LEE Nicholls admits he can’t wait for the ‘experience of a lifetime’ when the Under-20s World Cup gets underway this afternoon.
Nicholls and fellow Latic Callum McManaman are aiming to make their mark on the world stage when England kick-off their campaign against North Korea in the Colombian city of Medellin.
McManaman, in fact, is the second-most experienced man in Brian Eastick’s squad with eight first-team appearances, while Nicholls hopes to get the nod over Birmingham’s Jack Butland and Jak Alnwick of Newcastle for the No.1 jersey.
Nicholls, 18, is desperate to make his mark at a competition that gave Maradona, Figo and Messi their first taste of international action.
“It’s always a great honour to represent your country and the experience will be amazing, being around lads who have played a lot of first-team football,” he told the Evening Post.
“It’s great that Callum is also here – he’ll be a key man for us as well as someone to have a laugh with off the field.
“When I went away with England last year I was on my own for a lot of the time, and I found it a bit hard. But hopefully with Callum being here it’ll be a lot easier.”
The England side have been shorn of some its more familiar names – the likes of Phil Jones, Jack Rodwell and Connor Wickham – for various reasons, but Nicholls is confident there is enough talent in the squad to mount a serious challenge.
“If we can get through the group stages anything is possible, because I think we’ve got a really good squad this time,” he added.
“We did really well at the European Championships, getting to the quarter-finals, and there’s a real feeling in the camp that we could win it.”
While other club bosses have baulked at losing players on the eve of the Premier League season, Nicholls and McManaman have gone with Roberto Martinez’s blessing.
“It’s a unique opportunity for them,” Martinez said.
“It’s such a prestigious event, and for Callum and Lee to be able to live the experience will be invaluable for their development and means we’ll see a real arrogance on their return.
“The timing is a shame because they’ll miss vital games at the start of the season. In Lee’s case, we could have been finding him another good loan move, while Callum would have been challenging for a place in the first-team squad.
“But on the other hand they’ll be two players who’ll come back as men and be ready to take their football to the next level.”
After today’s game, England will face Argentina on Monday and then conclude their group programme with a clash against Mexico next Thursday.