SEVENTEEN-YEAR-OLD starlet Levi Ives is happy to sign a pro contract with Torquay United, and manager Chris Hargreaves is anxious for the deal to be done as soon as possible.
Several big clubs are already watching Ulster-born left-back Ives, who made an eye-catching debut for the Gulls in this week’s 1-1 draw with Aldershot Town at Plainmoor.
But he is suspended for this Saturday’s Vanarama Conference Premier game at Lincoln City after being sent off in a recent youth league cup-tie.
Ives, who is already a Northern Ireland Under-19 international, is currently in the second and final year of a trainee ‘scholarship’ with United’s Academy.
But the Gulls need to ‘fast-track’ him to a senior contract to strengthen their bargaining position if another club tries to sign him.
Southampton had to pay just £40,000 for 15-year-old Academy goalkeeper Neal Osborn under the Premier League’s Elite Premier Performance Plan rules recently, although United will receive further payments if the Torquay Boys’ Grammar School pupil eventually makes it into the Saints’ first team.
“There’s a lot of clubs watching Levi at the moment, and I don’t blame them,” said Hargreaves.
“We may struggle to keep hold of him, but the good thing is that he wants to sign here.
“It’s something that we need to get sorted as soon as we can. I don’t think I’ve never seen a better 16/17-year-old – what a talented player he is, and mature for his age.”
Ives made his senior debut at the age of only 17 and 28 days. Although that’s quite an achievement in itself, it doesn’t challenge United’s ‘youngest-ever’ record.
That’s held by striker David Byng, who was 16 years 36 days old when he scored both goals in a 2-1 win at Walsall in August 1993.
Other 16-year-olds who made their debuts for Torquay include Lee Sharpe (16 years and 129 days) in 1987, locally born forward Dean Stevens (2002), current Swansea City manager Garry Monk (1995) and goalkeeper Matthew Gregg (1995). Sharpe was sold to Manchester United for £185,000 when was 17 in 1988.
The last trainee whom United signed to a pro deal at 17 was defender Jake Hutchings, who hasn’t been able to break into the first team yet and is currently having a trial with Southend United.
This Saturday, United will once again be without their suspended centre-forward Ryan Bowman as they try to improve on a run of three successive draws with a trip to Lincoln City.
Bowman completes a three-match ban at Sincil Bank, but Hargreaves hopes to have strikers Ashley Yeoman and Elliot Benyon available after rib and hamstring injuries kept them out of the Aldershot game.