Up-and-coming midfielder Max Sanders says it will mean everything to him when he makes his Brighton & Hove Albion debut.
The 20-year-old from Horsham was on the bench for the Seagulls’ 1-0 Premier League defeat to Liverpool on Saturday.
It was the second time he has been in a matchday squad after also being an unused substitute for the FA Cup quarter-final away to Manchester United last season.
Sanders, a former Trafalgar, Greenway and Tanbridge House School pupil, was with England’s under-19 squad at the European Championships in the summer after helping Albion’s under-23 team win promotion from Premier League 2 Division 2 last season.
After sustaining a quad injury in the opening game of the Division 1 season this year, Sanders was out for ten weeks.
He returned to action six weeks ago and came into the squad for Saturday’s match with Liverpool after Yves Bissouma missed out with a hip injury.
The Horsham youngster has been with Brighton since he was eight and admitted his call into the squad for Saturday’s game came as a surprise but he is eager to one day run out for the Seagulls’ first team.
Asked what it would mean to make his Brighton debut, Sanders said: “It would mean everything. I’ve been here ten years, so just to play a minute would be amazing for me. It’s what I want, so I’ll work hard to get there.
“Training with the first team improves you so much and obviously we’ve just lost 1-0 against one of the best teams in the world at the moment.
“It shows we’re improving and to be a part of it is brilliant for me.”
Sanders was captain when Brighton’s under-23 team won promotion last season and they have impressed in the top level of under-23 football this season and sit fourth in the table.
On his call-up to the first-team squad, Sanders added: “The call came as a surprise to me. Obviously I’ve been working really hard and I’ve been given the reward.
“Hopefully there’s many more of them to come.
“I’d only trained for two or three days with them, so I was buzzing just to be involved. To get the nod on the bench I was over the moon.
“I’d been back about six weeks but it’s taken a while to get back to where I want to be.
“It takes time, especially when you’re playing against the best players at my age in England but I feel fit again now and really good.
“We’ve been doing well this season, individually and as a group, and I just want to take it further from here.”
As someone born and bred in Sussex, Sanders has an ideal role model in Lewis Dunk, who is from Brighton and captained Albion on Saturday.
Sanders said: “He’s a role model for any youngster, certainly one who is local as well like myself.
“He’s definitely someone I look to. In training he works so hard and in games he’s always really good. He’s definitely a great role model to have for any young player.”
A number of Albion’s under-23 squad have gone out on loan in recent weeks to gain Football League experience.
Asked what his plans are for the rest of the season, Sanders said: “I’m not sure, I’ll have to see what’s going on. It will all be decided by the end of January.
“Wherever I end up, I’ll work as hard as I can and ultimately I want to play in the first team here. That’s my goal.”
Sanders could again be in Albion’s squad tomorrow, when they travel to Manchester United, if Bissouma is not fit to return.