Liam Mandeville: Doncaster Rovers striker named EFL Young Player of the Month

Liam Mandeville
Liam Mandeville (left) helped Doncaster to three successive league wins in November

Things are working out a little differently to how Doncaster Rovers striker Liam Mandeville expected.

The 19-year-old has played a pivotal role in his side's strong start to the League Two campaign, with his five goals in six games in November helping him win the EFL Young Player of the Month award.

But the rigours of professional football are a world away from what Mandeville had planned.

"I only came here when I was 16. I wasn't really planning on being a footballer really, it was a bit of a last-minute thing," he told BBC Sport.

"I was just playing for a Sunday league team back home in Yarm when I got a trial and luckily I got in.

"I actually wanted to be a lawyer or an investment banker. I did all right at school and I thought I'd go down that route."

He continued: "My first week here was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I couldn't feel my legs by the end of it.

"It was a big transition but I started doing well and my belief grew."

Liam Mandeville and Darren Ferguson
Liam Mandeville receives his award from Doncaster manager Darren Ferguson

Mandeville's performances, which also saw him named the Professional Footballers' Association's fans' League Two player of the month for November, have also drawn praise from manager Darren Ferguson.

The former Peterborough boss said: "He's done very well. He's now fulfilling the potential we always thought was there.

"He's trained very, very well and he's probably the last one off the training ground every day.

"He's got a lot of attributes that I want from an attacker; he's got good vision, he can finish with both feet and he's very good technically."

'He got a wake-up call'

Rewind a year and things were not looking quite so bright for the teenager.

Mandeville was loaned out to seventh-tier Whitby Town to get some more experience of the senior game but his spell there saw him play just once.

"It's a good club but I didn't have the best personal experience there," said Mandeville, who believes it was an important period for his development.

"The manager got sacked and it wasn't ideal but it brought me back to reality.

"Maybe I wasn't doing things as professionally as I should have been and I really kicked on from that experience."

That opinion is shared by Ferguson, who believes Mandeville's tough spell back in North Yorkshire was "a wake-up call".

It bodes well for both player and club that the striker is able to handle adversity so well.

He missed the first penalty of his professional career as Rovers fell to a 2-0 defeat at fellow promotion hopefuls Plymouth on Saturday.

Mandeville, who had scored all three of his previous spot-kicks, has been backed by his manager to overcome the setback.

Liam Mandeville
Mandeville (centre) missed a late penalty as Doncaster lost 2-0 at Plymouth on Saturday

"I think you can learn more about a player after something like that and I would have no hesitation at giving him a penalty again," Ferguson said.

"He's very good at them and he sent the keeper the wrong way, it was just a little lapse in concentration.

"He's a strong boy mentally and he's shown all his ability now that we've given him a platform to go and play. He's got that confidence and belief that he should be in the team. For young players, that is a big thing."

Keeping the faith

Ferguson, who Mandeville describes as "a great coach", has endured a mixed first 15 months in South Yorkshire.

A long winless run saw the club fall to a surprise relegation from League One last season.

The board decided to stick with their man in the summer and are reaping the rewards as Rovers are third in the table, five points clear of the play-off places.

In different circumstances, Ferguson's father Sir Alex promoted a number of players from Manchester United's academy and they formed the basis of the first team in 1995.

With David Beckham, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt all featuring regularly, the Red Devils went on to win the double that season and the treble three years later.

However, in an age when managers can feel the seat getting hotter with every defeat, is there a concern that other bosses will not feel safe to risk putting so much trust in young players?

"I don't know about that, possibly," Ferguson said. "My philosophy has always been about developing players as a whole but you have to understand that younger players take more time and you'll get some inconsistency.

"If I feel they are good enough then it is my job to take the responsibility off them and I am happy to do that. I don't want too much pressure on them, I want them to concentrate on playing.

"The most important thing for me is that if they have the ability, then age is irrelevant."

If Ferguson can help his young squad to the kind of success that his father enjoyed, then Mandeville might be able to put off his academic career for a little while longer yet.

Previous EFL Young Player of the Month winners

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