Collison maintains meteoric rise

Jack Collison's rapid progress for West Ham United means he is not too far away from being promoted by Wales to the senior set-up, according to Danny Gabbidon.

The 19-year-old midfielder has been named in Brian Flynn's squad for a vital European Under-21 Championship qualifier away to Malta a week on Tuesday. It is the latest step forward in a campaign to remember. He first impressed in pre-season, was then made reserve-team captain, scored a wonder goal on his U21 debut and finally made his first senior West Ham United appearance on 1 January at Arsenal.

"He is brilliant," said Danny Gabbidon, who like Craig Bellamy has been named in the full Wales squad to play Norway in a friendly at Wrexham on Wednesday week after their good progress from groin and abdominal injuries respectively. "He could easily play in our first team. He has been in and around the first team and he deserves that. His performances week-in, week-out in training and in games are top drawer. There are a few other young lads who, if they keep playing as they are, are going to become really good players."

Collison qualifies for Wales through a grandfather and his decision to play for the principality came via much prompting from the strong Welsh contingent at the Boleyn Ground - including, of course, Gabbidon. "I got on to him a couple of times about it," the fit-again defender said. The Under-21 manager, was on to me about it as well. Jack said he was interested and eventually, the manager came to the training ground, watched him train and had a word with him."

That led to Collison's selection for the European U21 Championship qualifier at home against Bosnia-Herzegovina last November. The Cambridge-born attacking midfielder capped a sparkling display with the final goal in a 4-0 victory, running from midfield beyond three opponents, playing a neat one-two and then rounding the keeper to score.

"It is great to have him," Gabbidon added, mindful that the future is bright for Wales and that there is a realistic chance of qualifying for the 2009 U21 finals in Sweden - especially as Collison went on to play his part in a 4-2 defeat of France five days after his debut. "We have got a lot of good young players coming into the Welsh team now and he is going to be one of them," added Gabbidon. "It won't be too long until he is in the full squad if he keeps carrying on the way he is."