Rhys Norrington-Davies has been recalled from a loan spell at Luton Town by Sheffield United ahead of an expected move to Stoke City.
The 21-year-old could become Michael O’Neill’s second signing of the month following the arrival of Rabbi Matondo – and, remarkably, the seventh Wales international currently on the club’s books. It would fill a big hole at left-back exposed by the injury to Morgan Fox.
He has been impressing under Nathan Jones this season – so who is he and what would he bring to the Potteries?
What are Rhys Norrington-Davies’s main attributes?
There has been chatter about his athleticism and attacking play – but with the stature of a fella who could end up as a centre-half.
The Daily Mail’s secret scout reported in November: “A tall, powerful player, he is difficult to shake off the ball when he moves forward. When he gets into his stride he is most determined, with weak challenges bouncing off him as he hugs the touchline.
“Well-built with fair pace, he was confident in his defending… He has the build of a central defender and perhaps he may settle there.”
Wherever he plays there is plenty of energy and commitment.
Jones said: “He’s a great lad, he’s a bit soppy at times, but we love that as he trains every day, his attitude is superb, enthusiasm, his manner, everything about him, and that’s the starting point.
“Then as an athlete, then as a footballer and then his capacity for learning.
“So if all those line up, it’s a fantastic player and I’m a great admirer of Chris (Wilder), I think we’ve got a similar look at certain things and he’s had to earn his trade and he’s done that.”
What’s his best position?
“I’ve played various positions this season, played left wing-back, left-back, haven’t actually filled in at left centre-half yet but if need be I could do,” Norrington-Davies said when he penned a new contract at Sheffield United last month.
Under Jones it’s no surprise that he has been tasked with pretty much filling the whole of the left side. It’s either as a wing-back or a virtual wing-back playing at left-back.
He has gained comparisons to former Luton full-backs Jack Stacey, who was snapped up by Bournemouth, and James Justin, who scored for Leicester against Stoke last weekend.
“We just felt he was a front-footed defender that really wanted to play with energy, with athleticism, attacking, which is what we look for in our full backs,” said Jones.
“We saw a lot in him, he’s still got to learn the position.”
What’s his background?
A lot of travelling thanks to his dad Patrick’s job in the Army.
Born in Saudi Arabia, grew up in Kenya and then Aberystwyth before moving to Croydon as a teenager and ending up with Sheffield United by the time he was 18.
But he has played for Wales through the age groups from under-16s and won his first senior cap in October.
“The reason I was born in Saudi was my old man’s job,” he told LutonToday. “My mum’s Welsh, my dad’s Welsh, so I’m Welsh through and through and I’ve lived in Wales since the age of six, so I would 100 per cent class myself as Welsh. I’ve never had a call up from Saudi though!”
When he got that call-up earlier this season, Jones said: “I would imagine he’s like a kid at Christmas and when he was told yesterday he was very excited, he’s buzzing today, you can’t really tell as he’s buzzing every day though. He’s a very upbeat character.”
Norrington-Davies has been sent on loan by Wilder to continue his development, spending 2018/19 with Barrow in the National League and last season at Rochdale, where he stood out as one of the best left-backs in League One.
Rochdale manager Brian Barry-Murphy said: “He is a very energetic and vibrant player. He’s got an appetite for the game, and he attacks and defends in equal level of intensity and focus.”
Did Jones try to sign him for Stoke?
Jones was still Stoke manager when he was scouting Norrington-Davies during a loan spell at Rochdale in 2019/20 – and he kept watching after he had left Stoke.
“We don’t bring anyone in on a whim,” Jones said earlier this season.
“Anyone we bring in has been on our radar for a long time, I don’t gamble on characters, I don’t gamble on athletes, I don’t gamble on ability so I know him.
“I watched him probably 10 times and ironically I needed to watch him 10 times because he at least five of them he played centre-half which I didn’t want to see him at. I had to keep going back but Rochdale is a nice place, the Bovril is good so I had no problem doing that.”
He added: “We knew he was a young lad, coming from Wales, so we knew where he was, it’s just he came really on our radar in terms of when he was at Rochdale.
“When I left my previous employment, I knew certain positions were vital for moving forward and it was one I really went looking at in terms of positions. He for me was the best about.”