Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
HE turned 17 last month, but on Wednesday Tivonge Rushesha was thrown right into the deep end, making his debut for English Championship side Swansea City, in a Carabao Cup second round match against Cambridge United.
It’s yet another huge statement of the massive potential which this highly-rated teenage footballer, who was born in Zimbabwe, but grew up in Wales, has as he continues to progress at a rapid pace in the professional trenches of the game.
Tivonge celebrated his 17th birthday on July 24 and plays, mainly, as a right-back.
He has featured for the Wales youth team in the Euro Under-17 Championships against Kazakhstan and Portugal, but in the event he chooses, he can still be available for the Warriors when it comes to his senior national team commitments.
He is the son of a Zimbabwean medical practitioner, Webster Tongoona Rushesha, who left the country to reside in the United Kingdom, together with his family in 2003 when Tivonge was just a toddler.
The teenage footballer is contracted at Swansea until June 30, next year.
While he was in the team for the Carabao Cup first round match against Northampton Town earlier this month, which Swansea won 3-1, he spent the entire game on the bench.
But, on Wednesday, he finally made his senior team debut for Swansea after being brought in for the final 23 minutes of their 6-0 thrashing of Cambridge United.
That Tivonge could make such a huge leap, at such a young age, speaks volumes about his potential.
He couldn’t be under a better manager, too, who knows a good young player when he sees one.
Steve Cooper, who was hired as the Swansea head coach during the off-season, was the man in charge of the England Under-17 World Cup winning side two years ago.
Some of Cooper’s stars from that triumphant team — Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Callum Hudson-Odoi (Chelsea) and Angel Gomes (Manchester United) — have already established themselves as players in the top-flight leagues in Germany and England.
And Cooper promised, after the Northampton win, that the young players will be given more time in the team.
“Youth development only works if you have good players and they are given opportunities,” said Cooper.
“Hopefully this was an example of giving that opportunity, but also on show were some good players so it was a very positive night for the club on a youth development front.
“Hopefully we can give some more opportunities sooner rather than later because I think it’s important.
“Giving Academy players opportunities has worked well for the club in the past and I would love it if it can continue to work well in the future.
“As you know, it’s something close to my heart and I want to be giving players opportunities. If players are good enough then they should have those opportunities.”
Tivonge was introduced to the Swansea Under-23 team in February this year, in the 2-2 draw against Hull City, when he was still a 16-year-old player. He featured in the whole game.
“It means a lot to me. It’s good that all the hard work I’ve put into this season has been recognised,” he told the Swansea website.
“It was nice that the coaches trusted me to come into the squad and play the full game and my team-mates were always talking to me and helping me throughout.
“Even before, they were telling me to stay calm and that I’d proven myself enough to be playing, so there was no pressure. They made me feel at home.”
And, the man who gave him his chance in that Under-23 team, coach Gary Richards, described the teenager as someone who has always been consistent.
“He’s performed consistently well for the under-18s this season and, to be fair, he did very well and looked comfortable whenever he had the ball.”
And, a month later, Tivonge said he was ready to face more challenges, in his development, after impressing for the Swansea Under-23 team.
A Premier League 2 debut followed for him against West Ham, that month, which they lost 0-3.
“The result was disappointing, but overall I was happy with my performance,” Tivonge told the Swansea website after that match.
“The boys supported me throughout the entire match.
“It was great to play my first game at the Liberty, I am happy to have hit that milestone and to have played in PL2.
“The right-back role is just one of the positions I am able to play. I see myself as a central midfielder as well as in central defence.
“But I am happy to play wherever. I just look to play without any fear. My Dad always says not to worry about stuff because you won’t focus on or enjoy the chance. If you make a mistake you just have to forget about it and play as well as possible. That is the only way you are going to impress. If you play with fear you will not get anywhere.
“Any scholar wants to make that jump as quickly as possible to get to the main goal of playing for the first team. Anything is possible if you keep playing as well as you can and listen to the coaches.”
And, on Wednesday, before his home fans, Tivonge’s dreams came true as he was thrust into the action in the Swansea City first team.