Swansea City's Ben Davies is living the dream but keeping his feet on the ground
TEENAGER Ben Davies has not had much time to pinch himself after his sudden elevation to Premier League footballer status. The next game is always just around the corner. CHRIS PEREGRINE reports.
THERE is a bit of a running joke going around the Swansea City dressing room about a team member being the only Premier League player to have a car with wind-down windows.
But the owner of the Volkswagon Polo in question laughs it off.
"It's not even a bad car," says Ben Davies. "A couple of my mates started it, saying I was the only Premier League player with a car with wind-down windows. Then the kitman got hold of it and it got in the club. It is a bit of banter. I don't mind. It is only a joke, I can take it. At the end of the day I am 19 and most 19-year-olds are lucky to have a car."
That last statement illustrates the level-headed, feet firmly on the ground approach which has helped Ben mix it with the best in the much-vaunted around the world Premier League.
It is all a far cry from when the Neath youngster started putting down a marker as a left back with potential to go all the way.
The ex-Blaendulais School, Seven Sisters, pupil slotted in there at the age of seven for Cwrt Herbert Colts and carried on in the Swansea City Academy at eight.
"I always wanted to be a footballer but obviously when you are that age to get in the academy was a big achievement," he says.
"I was playing for Cwrt Herbert on Saturday and on Sundays for the Swans. At the time it was about enjoying football."
He left Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera at 16 after GCSEs and was offered a two-year apprenticeship with Swansea, who were then in the Championship.
"Obviously there was no guarantee about getting a professional contract at the end of that," he says. "I was training every day and getting used to all that. It was totally different to training two or three times a week. Every morning you are in, cleaning the boots and doing jobs around the ground, training for an hour and a half and then back at the stadium doing a few more jobs.
"I think that is the best way of doing it as it means you don't get ahead of yourselves. I really had no idea if I was getting a professional contract. That is what I was working to, but on the side I did an A-level in maths. It is handy in case football doesn't work out for me at some point."
But fully on the books, Ben joined his new team mates in pre-season last summer and thought the best he would manage this season was a couple of Capital One Cup outings and maybe a loan spell somewhere to get first team experience. But that all changed on September 1 when Welsh international left back Neil Taylor broke his ankle against Sunderland and was ruled out for the season.
He had already made his debut as a substitute the previous month against West Ham United, but was now in the starting XI, where he has remained.
"Obviously it was not nice to see what happened to Neil, but it has given me my chance," he says. "I had the opportunity and now I have got to take it. He has been great to me, in fairness. He has always offered me any advice if I need it and encouraged me."
So now he is a Premier League regular and a Welsh international to boot. But he admits the pressure of playing games watched by millions around the world is always there.
"You can't prepare for it," says Ben. "You just have to find out if you are good enough. The speed of the game is totally different, and the quality of players you play against is up there with the best in the world.
"I don't think you can be at the Swans at a better time really. We are doing well in the Premier League and that is where the club wants to be. If we keep working hard, not get carried away and keep our feet on the ground, keep picking up points in this league. . .
"At the end of the day it is 11 versus 11 really and whoever you are up against you have got to do the best job you can, and try to stop them as much as you can. But this league, it is non-stop. You might think you have done your job against these top players, making a tackle. But a minute later they can be at you again as if it never happened.
"You are playing against some of the best players in the world and if you stand up to them you have done quite well. My game has improved. I am a lot more comfortable now and I am looking forward to every challenge that comes."
And they so far included Word Cup qualification matches with Wales.
"Wales is a million miles away for where I thought I would be," he says. "To have two caps to my name already at 19 is petty amazing really. It is pretty overwhelming that I have already played for my country."
And he has got a special word for the Swansea fans.
"Not many clubs come to the Liberty and out-sing our fans," he says. "We have got one of the best away supports in the league. Sometimes when you are away and you have got out fans out-singing the home fans that gives you a huge confidence boost. It shows that we are not just little old Swansea City going to the big places. It gives us confidence and I think it shows with the results we have had away from home."
Also important is the Swansea style, the passing style which has won anything but passing praise.
"Ever since Roberto Martinez was here the way we play football is very important," says Ben.
And he is playing his part in his breakthrough season.
"It is a bit of a change in everything really," he says. "You have just got to take every step as it comes.
"Be grateful for what you have got but don't be overwhelmed by it, and keep working hard."