Stoke-on-Trent Live | Michael O’Neill has included Blondy Nna Noukeu in the Stoke City match day squad for the first time this afternoon as Jack Butland misses out with a neck injury.
Noukeu, aged 18, deputises for Adam Davies, who makes his belated league debut in a huge game against relegation rivals Birmingham.
Davies was League One goalkeeper of the year last season as he helped Barnsley to promotion and joined Stoke in the belief that Butland was bound for the Premier League.
But so far his only appearance has been in the FA Cup third round, back in January at Brentford. Out of contract Adam Federici has not been involved since the re-start.
Noukeu has been training and travelling with the first team party, while 19-year-old England youth keeper Joe Bursik, who has been on loan at Accrington Stanley, has been ineligible. He takes his place on the bench.
Noukeu joined Stoke in July last summer, having grown up in Belgium. He is eligible to play international football for Cameroon.
He had a call up to join Cameroon’s under-23s in October, thanks to some fine performances for Kevin Russell’s Stoke under-23s.
“The Cameroon team has players playing for great teams,” he said in an interview for the Stoke website.
“It was a very good experience, and one I was sure would happen if I did well here at Stoke.
“The teammates there are like a family. Everybody tries to know everyone, and nobody is ever isolated; they really want to bring everyone together to grow in the same direction.
“Before I came to Stoke, I was not sure which country I wanted to play for, Belgium or Cameroon. But Cameroon called me first and I was really pleased that I ran-out for them.”
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His father Patrice was a professional footballer, playing in midfield for Royal Excel Mouscron, where Kevin Wimmer has been on loan.
Noukeu Jr said: “Being my size, I shouldn’t be a goalkeeper originally, but when I started playing football I learnt more about the position. It’s true that my parents are a big influence on me and on my choice, but I didn’t want to be a goalkeeper to begin with.
“My first club was Royal Excel Mouscron and from under eight to under-10s level, I practised the basics. Then I went a year without playing football, before switching to another team in my town where I also learnt a lot.
“I moved back to Mouscron when I was 13 years old and stayed until I was 18. This was when I added professionalism to my game, picking up the small and practical details.
“I stayed with professional players to learn from them and spent more time at the club; I wanted be the first one in and the last one to leave – those things are really important.”