Burridge: Azkals’ Neil Etheridge is made for Premier League football

Kelvin Leong Kelvin Leong

Premier League goalkeeping legend John Burridge reckons Filipino goalkeeper Neil Etheridge has paid his dues at the lower levels and will take to the English top flight like a fish to water.

Burridge, 66, is the oldest player to have turned out in the Premier League when he took to the field for Manchester City in the game against Queens Park Rangers back on May 14, 1995 at the age of 43.

Having played more than 700 games for 29 different teams over the span of 30 years, Burridge knows a good pair of hands when he sees one.

The Workington native counts Nigel Martyn, Tim Flowers and Paul Robinson as his success stories but one of his proudest moments was when he brought Oman international Ali Al-Habsi to Bolton Wanderers.

“There are many goalkeepers in Asia who are good enough to play in English football,” Burridge told FOX Sports Asia from his base in Oman.

“I’ve brought the likes of Ali and India’s Gurpreet [Singh Sandhu] to England and Norway and there are so many more who should be playing in Europe.

“Unfortunately, many of these boys especially those from Southeast Asia don’t have the contacts to take them there (to Europe) like Singapore’s Hassan Sunny. He is as good as Neil Etheridge and is capable of playing in Europe.

“I was working on Hassan and we were so close to putting him in Europe but I left the country. If I was there for another year, he will be playing in Europe now for sure.”

As for Etheridge, who played in 45 out of 46 matches for Cardiff City this season to help them gain promotion to the top flight, Burridge is confident that the Azkals star is not just good enough but will become a Premier League star when the 2018/19 season comes around.

“I know Neil very well since his Walsall days and we have kept in touch even when I was coaching Global FC in the Philippines,” Burridge added.

“He has done his apprenticeship in the lower leagues and finally his big chance has arrived. If he gets a good start, he has a great chance to be the next [Nick] Pope or [Tom] Heaton.

“He’ll not be classed as a [David] De Gea or Ederson initially but if he peaks early and stays consistent the whole season, he could find himself playing for Manchester United or Manchester City next.”

Etheridge has had a barnstorming year after helping the Blue Birds win promotion and leading the Azkals to their first-ever Asian Cup qualification. His ability is undoubted but Burridge believes he has that ‘Filipino mentality’ that will stand him in good stead for the top flight battle.

He added: “Neil is a big, strong and brave lad with a terrific jump. He’s got the mental strength to play in the Premier League.

“What helps is that Filipino mentality because they all have that fighting spirit and are unbelievable athletes.

“Neil doesn’t need to adapt because he has already proved himself. To play in the English Championship is blood hard and he may well find the Premier League a lot easier to handle because the ball doesn’t come on top of you all the time like it does in the Championship.

“But he has to realise from the get go that the reason Premier League strikers are paid that kind of money is because they don’t need a chance, all they need is half a chance and they’ll put it in.

“I’m really happy for the boy and I hope he gets in there and show the world how good he is because he is good enough.”