‘Irish Messi’ Gilsenan opts for Australia

Zak Gilsenan scores for Blackburn against Preston in the FA Youth Cup. Source: Supplied

Australia looks to have won the race to tie down Zak Gilsenan - the Perth-born teenager once dubbed the “Irish Messi”.

The budding Blackburn Rovers No.10 - who arrived at the Championship club via Barcelona and Liverpool - is eligible for Ireland through his parents, and also England.

At just 16, he’s already made five appearances for Rovers’ U-23s this season - just a step away from Tony Mowbray’s first team.

And he’s been on fire in the FA Youth Cup, scoring against Preston and Arsenal - the latter a thumping 4-1 victory - as Blackburn surged into the semi-finals where they face Alexander Robertson’s Manchester City.

The Irish FA put out feelers, but Gilsenan made his bow for Trevor Morgan’s Joeys against South Korea ahead of last year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup.

And he’s happy with his choice. So too is Morgan who was there in person several weeks back as Gilsenan starred against the Gunners.

“I was born in Australia and they’re the country I have a really good feeling for,” he explained.

“I was there until the age of nine, growing up and playing junior football at Sorrento (in Perth).

“It would be massive for me to one day play for the Socceroos - and I’m really going to push for that.”

Gilsenan, who can play anywhere across the front third, first turned heads after scoring seven goals in a trial match for Barcelona, who subsequently signed him up to their famed La Masia Academy.

The “Irish Messi” tag quickly followed. It’s a label he finds a “bit strange”, although he admits to being “technically quite good”.

“Being there was an unbelievable experience - learning different styles of football. We played on astroturf a lot which was good for your touch,” he added.

Two of the highlights were audiences with Neymar and Jordi Alba, who offered words of encouragement. Though the man himself, Messi, was a reach too far.

Two years later - aged 11 - the family relocated to England, with Liverpool fending off the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal to land the youngster.

His four years at the Anfield Academy were beset by injury, with Gilsenan only fit for a little over 18 months and unable to make an imprint on the mind of Jurgen Klopp.

Blackburn - once home to golden generation Socceroos Lucas Neill, Brett Emerton and Vince Grella - offered a fresh pathway, with Gilsenan signing a two-season scholarship contract last year.

“It was a family decision to go there,” he explained. “There was also interest from Aston Villa, Norwich and Leicester.

“I just thought it would be the best place to go on and hopefully play first-team football.

“I loved Blackburn the first time I walked through the door - and had my heart set on joining them.”

“I think I’m doing quite well at the moment, to be honest. I’ve progressed a lot over the last few months.

“I’ve trained with the first team at Blackburn three times now - and I couldn’t be happier to have joined them.

“It’s decent to have got a few chances with the U-23s. I’m living my childhood dream.”

Source SBS The World Game