long-term contract last January, a deal that will keep him at Turf Moor until June 2023, with the option of an additional 12 months.
“We’re down to earth lads and we’ll just get on with our football,” said Westwood.
“As long as Dwight keeps producing then he’ll have the world at his feet. He’s a special lad, he’s down to earth and we all feel the benefit from that.
“He’s really mature. I think the world of him, he’s a special talent. It’s been good to see him grow up because when he first came training with us he was really quiet.
“Now he’s getting involved and he’s coming out of his shell a little bit and that’s showing in his football. He’s so confident, but he’s not arrogant with it, which is brilliant.
“He’s in the best environment because we wouldn’t let him get like that, we’d bring him down a peg or two.
“I’m sure his parents would do the same. He’s in a good position and hopefully he’ll be doing it for us for a few more years.”
Should McNeil’s career path continue in this trajectory then Westwood firmly believes that he, along with others in the squad, could be in line for a call up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad for next summer’s European Championships.
He said: “If he carries on like this he’s on the right path, which is the same for a lot of the squad. I don’t think Dwight gets talked about enough because there aren’t many players his age that are out there doing it, even at the big clubs.
“Hopefully he keeps himself ticking over, though he’s always on FIFA. I can’t get him off the TV. Hopefully he’s been keeping himself fit as well.
“He’s like a ghost in training. He comes in and he, Erik, Chaz and Longy are always on FIFA. All the rest of us have got kids so we can’t do that. He’s a great kid.”
Meanwhile, last season’s Player of the Year revealed that he’s looking forward to working with new boy Josh Brownhill after the group was reunited at the Barnfield Training Centre.
The former Bristol City skipper hasn’t had much of a chance to find his feet since making the switch with the Covid-19 pandemic causing major disruption.
However, Westwood knows the 24-year-old will play his part when things move closer to some form of normality.
Brownhill, who made 161 appearances for the Robins, had made his debut as a late substitute in the 3-0 win over Eddie Howe’s AFC Bournemouth before the season was interrupted.
“I feel for him,” said Westwood. “Ever since he came in it’s just been stop-start. He’s another one that’s settled in really well and hopefully next year he can kick on.
“He looks a fit lad, he’s been brilliant for Bristol City, he was captain there and he’s another vital piece of the team.
“You need bodies, especially in the Premier League. If somebody’s injured you need somebody to come in who you can count on and I think he can do that.
“I bet he’s looking forward to the challenge of establishing himself in the Premier League.”