Joey Barton, Bristol Rovers manager. Pic: Getty Images.

Bristol Rovers Boss Joey Barton Accused Of Blocking Sion Spence’s Wales Call Up . . . As Boden’s Young Squad Face Daunting Dutch Challenge

By Harry Corish

Joey Barton has been accused of threatening to block the progress of Sion Spence at Bristol Rovers if the midfielder joined up with Wales.

Spence – who is on loan at Rovers from Premier league Crystal Palace – was wanted by Wales Under 21 manager Paul Boden for international duty in June.

But Boden has claimed Barton persuaded the 21-year-old Spence to make himself unavailable by claiming it would cost him his chance of making the Rovers’ first team.

Wales U21’s manager Paul Boden has said that he fully understands the pressures facing his young players to earn a place in the first team football but is adamant that playing for Wales is still the biggest honour for any player.

“Sion Spence wasn’t able to come away with us, he came under pressure from Joey Barton, saying if you stay here you will play in the first team, if you don’t and go with Wales you will be back down the pecking order,” says Boden

“I understand the players’ conundrums. When they are close to the first team, that’s what they want. That’s what we all want, because ultimately that is where their careers lie, in club football. Playing for Wales is a privilege and an honour, but it is a bonus.”

Other players have also come under pressure from their club managers and have a difficult decision to make when they feel they are breaking into their respective first teams.

Wales under 21’s will face Netherlands on June 11 at 5 o’clock at Parc Y Scarlets, before taking on Gibraltar on June 14 at the same time and venue.

“If there is any doubt in his mind, as with any player… I’ve seen it with Ryan Stirk this year, he wanted to stay with Mansfield, didn’t want to come away with us,” explains Boden

“I asked Chem last camp would he like to join up with the squad and he declined the opportunity. He said he wanted to stay and train with Wolves and be around the first team, and ironically it worked for him and he did get some first team minutes a couple of weeks later.

“The fact that he turned us down really disappointed me. It was an opportunity to come in to join the u21s for the first time for him. Of course, he has another two years so he will hopefully be part of the next qualifying campaign, providing he wants to commit himself to play for Wales.”

Boden hasn’t had the best of luck with the makeup of his squad in recent years, with several players moving on to the first team as well as suffering injuries, the former Wales international has had to manage his young squad through some difficult tests.

“Throughout my tenure as Under 21’s manger, a lot of the players have moved up to the seniors very quickly. We perhaps don’t have the full high-level squad that we would like, but we are a development group, and everyone understands that.

“The 21s are probably the squad that gets disrupted more than any other age grade side. Oli Denham was called up with little notice, Isaak Davies is out with injury Morgan Boyes, Dan Williams Bandon Cooper and Niall Huggins are all missing too.

“But what it does do, as always, it gives young players an opportunity to show what they have got. As a younger player getting an opportunity playing for the under 21’s, it’s going to be a great experience for them and their careers.”

Wales face the daunting task of taking on one of the best youth teams in Europe in the Netherlands. With the likes of Joshua Zirkzee, Sven Botman, Ryan Gravenbirch, Ian Maatsen and Brian Brobbey featuring in the recent March qualifiers, Wales are in for a difficult evening.

“To watch this exceptional Holland team and see how they do things, they are going to win this group, I’m sure. What an opportunity to learn from the best. When you play against the best, there no better time to educate yourself and be receptive of all the great work they do.”

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