Oxford's Ledson aiming high for club and country
Leaving the club he had been with since the age of five might have seemed a tough decision for Ryan Ledson as he said his goodbyes to Everton and joined Oxford United.
But midfielder Ledson, 19, trusted recommendations from his Merseyside mates before agreeing a summer switch to the Kassam Stadium.
Some 28 appearances later for the Yellows, he has no regrets at taking their advice. Being named EFL Young Player of the Month for February comes just ahead of a Wembley final and a potential chance to represent England at the Under-20 World Cup.
“I’d heard a lot of good things about Oxford when I was on loan at Cambridge United last season,” Ledson told BBC Sport.
“I’d seen how they’d gone up last year, they got to a Wembley final (in the EFL Trophy) and one of my good mates Jonjoe Kenny had also been on loan from Everton.
“He’d always tell me what a great club they were and when the call came they were in for me in the summer, I asked Jonjoe’s opinion and also (club captain) John Lundstram, who I also know very well.
“The feedback I got was very good, so that turned my head.”
Making an impact for the U’s and Three Lions
So impressive has Ledson’s first season at Oxford been, he is simultaneously in demand with club and country.
An opener against Portugal on Thursday, followed by games against France and Senegal, all serve as preparation for May’s Under-20 World Cup in South Korea.
“That will be a massive thing for us,” Ledson admitted. “We’ve got a new gaffer (Paul Simpson) so we can see how he works and for 10 days, it’s going to be crucial for our preparations later in the year.
“To go away and play a few games before taking part in the third biggest tournament in the world in South Korea, it’s just all experience for me.
“Being a young lad, to go and play there will be a fantastic opportunity.”
Appleton’s guiding influence
Ledson goes on England duty this week with the blessing of Oxford manager Michael Appleton, someone Ledson identifies as key to his on and off-field development this season.
“It’s a blow to lose him for a period of time and games,” Appleton said. “But sometimes things happen for a reason.
“It will be a positive thing for Ryan. It will allow him to step out of the environment, play in a different type of game, spend time with some other people and hopefully come back refreshed.”
Ledson cited the progression of former Oxford players Kemar Roofe and Callum O’Dowda – now at Leeds and Bristol City respectively – as testament to Appleton’s pedigree for bringing young players on in the game.
“I spoke to him in the summer before I signed and everything he said then, he’s stuck to,” Ledson said.
Wembley return and maybe more than once
Ledson’s first game after England duty will be Oxford’s EFL Trophy final against Coventry City on 2 April.
But which would mean more – winning a Wembley final or a chance to represent his country at a global tournament?
“Let’s hope we can do both,” he replied.
Should Oxford’s first season back in League One finish with a flourish and a late surge into the play-offs, Ledson could find himself at the centre of a club v country dilemma.
England’s Under-20 World Cup group matches conclude on 26 May, 48 hours before the play-off final.
“We’ll have to just wait and see what happens,” he said. “If we do get to the play-offs and the World Cup overlaps, then me, the club and the FA will have a decision to make and it will be in their hands.”
In the short-term, being named one of the best young players in the EFL this season is just another thing Ledson has taken in his stride.
“I’ve just been focusing on playing as many games as I can and developing as a player,” he said.
“I’m still a young player, but the more games I get under my belt, the better player I’ll become.”
Previous EFL Young Player of the Month winners