Burnley's Dwight McNeil grateful for dad’s input with another Young Lions call in the pipeline

Dwight McNeil takes on Nuno Santos as England Under 20s take on Portugal
Dwight McNeil takes on Nuno Santos as England Under 20s take on Portugal

Dwight McNeil had to decide whether to stick or twist when Manchester United’s decision to let him go turned his world upside down.

McNeil was dealt a bad hand when released from Old Trafford in his early teens, but, with the encouragement of dad Matty, he gambled on drawing another card.

Having that experienced shoulder to lean on proved decisive, it was a window of inspiration that would go on to shape the young winger’s career.

Matty had been through it all himself. Injury had curtailed his big opportunity when Chris Waddle’s Burnley came calling in 1997.

It’s ironic, then, that the Clarets would provide the platform for his son to continue to learn his métier five years ago.

McNeil, 19, who saw his goalscoring dad find the net for Macclesfield Town and Stockport County in the Football League, said: “When I got released at the time it did affect me a bit.

“I had my dad [to speak to] because he used to play. My dad spoke to me afterwards and told me not to worry about it.

“He told me there were other clubs and said that everybody has setbacks in their lives. That was one for me, but I think I took it well.

“I used to watch him every Saturday - it was hard to watch him on Tuesday because it was a school night.

“Ever since I was a little boy I’d watched him. I remember thinking ‘this is what I want to do, no matter what level it is’.

“Since I came here at 14 I haven’t looked back and my whole family have been a big influence on me.

“I’m lucky enough to be playing in the Premier League. He’s been every week. He’s a good man.”

Rejection, having once had the feeling that the world was right at his feet, could quite easily have spelled the end for McNeil’s all-too-short pilgrimage.

However, he’s since made the number 11 shirt his own at Turf Moor and he’s expected to lock down another place in Aidy Boothroyd’s Young Lions squad ahead of the next round of UEFA Under 21 Championship qualifiers.

The 19-year-old displayed maturity beyond his years when cutting his first call up to the Under 21s short due to a ‘minor injury’ last month.

“I just want to play football, but the main thing is looking after myself and making sure that I’m fully right,” he said.

“At the time I wasn’t and if I’d have pushed it I could have been a lot worse off and out for a longer period.

“The main thing for me was to be fit for Burnley and keep my place in the team. I think I made the right decision because I spoke to my family about it, I spoke to the physios here, we sat down, assessed it and then came to an agreement.”

But he’ll likely be part of the 23-man group to gather at St George’s Park as they prepare to take on Slovenia in a friendly and Austria in Group Three.

McNeil, who spent the summer at the Toulon Tournament with Paul Simpson’s Under 20s, is keen to make his mark in a competition which has seen England open with wins over Turkey and Kosovo.

Should he feature he would become the first Burnley player to represent the U21s since Danny Ings, who played 13 times and scored twice for the Young Lions in a 3-1 win over Portugal at Turf Moor in November, 2014.

McNeil said: “The Under 21s have started well with two wins in two. That’s good and hopefully I’ll be able to take my chance.

“It’s a good opportunity and hopefully I’ll get to play in the game that they’ve got. If not, I’d be happy to be a part of the group.

“It’s a new team and everybody is experienced in their own way. It’s quite a big step up from the Under 20s to the Under 21s and it’s a fresh team.

“Everyone has their different paths in the Under 21s. Some play in different divisions and in different leagues. It’s been good to talk to some of the lads about what they’ve been through as well.”

He added: “It shows that I’m taking the right steps and going in the right direction. I’ll hopefully keep on going that way.

“Some things have taken me by surprise, but I’ve just got to take it all in my stride and try not to over-think what’s happening.

“It’ll be a proud moment for me and the family. England is a big nation and the Under 21s are a good side and they’ve made a good start to the European Championships. Hopefully I can be a part of it.

“There are some big players that have gone from the Under 21s to the seniors and there are some big players in there now. It’s good to be a part of and it’s a new experience.”