Birmingham City Women manager Darren Carter says 16-year-old Layla Banaras has “stepped it up another level” and is firmly part of his plans.
Banaras has spent half her life playing at Birmingham City, and became the latest player off the Blues academy conveyor belt to step up and join the first-team squad when she made the bench for last weekend’s impressive 1-0 Championship win over Bristol City at Ashton Gate.
The versatile youngster capped a memorable week by scoring and assisting for the U21s in an impressive 5-0 win at Brighton in midweek, with Hannah Fishwick, Charlotte Crees, Grace Murphy and academy goal machine Delphi Cole also on target for the Blues.
The teenager, who can play across defence and midfield, captained Birmingham’s U16 academy team last season before stepping up to represent the club’s development side.
Banaras played the full 90 minutes as the youngest player on the pitch, aged just 16 years and 25 days, in last season’s FA WSL U21 Academy Cup final against Manchester United at St George’s Park.
Carter revealed tough-tackling Banaras impressed academy technical director Paul Cowie upon her return this season, insisting quality young players with strong values will continue to be rewarded with first-team opportunities at Birmingham City.
“Layla has been excellent with her attitude with the U21s,” Carter said.
“Paul Cowie has said since the start of the season that she’s come back and stepped it up another level.
“We’ve had had a couple of injuries with the first-team and she’s come up and trained with us probably for the last three or four weeks now, and you can see a real progression in her getting to the intensity and energy levels.
“But her attitude has also been excellent. You can see now that she is starting to get more confident within the first-team environment.
“She’s training really well, and she has deserved this chance. I’ve always said it since I came in here that if the young players come in and take their chance – and impress and show a good attitude – then I’ll always reward that.
“It’s certainly been earned by Layla, it was certainly not given, she earned her place on the bench (against Bristol City) and she’ll continue to be with us for the foreseeable.”
Iftikhar working at the World Cup with Belgium
Meanwhile, fellow trailblazer Shadab Iftikhar is working with Belgium at the World Cup in Qatar, Sky Sports News understands.
Sky Sports News revealed last year that Iftikhar was taking the manager’s position at Highland League side Fort William in a move that saw him become the first British South Asian ever to manage in senior Scottish Football.
Iftikhar’s partnership with Belgium manager Roberto Martinez began when he was introduced to the then-Wigan boss during his FA Level 2 coaching course. After impressing, Iftikhar was soon writing scouting reports about the Latics’ opposition and followed Martinez to Everton.
Following the completion of his UEFA A Licence, Preston-born Iftikhar moved to Mongolia to take charge of New Mongol Bayangol, later becoming assistant manager of the Mongolian national team – before a stint as boss of Vailima Kiwi FC in the Samoa National League.
Last summer, British-Pakistani Iftikhar joined up with Martinez again as part of the Belgium manager’s technical staff at Euro 2020.
Speaking to Sky Sports News last year about his relationship with Belgium boss Martinez, Iftikhar said: “I don’t have enough hours in the day to talk about what I’ve learned from the gaffer, he’s just helped my career so much.
“Every time I speak to him, I pick up so much. He’s the smartest man I’ve ever met. I’m grateful to him, to his staff – Shaun Maloney and Luke Benstead are brilliant people, they’ve helped me so much. And the gaffer, I am where I am today because of him.
“I’ve got nothing but the most respect for him. He’s an absolute gentleman, and, honestly, I cannot thank him enough for what he’s done for me personally on and off the pitch.”
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