| If the Kids are United
Part 14 - Appeared in the Mag, Oct 2002
In that context, and with a raft of home games coming up including a Worthington Cup tie, the recent home reserve game against Bradford City may be seen as significant in time to come.
Although Tommy Craig's second string shared six goals with the Bantams that night and were denied victory by the unwarranted dismissal of Steven Taylor, those present at Gateshead Stadium still had plenty to entertain them.
With Sir Bobby watching from the stand, United paired Chopra up front with Carl Cort. While the £7m man showed little to suggest he's in a position for a first team recall (despite what the Journal might suggest), the Academy graduate was in the mood to impress.
A first half hat trick included an opening strike incorporating a trick akin to that which took Bergkamp clear of Dabizas at St.James' last season. The second goal was a finely judged finish courtesy of an angled shot with the outside of the boot, while the third was reward for a strong supporting run and timely arrival in the box to walk the ball home.
With the current financial problems at Valley Parade, Bradford's stiffs were never going to contain world-class defenders and those playing were shown up more than once by the ability of Chopra, who also sent two fierce efforts narrowly wide in an action-packed opening 45 minutes.
However, while he prospered with a little extra room to work in and some poorly-executed challenges, Cort was unable to make significant headway against the same flimsy backline.
If goalscoring is all about form and confidence allied to a basic net-finding instinct, then Chopra is heading in an upward direction at present and to be brutally frank, passing Cort going the other way.
In a recent edition of the Pink, Malcolm Macdonald reckoned that Chops was fourth in the striking queue behind Shearer, Bellamy and Lua. Well, Mac might have some odd opinions at times (especially when on the moan in with the other two slackjaws), but in pushing the lad up the ladder past both Cort and Ameobi, he might just have got something right.
While not suggesting that Chops should be unseating messrs Shearer and Bellamy just yet, it's tempting to draw a parallel with the unfolding story at Everton, where Wayne Rooney became the youngest scorer in the Premiership at a day or two before his 17th birthday.
Developing that theme, one can also liken the plight of Duncan Ferguson with that of Cort, while it's hardly an original line to compare Chopra with our current number nine and his instant impact when given a go at Southampton.
Chopra was in the senior party that travelled both to Kiev and Turin, adding two more stamps to a passport that's been well-used in recent years with both United Academy trips and England tours. Indeed, he's still on tour with our Academy in Australia, if a certain official website is to be believed….
He wasn't one of the seven named subs in either Champions League game but did take part in the training sessions, and beat a certain Republic of Ireland goalkeeper with a couple of beauties, to the delight of his more senior club colleagues.
Now the only question appears to be whether a large crowd at Gallowgate next month sees the lad appear first for his club against Everton or for his country when England U20s take on their Italian counterparts.
With Chopra's current deal due to expire next summer, Robson will no doubt come under increasing pressure to use one of his assets or face losing him.
Some interesting stats:
Wayne Rooney: senior debut @ 16 years, 10 months. Michael Owen: senior debut @ 17 years, 5 months. Alan Shearer: senior debut @ 17 years, 7 months. Craig Bellamy: senior debut @ 18 years, 8 months. Michael Chopra: senior debut? (currently aged 18 years, 10 months at time of writing).
Returning to that reserve game against Bradford, the absence of imports such as Bassedas and Gavilan meant that Cort was the only performer of the named 16 players who cost United a fee (and Bernard the only overseas player, ignoring Calvin Zola).
All the rest of the team on how had played for the Magpies at junior level (although doing so may now be a dim memory for Robbie Elliott), and while it's a long way from producing home-grown first team regulars, it's an encouraging sign nonetheless.
While the likes of Steve Caldwell and Jamie McClen appear to have missed the boat on Tyneside, for recent Academy graduates such as Steven Taylor, Andy Ferrell and Stephen Brennan there's now the opportunity at least to develop and hopefully mature into better players.
From a personal perspective it's certainly a damn sight more rewarding to be sitting in the back of a draughty stand watching lads who appear to have some interest and commitment to the cause, unlike certain imported "talents."
While we normally try and entice new followers along to Blue Flames etc. to watch the Academy sides, this time out can we urge you to make the trek to Gateshead International stadium if you get the chance.
Yes, it's a draughty hole and yes it's a long way from the pitch to the stand, but is it really worse than the conditions we ensured at Kingston Park?
After three home games our combined attendance stands at under two thousand - a thousand less than the equivalent period last season. With admission free for the 40,000+ season ticket holders at the big ground over the river, it has to be better than watching Pop Idol - there's some promising youngsters in black and white shirts more deserving of your support.