I handled little Earnie just right - Burrows

Last updated : 21 March 2003 By Michael Morris

FRANK BURROWS, the man who handed Robert Earnshaw his senior debut, believes the Wales forward is reaping the dividends from the way he was handled in his early days at Ninian Park.

It was former Bluebirds boss Burrows who blooded the 16-year-old Earnshaw into City's first team, as a substitute in a goalless home draw against Brighton during the 1997-98 season.

But when Burrows, now assistant manager at West Bromwich Albion, left City in January 2000, `Earnie' had made only 11 league appearances under the Scot.

The former Portsmouth and Swansea City manager even sent Earnshaw on loan to Fulham and Middlesbrough before packing him off to Scottish club Greenock Morton.

The Wales striker - who this week set a club record for most league and cup goals in a season when he notched goal No 33 against Blackpool - believed Burrows thought he wouldn't "make the grade."

But Burrows, accused by the City faithful of not recognising Earnshaw's potential as his side struggled to find the net, defended his decision not to play the young striker when he ruled the roost at Ninian Park.

"I'm so glad I didn't rush the youngsters I had at Cardiff like Robert Earnshaw and Christian Roberts," he said.

"If you overplay a youngster when he's developing then they will pay the price later in his career, when he's in his early or mid-20s.

" When I was at Cardiff just a few years ago Robert just wasn't ready to play - but the media and fans don't have a great deal of patience.

"I've seen Robert play a couple of times since I left Cardiff and he's physically filled out. He's also become a very good, young finisher.

"I just wish he was 21 or 22 when I was at Ninian Park. It's different when a player is 16.

"You speak to any manager, even men like Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson, and they will tell you that you shouldn't rush youngsters.

"You've got to give them a chance. You've got to let their bones settle and their muscles and groins develop. That's why I held Robert back. I'm so glad that I did that."

Burrows saw `Earnie' only a week ago, in the dramatic 3-3 draw against Tranmere, but he left the ground before Earn-shaw pounced in the last minute to bag his hat-trick.

That goal spree in Birken-head saw the 21-year-old equal Hughie Ferguson's club record of 32 goals in a season, set in


But he erased Ferguson's name from the record books on Tuesday when he pounced on the stroke of half-time during the Bluebirds' 2-1 win over Blackpool.

"I'm delighted Robert has broken the club record, I really am," said Burrows. "I couldn't be happier for him.

"I saw him play last week and he looks very sharp and lively and he's always looking to score. He's very composed in the penalty box.

"He can go on and play at a higher level. What level that is, only time will tell."

Earnshaw has scored twice in four outings for Wales - a superb winner against Germany and a stunning leveller against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"International matches are a one-off," said Burrows. "Play-ers lift themselves when they pull on the jersey of their national team.

"Also, he will be playing with other international play-ers. He's got to do it in bread-and-butter football.

"Robert scored goals in the Third Division, he's scoring them in the Second Division and the next challenge for him is to score wherever he ends up, either in the First Division or the Premiership.

"At whatever level he's playing he has to do it week in, week out."

All five of Earnshaw's league appearances in 1997-98 were from the bench, his first start coming on the opening day of the following season at Hartlepool when he scored a spectacular overhead kick in a 1-1 draw. His reward was to be dropped for the Worthington Cup tie at Fulham three days later.

Earnshaw made only one outing in 1999-2000, the Scot's last season at Ninian Park, and he even went on loan to Morton, not being recalled until the late Billy Ayre succeeded Burrows.

Recalling his decision to send `Earnie' to Cappielow Park, Burrows said, "It was the first time Robert had been away from home.

"He was going to a shipbuilding town on the Clyde and that sort of environment will have toughened him up mentally.

"It was all part of his growing up experience."

Burrows' plan worked as earlier this season Earnshaw admitted that spell at Greenock changed him as a footballer.

"I was up there on my own, it was cold, I didn't know anyone and it made me realise that I needed to work hard at my game so I could show Cardiff City that I could become a good player," revealed Earnshaw.

The Zambian-born goal machine has already broken one club record. Now he has Stan Richards' record of most league goals scored in a season - 30, set in 1947 - in his sights.

He needs two more goals from the last nine Second Division games to do it.

"I'm delighted with the progress Robert has made," added Burrows.

"He has improved on his left side and he is now shooting with his left foot.

"When I had him at Cardiff he couldn't kick me up the backside with his left foot!"